Browsing 'women’s rights' News

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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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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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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.


Hatoon Al Fassi/Facebook

Dr. Hatoon Al Fassi

Prominent Saudi scholar Dr. Hatoon Al Fassi teaches at Qatar University. Last October, several people in Qatar attacked her on social media for her feminist views, with many calling for her to be sacked.

In honor of International Women’s Day earlier this week, she explains here the impact the attack had on her, and why she believes feminism and open debate both have a very important role to play in the region’s development. 

Last year, a female Qatari student came to me angry about the appearance of another Qatari woman on TV.

The woman had told the interviewer that everything was fine for women in Qatar, and that all women’s rights were granted.

Qatar University

Qatar University

My student had written an article rebutting these views with another colleague of hers from Qatar University (QU).

I was impressed by their well-written piece.

Once they published it online and passed the link on, I endorsed it. I expressed how proud I was, as any teacher, of my growing pupils going out into a world of well versed-grown-ups.

Unexpected consequences

I thought that the piece would draw attention to the issues that are holding Qatari women back from full participation in their growing country.

I also expected the piece to inaugurate these two college students into the world of opinion writing, and assumed they would start to have offers from media outlets asking them to further express their ideas.

What I didn’t expect was that the world would turn upside down and collapse on both these students and their instructor in the ugliest, most vulgar way.

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Their article was shared widely on social media. This prompted an angry crowd to jump out from behind their (often anonymous) Twitter accounts to lecture about rights and traditions, religion and beliefs.

They started by attacking the students and asking how they dared to criticize their “ideal” lifestyle.

They then moved onto me, and dug into any juicy element from my academic and activist past, using and abusing without limit.

And they even created a new hashtag asking to fire me from my professorship at QU.

Unfortunately, some op-eds in respectable newspapers also took part.

Postponed lecture

During the furor, a debate I had been due to have at QU with a professor from the Sharia college about Women In Islam was postponed.

My views on this are well-known already.

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My position stems from the fact that I am a Muslim woman of faith who believes in Islam’s contribution to human civilization, thought and values.

I believe that Islam came as a social and economic revolution to ancient practices and beliefs.

A large part of that change was on the level of women. For example, Islam challenged norms at the time that denied a woman’s right to inheritance and did not acknowledge her as an equal human being.

Human interpretation

Thus, I have high regard for what Islam has contributed to women.

However, we need to revisit and rethink the way in which Islamic ideals have been translated into our laws and practices. This process is totally man-made – and not enshrined in divine law.

What is known in Islamic history is that there is a rich history of differences and discussions among Islamic scholars.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

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These differences were accommodated and considered to be normal.

I believe that it is time for women to participate in the production and interpretation of Islamic knowledge. The process could contribute tremendously to women’s status in Muslim societies today.

Questioning and debating are tools that are required in the Quran for Muslims to reach the level of thinkers, reflectors and sages. They are also required to reach the level of Khalifa (Trustee on Earth).

I believe that questioning the human production of Islamic knowledge produced hundreds of years ago should be acceptable in public, as it is in university classes.

A second home

November 2016, the month of the online furor, was one of the worst months I’ve ever had in Qatar, the country to which I owe a lot professionally and personally.

Doha has become my children’s second home, where they have grown up and been educated well.

Omar Chatriwala/Doha News

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And at the same time, they could still visit Riyadh every holiday and see their now late grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins.

But after the Twitter mobs descended, my son came to me asking, “what does firing in Arabic mean, and what does it mean to us?” He had heard about it from friends at school.

In the end, I was not touched, but it was a difficult time for all of us.

Beacon of enlightenment

Despite my experience, I believe that it is vital that universities remain a place for open debate.

They are the beacon of enlightenment for any society, the space where knowledge is produced and generations are prepared to take their turn in carrying on their country’s development, building and progress.

Qatar University

The QU campus

They are a place where ideas are presented from all angles, debated, negated, accepted, adopted or refused in an environment of academic freedom, with respect for each person’s views.

Hence, they are leaders of change and progress.

This role might be challenged by society through its traditions and practices. But universities need always to keep standing their ground.

Otherwise, their existence becomes pointless.

Hatoon Al Fassi is a well-known Saudi commentator on Gulf women’s rights, championing for women’s ability to vote and drive in her home country. The scholar has been part of QU’s faculty for the past seven years, and teaches women’s and Middle East history in the Department of International Affairs. 

The views expressed in this Opinion article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Doha News’ editorial policy.

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UCL Qatar / Facebook

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University College London (UCL) Qatar, the local branch of one of the UK’s most prestigious universities, has admitted to an “anomaly” in its HR policy that stipulated married women recruited locally would be paid significantly less than their male colleagues.

In a story published in the UK’s The Times newspaper this week, an internal email sent last year by Thilo Rehren, director of UCL Qatar, called the policy of giving married female members of staff a lower housing allowance than their male colleagues “morally and legally not acceptable.”

