Browsing 'gender' News

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar is home to one of the most unequal societies in the world when it comes to gender, according to a new index.

The country ranked 117th out of 122 nations listed in business school INSEAD‘s Gender Progress Index 2017, which was released this month.

That puts Qatar behind all of its Gulf peers.


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According to the report, the low score had to do with a lack of female political involvement, as well as the low number of men pursuing higher education in Qatar.

That said, none of the Gulf countries fared particularly well in the index.

The UAE was the highest-ranked GCC nation at 85th. Kuwait was 99th, Bahrain 103rd, Saudi Arabia 110th and Oman was 113th.

‘Uneven development’

The index covers five different aspects of a nation: education, health, labor, political involvement and society.

Within each of these sections are several different parameters.

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.

These include PISA scores, obesity and mortality rates, shares of seats in positions of power and parental leave allowances.

Qatar’s poor score is due to its “uneven development,” the report’s author and INSEAD economist Dr. Kai Chan told Doha News.

“While good in some areas, it (Qatar’s development) is not balanced,” he said.

A different kind of index

According to Chan, this index is markedly different from a prominent study on the same subject, the annual WEF’s Global Gender Gap report.

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This is because the INSEAD index takes into account the country’s progress against inequality as a whole, he said.

“It measures gaps in both directions (for men and women), as well as considering the trade-off between gaps (ratios) and levels (overall development),” he told Doha News.

The UAE fared better under this approach (85th in the INSEAD index), compared to the WEF’s (124th).

However, Qatar did poorly in both.

In last year’s WEF Gender Gap Index, Qatar ranked 119th out of 144 countries – a very similar ranking to its 117th place (out of 122) in INSEAD’s new index.

Qatar’s ranking broken down

When evaluated against INSEAD five categories – economy, health, education, politics and society – Qatar scored worst in politics.

It got a 0.093, the lowest score of all of the countries listed in this section.


Minister of Public Health Hanan Al Kuwari

To arrive at this number, Chan looked at the number of women in Qatar’s Central Municipal Council, Cabinet and corporate boards.

Currently, only one woman serves in the 14-member Cabinet: Dr. Hanan Al Kuwari, Minister for Public Health.

And two women are on the Central Municipal Council: Sheikha Yousuf Hassan Al Jefairi and Fatima Ahmed Khalfan Al Jaham Al Kuwari.

Imbalance in education

Qatar’s second lowest score was in education. In this section, the report examined:

  • The country’s average years of schooling (MYS) and expected years of schooling (EYS);
  • University enrollment rates;
  • The country’s average PISA scores; and
  • The female share of degrees in Maths, Science and ICT.

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.

These figures were obtained from UNESCO and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

While Qatar’s women are statistically more engaged in university education, the under-performance of their male peers lowered the country’s score.

“Female educational engagement is high in Qatar, but for males, it is low,” Chan told Doha News. “The index is agnostic in the direction of the gap. Men underachieving is as bad as females underachieving.”

Weaknesses in health

Relatively speaking, Qatar’s highest score was in health.

This section took into account the country’s average life expectancy, tobacco usage, obesity and mortality rates.

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However, number-wise, Qatar still scored poorly compared to many other countries, and still has far to go in this regard.

This is because obesity and tobacco consumption rates, two key parts of the section, were very high in Qatar, Chan said.

He added that the country’s high ratio of men to women had also counted against it and its GCC neighbors.

“The large disparity in the number of males versus females is something that may lead to social tensions and so is reflected in the index,” he said.

You can view the full report here.


United Nations

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In response to calls from several other countries at a recent United Nations session, Qatar has said it does not have any plans to grant full citizenship to the children of Qatari mothers and non-Qatari fathers.

Citizenship is passed down differently for male and female nationals in Qatar. Children with a Qatari father receive citizenship, but babies born to a Qatari mother and foreign father do not.

On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council completed its periodic review of Qatar’s human rights record – a process that nearly 50 countries undergo each year.

In total, other nations made some 183 recommendations on how Qatar could improve its performance, including the ratification of various international treaties and passing laws to better protect migrant workers, among others.

Qatar rejected 38 of those suggestions, including four – submitted by France, Greece, Mexico and Norway – to grant citizenship to the children of Qatari women and foreign men.

In his opening remarks, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani – Qatar’s assistant minister for international co-operation affairs – did not address the issue directly, but offered a general explanation for why the Gulf country couldn’t accept some recommendations:

“The state of Qatar could not accept a number of them in full because they contained items that are incompatible with the provisions of Islamic law, Qatar’s constitution or because they touch upon the national identity.”


Calls to reform the country’s citizenship laws have been circulating for several years. While human rights organizations argue it’s an issue of equality, others have focused on the practical implications for the children of Qatari mothers and non-Qatari fathers living in this country.

In a 2011 report, the Peninsula noted that they are treated as foreigners and must periodically renew their residency permits. They are denied privileges such as free electricity and water, subsidised food products and free education, as well as many of the government jobs set aside for nationals.

More recently, a debate on Twitter explored how the country’s citizenship laws affect the self-identity of so-called “half-Qataris.”

Amal Al-Malki – a university professor born to a Qatari father and a Lebanese mother – started the online discussion in June and told Doha News at the time that she believed some “half Qataris” are sidelined due to an “anxiety” about foreigners within the community:

“Modernity has brought in an influx of foreigners to the country, making us a minority in our own land. We have developed an anxiety from non-Qataris unfortunately, and we tend to preserve our culture through making it hard for outsiders to ‘invade’ it. We speak of purity of lineage and cultural cohesion as if we live in an island of our own.”

Migrant rights

Gender equality was only one of a wide range of Qatar-related issues raised at last week’s UN session.

