In Qatar, male guardian rules deny women the right to wed, travel, work or to make decisions about their children

In Qatar, male guardian rules deny women the right to wed, travel, work or to make decisions about their children

Opaque rules on male guardianship leave women without basic freedoms, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), which has analysed for the first time the way the system works in practice in Qatar.

Researchers looked at 27 laws covering work, accommodation and status and found that women must get permission from male “guardians” – fathers, brothers, uncles and husbands – to exercise many basic rights. They cannot be primary carers of their children, even if they are divorced or the children’s father has died. If the child has no male relative to act as guardian, the government takes on this role.

Women in Qatar are dependent on men for permission to marry, travel, pursue higher education or make decisions about their own children.HRW Report

Women interviewed for the report brought to light some of the harrowing accounts of denial, subjugation, mental harm and in some instances recurring suicidal thoughts. Women described how their guardians denied them permission to drive, travel, study, work or marry someone of their own choice.

Girls are [constantly] in quarantine,” said one woman. “What the whole world experiences now, this is normal life for girls in Qatar.”

Rothna Begum, a women’s rights researcher at HRW, said the study was driven in part by the need to clarify legislation.

The government in Qatar don’t want women to know the rules,” she said.

“They want men to have power and control. So if laws are changed, the government don’t inform women and when they introduce restrictions they don’t tell them that clearly, either. These laws exist in a nefarious way and women have to base decisions on an assumption that they must be obedient to men.

“Women are often asked to have permission from a male guardian even if it’s not written in the regulations. So, the government told us that women don’t need male permission to work, yet in many government jobs HR [human resources departments] were saying: ‘Show us a letter from a man.’

“Or, passport law says a woman can get her own passport but there have been instances where officials say a father must approve the application,” said Begum.

There are no anti-discrimination laws in Qatar, no agency you can go to if you want to complain. There are no functioning women’s rights organisations who can monitor how women are treated or hold the government to account.”

In response to the HRW report, a spokesperson for the Qatari government said: “Gender equality and female empowerment are central to Qatar’s success and vision. Qatar is an outspoken advocate for women’s rights at home and abroad. The Human Rights Watch report inaccurately portrays Qatar’s laws, policies and practices related to women. The accounts mentioned in the report are not aligned with our constitution, laws or policies. The government will investigate these cases and prosecute anyone who has broken the law.”

In a written response to HRW, the government disputed the claims and said that women could act as guardians to obtain passports or ID cards for their children, that women did not need permission to accept a scholarship or to work at ministries, government institutions or schools and that guardian approval was also not required for educational field trips at Qatar University.

Amidst all the noise, women in Qatar still finds it difficult to speak out.

In November 2019, 21-year-old Noof al-Maadeed decided to leave Qatar after years of domestic abuse and restrictions. She took her father’s phone and used the government’s Metrash app to process an exit permit. She then climbed out her bedroom window to go to the airport. With her permit, she flew first to Ukraine and then to the UK, where she claimed asylum.

When Maadeed went public about her escape, discussions began on social media about women’s rights. In January 2020, Qatar responded by lifting the requirement on women to have a guardian’s permission to obtain driving licences.

We, as spectators from outside, can not imagine the trauma women have to go through in Qatar. While the Government says “all is well”. The following account gives a different picture.

For girls – you are [constantly] in quarantine. What the whole world experiences now, this is the normal life for girls [in Qatar]. I wanted to study abroad but it was a no from my parents, even though I had a scholarship.

—“Asma,” a 40-year-old Qatari woman, June 16, 2020

Prakriti S

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