The note, sent to UCL’s vice provost for student affairs, read:

“Current practice (which is informed by Qatari norms) treats our employees materially differently depending on their gender, which is morally and legally not acceptable, leads to serious dissatisfaction at work, and poses a risk for staff retention.”

Rehren’s comments followed a complaint from a member of UCL Qatar staff in January last year that said that the policy could “materially disadvantage married women.”

The exchange of internal emails on the subject was uncovered by Times reporters following a Freedom of Information law request, which allow both journalists and members of the public in the UK to request records from public institutions.

The emails highlight the case of a woman who received a housing allowance of just £624 (QR3,469) a month compared to a male colleague who received £3,568 (QR19,831) a month, despite there being just one grade difference between the two employees.

The emails also show that the university took steps to remedy the situation after the complaint was raised, giving compensation to current and former staff who were affected by the rule.

One member of staff was given £124,000 (QR690,000) in compensation to reflect the housing allowance she should have been paid, the newspaper reports.

The Times‘ article follows an outcry in the UK media after one of UCL’s professors, Tim Hunt, was forced to resign after making sexist comments about female scientists.

What the law says

Rehren’s statement that UCL-Qatar’s policy was “informed by Qatari norms” reflects a common scenario here.

Usually, only the “head of a household” is entitled to receive benefits like housing allowances, school fee allowances and free flights home.

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Pascal Klein/Flickr

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This often means that women who are married to men who are also working in Qatar do not receive allowances received by other colleagues doing the same job.

This is because many married women arrive in Qatar on a family visa, sponsored by their husbands.

When she starts looking for work, potential employers assume that she will already be accommodated in housing provided by her husband’s employer, and therefore they believe she has no need of further financial assistance to help with housing.

Qatar’s Human Resources Law lays out contractual rules for employees of government ministries, public authorities and institutions (like UCL Qatar’s hosts, Qatar Foundation).

It states that if both husband and wife work for a government ministry or related agency, the spouse who qualifies for the highest housing allowance should continue to receive it.

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Peter Kovessy

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The other spouse would be paid the same (lower) allowance as that of an unmarried employee. The policy, however, does not state that the man should automatically receive the higher allowance.

In the case of UCL Qatar, married women recruited locally – both expats and Qatari nationals – were paid a “married person’s supplement,” lower than the allowance given to a single person and significantly less than the allowance given to married men and women recruited from abroad.

Private companies in Qatar set their own rules regarding housing allowance entitlement, but it is normal for them to refuse to offer a locally-hired spouse (either male or female) any additional benefits on top of his/her salary, particularly if that employee remains under the spouse’s sponsorship and not the company’s.

Although these practices appear to discriminate against women, Qatar’s Labor Law specifically states that women and men should receive equal pay:

“Article (93) A working woman shall be paid a wage equivalent to the wage payable to a man if she performs the same work and shall be availed of the same opportunities of training and promotion.”

However, despite the word of the law, it does appear that the withholding of benefits such as housing allowances is having a significant impact on the earning power of locally-hired women – and it’s not a new problem.

In 2011, the Qatar Statistic Authority’s Sustainable Development Indicators report focused on the widening pay gap between men and women in Qatar, noting that many women, both Qatari and non Qatari, were paid 25 to 50 percent less than men, despite the fact that their working hours were comparable.

The report attributed the widening gulf in part to the social allowances afforded men as household heads, which women were unlikely to receive.

University’s response

The Times noted that UCL Qatar staff were alerted to the change in policy last July, and it is assumed that affected female staff received compensation soon afterwards.

UCL Qatar Graduation ceremony

UCL Qatar / Facebook

UCL Qatar Graduation ceremony

In a newly released statement reacting to the newspaper’s story, UCL disclosed that the housing element of its contracts for staff in Qatar was the responsibility of its “partner on the ground,” QF, which funds the housing of its staff.

However, the university says it accepts “legitimate criticism for the error (it) made” but says that it was a “genuine mistake” which was “rectified more than a year before any media coverage.”

Ethics of foreign firms

For Times columnist Giles Whittell, who wrote an editorial in Wednesday’s Times entitled “Universities that forget values lose their reputation,” this incident is an example of how many British firms water down their values when they move abroad in order to make doing business easier.

“Higher education should be a growth export for Britain,” he said, “but British educational brands have value abroad because of what they stand for. If it turns out they don’t stand for anything, it won’t be long before they don’t have any value either.”

For its part, UCL argues that its move to remedy the situation when it came to light shows that it takes its ethics seriously:

“Any university that seeks to branch out and establish an overseas presence faces the challenge of remaining true to its ethos while appreciating that legal and societal practices vary around the world,” it said in its statement.

“Whether in Qatar or elsewhere, our aim is to engage to support progressive change. We do not leave our values behind when we leave London.”