Roughly two dozen recommendations dealt with migrant workers and Qatar’s kafala sponsorship system, which is routinely blamed for enabling the abuse of laborers in this country.

Employers currently wield significant power over foreign workers and can prevent them from changing jobs and leaving the country.

In May, government officials proposed several changes to the country’s labor laws. While ministers often speak of replacing kafala with “employment contracts,” the proposals would still include restrictions on changing jobs, and mechanisms that allow sponsors to object to foreigners leaving the country.

While the legislation is still being considered and may not be implemented until next year, the government has used the proposals to fend off criticism in international forums about the abuse of migrants in Qatar.

At the UN last week, Al-Thani reminded the Human Rights Committee of Qatar’s “intentions to undertake considerable reforms” to protect migrant laborers.

Qatar said it accepted calls by Costa Rica to “consider abolishing the kafala system for all migrant workers and eliminating the exit permit system,” as well as Australia’s suggestion to “remove the requirement in the law on sponsorship for foreign nationals to obtain the permission of their current employer before moving jobs or leaving the country,” among others.

However, Qatar rejected a recommendation from the Czech Republic to protect individuals’ right to freely associate, as well as a more explicit suggestion from Spain to permit trade unions – something labor advocates have said will lead to improved living and working conditions for expats.

Some of the country’s business leaders have said the lack of unions gives companies in Qatar a competitive advantage.

Last week, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al Baker told Bloomberg that he “feels sorry” for his counterpart at German airline Lufthansa, which has experienced several recent strikes and threats of labor action.

“I’m sure he envies me very much, because we don’t have to take the crap of the unions.”

Al-Thani said Qatar plans to apply for a seat at the UN Human Rights Council for the 2015-17 term, a position it’s held twice in the past.


Katara Shakespeare

Jaimee Haddad

In a socially conservative country like Qatar, where young men and women are often discouraged from interacting with each other, some are always willing to get creative to skirt social norms.

A relatively obvious strategy that’s been employed has been to meet and court members of the other gender in broad daylight from the safety of one’s own vehicles. In recent months, the gathering spot of choice for many Arab men and women has been Shakespeare Street, at Katara Cultural Village.

There, a parade of cars cruise up and down the street almost every afternoon. The men drive in a long oval shape, looping around the street’s roundabouts. The women, dressed in oversize sunglasses, loose-fitting hijabs and a fair dab of makeup, do the same. Most cars have their windows down, and music on.

In theory, the way it works is this: If a guy in his car spots a girl he likes, he will toss her his mobile phone number. She can either accept his number by keeping it with her, or reject the number by tossing it out the window. Likewise, if a girl spots a guy she likes, she will toss him her phone number.

It’s a ritual that has puzzled and invited attention from expats, visitors to Katara and even the police department at times.

‘Not healthy’

Because these young men and women have few chances to interact in person, trading phone numbers allows for an easier form of communication than face-to-face contact, according to Dr. Moza Al-Malki, a prominent Qatari psychologist.

Segregation in school and with marriageable family members is not uncommon once kids hit puberty, she explained.

“I think because they are segregating boys and girls from their childhood, they can’t see their cousins – and this is not normal in so many societies,” explains Al-Malki.

From the age of 12 or 13 years old, families draw gender lines between cousins, she told Doha News. “In my opinion, this is not healthy,” she said.

The “car-dating” phenomenon is not a new development for Qatar. Such convoys have been known to gather at malls and smaller compounds, and Katara is just the latest gathering point, one young expat who is familiar with the custom told Doha News.

Because a few popular eateries are situated at the end of Shakespeare Street, not everyone who drives through the promenade comes with the intention of picking up a phone number.


But their intentions can be misunderstood, and some of these visitors end up being harassed by the regulars. Occasionally, witnesses have observed groups of men approach the cars of visitors, knocking on the windows and depositing slips of paper with their phone numbers on them.


Jaimee Haddad

Police cars and Internal Security Forces appear to be aware of the situation, and do conduct rounds there – sometimes several times a day – to monitor the situation.

In addition to harassment of visitors, the ritual can also add to congestion on Katara’s streets – especially during evenings and weekends – greatly slowing down the pace of traffic.

“(But) this is not a real relationship,” says the Qatari psychologist says. “They are just wasting their time.”

If the situation has arisen simply out of boredom, Al-Malki suggests young men could find other ways to pass the time:

“It’s a beautiful idea – instead of going and driving there (at Katara), they go the racecourse and they do whatever they want, under supervision. Why don’t they go there?”

Getting attention

According to one young man familiar with the Shakespeare Street ritual, though, it’s that lack of “supervision” that makes it so appealing, combined of course with the thrill of getting a bit of attention from the opposite sex, and scoring a few phone numbers.

Oussama, who preferred to be identified only by his first name, explains that Shakespeare Street is filled with two different crowds at different times of the day:

The first – lunchtime – coincides with the break times of some colleges and high schools that are close by. The lunchtime hooking up seems to have a more “innocent” feel to it. The girls are there to get the sort of attention from guys that they are usually not allowed to get.

Many papers with numbers written on them are thrown into the girls’ cars, and they find joy in the ability to either throw them outside the window, or keep them for later use. It is an odd way for this sort of “unreleased social energy,” but it’s obvious where it’s coming from.

In the evening, it’s an older crowd heading to Katara, he continues.

“After midnight, Shakespeare’s Street in Katara becomes a destination for men who are looking for something more,” he says. “A girl who goes there after midnight is probably thinking likewise.”

He adds that the men sometimes “throw money and phones into the girls’ cars, hoping that one day they will get the Blackberry pin of ‘the girl of their dreams.’ ”

Several people observed participating in the convoy declined to comment.

Have you taken part or seen the ritual on the Shakespeare St.? Thoughts?