Women in Qatar

Women in Qatar

Female Qatari basketball players
Gender Inequality Index[1]
Value 0.524 (2013)
Rank 113th out of 152
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 7 (2010)
Women in parliament 0.1% (2013)
Females over 25 with secondary education 66.7% (2012)
Women in labour force 50.8% (2012)
Global Gender Gap Index[2]
Value 0.6299 (2013)
Rank 115th out of 144

Women in Qatar are women who are living in or are from Qatar. Qatar's policies regarding women's rights is influenced by the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.[3] Women were enfranchised in the country in 1999.


Prior to the establishment of an urban society, Qatar was used as rangeland for nomadic tribes from the Najd and Al Hasa regions of Saudi Arabia.[4] In Bedouin society, women were responsible for buying and selling goods on behalf of their tribe.[5] Women often had to assume positions of decision-making within their tribe when men left their families for long stretches of time to participate in pearl hunting trips or to act as merchants.[6] They were separated from men within their own quarters in the tent or house.[7] Education was regarded as unimportant and scarcely available for the majority of women in Bedouin tradition. On the other hand, children in urban areas were taught the Quran until the age of ten, after which the family would celebrate al khatma, the end of memorizing the Quran.[8]

Industrial era

After the country began reaping the financial benefits of oil drilling operations in the 1950s and 1960s, an increasing number of women began receiving formal education.[9] Kuwaiti journalist Hidayat Sultan Al Salem wrote of Qatari women's role in 1968:

Hidayat Sultan Al Salem, "Papers of a Traveller in the Arabian Gulf":[10]
"Most women do not go out of their houses except on rare occasions. They go out to the market place once a year. Of course, women are completely secluded from men, they have their own social gatherings and parties. Mixing between the two sexes doesn't exist at all. [...] Radio and newspaper are the women's only link with the outside world."

There was a marked increase of women in the workforce during the early seventies.[11]


The first formal girls' school in Qatar was opened in 1955, three years after the opening of the first boys' school. Prior to the school's establishment, the only form of education that existed for women was religious education.[12] An annual statistics report by the Ministry of Education reveals that in 1980–81, there were 70 girls' schools with 19,356 students; an increase from 50 female students in 1955.[13]

The first university in Qatar was opened in 1973.[14] It provided separate faculties for both men and women. Out of the 157 initial students, 103 of them were female.[13] The ratio of women-to-men students remained steady over the proceeding years. Sheikha Abdulla Al-Misnad became the first female president of the university in 2003. Females accounted for more than 50% of the university's personnel in 2008.[15] In 2012, there were almost twice as many female students enrolled in the university as there were males.[16]

In 2008 it was reported that the growth rate in the number of female students had surpassed that of males in public schools. More than half of the Ministry of Education's employees are female.[15]

Clothing and attire

Women and men are expected to dress in a manner that is modest, but the dress code is generally driven by social customs and is more relaxed in comparison to other nations in the region. Qatari women generally wear customary dresses that include “long black robes” and black head cover "hijab", locally called bo'shiya.[17][18] However, the more traditional Sunni Muslim clothing for women are the black colored body covering known as the abayah together with the black scarf used for covering their heads known as the shayla.[19]

It is believed that Qatari women began using face masks in the 19th century amid substantial immigration. As they had no practical ways of concealing their faces from foreigners, they began wearing the same type of face mask as their Persian counterparts.[20]


Traditional Qatari folk music is primarily centered on pearling. However, as pearling was an activity exclusive to men, women were not included in this form of singing except for when returning pearl ships were sighted.[21] In this case, they would gather around the seashore where they would clap and sing songs on the hardships of pearl diving.[22]

Women mainly sang songs relating to work activities, such as wheat grinding or embroidery. Some songs were of general themes, while others were of specific processes.[22] Public performances by women were practiced only on two annual occasions. The first was al-moradah, which involved women and girls of all social classes gathering in a secluded area in the desert where they would sing and dance in embroidered clothes. This was usually done in the weeks preceding Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.[22] The practice was abandoned in the 1950s. The second occasion of collective public singing is known as al-ashori, which refers to performances during weddings. It is still practiced by some classes of Qatari society.[23]


Crafting activities were popular forms of artistic expression in Bedouin society. They also served functional purposes.[24]

Weaving and dying

Weaving and dyeing by women played a substantial role in Bedouin culture. The process of spinning sheep's and camel's wool to produce cloths was laborious. The wool was first disentangled and tied to a bobbin, which would serve as a core and keep the fibers rigid. This was proceeded by spinning the wool by hand on a spindle known as noul.[24] They were then placed on a vertical loom constructed from wood whereupon women would use a stick to beat the weft into place.[25]

The resulting cloths were used in rugs, carpets and tents. Tents were usually made up of naturally colored cloths, whereas rugs and carpets used dyed cloths; mainly red and yellow.[25] The dyes were fashioned from desert herbs, with simple geometrical designs being employed. The art lost popularity in the 19th century as dyes and cloths were increasingly imported from other regions in Asia.[25]


Further information: Islamic embroidery

A simple form of embroidery practiced by Qatari women was known as kurar. It involved four women, each carrying four threads, who would braid the threads on articles of clothing - mainly thawbs or abayas. The braids, varying in color, were sewn vertically. It was similar to heavy chain stitch embroidery.[25] Gold threads, known as zari, were commonly used. They were usually imported from India.[26]

Another type of embroidery involved the designing of caps called gohfiahs. They were made from cotton and were pierced with thorns from palm-trees to allow the women to sew between the holes. This form of embroidery declined in popularity after the country began importing the caps.[26]

Khiyat al madrasa, translated as 'school embroidery', involved the stitching of furnishings by satin stitching. Prior to the stitching process, a shape was drawn onto the fabric by a skilled artist. The most common designs were birds and flowers.[27]


Sports were rarely participated in by women until the 21st century. In 1998, a competition featuring women's athletic events was hosted for the first time in the country by the Qatar Athletics Federation. The competition was sanctioned by the IAAF and was also one of the first major sporting events in Qatar to allow women spectators.[28] A women's sports committee was established in 2000 and affiliated with the Qatar Olympic Committee in 2001.[29] Until the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Qatar was one of three countries that had never had a female competitor at the Olympic games.[30] Qatar eventually sent four women, in swimming (Nada Arkaji), athletics (Noor Hussain Al-Malki), table tennis (Aya Majdi) and shooting (Bahiya Al-Hamad).[30] Bahiya al-Hamad was also set to carry the Qatari flag at the opening ceremony, in what she described as a "truly historic moment".[30]

Social life

Qatar is an Islamic country with the Salafi version of Sunni Islam as the state sponsored brand of Islam in the country, making Qatar one of the two Salafi states in the Muslim world, along with Saudi Arabia.[31] Societal values of women in Qatar tend to be more liberal than those in Saudi Arabia, and there is less sex segregation. A notable difference between the two countries is the freedom of women to operate automobiles, which, while legal in Qatar, is illegal in Saudi Arabia.[32]

For social gatherings, women are generally never brought to social events except for western-style gatherings or when the attendees are composed of close relatives. Schools for girls are separate from schools for boys. In terms of employment opportunities, women are generally employed in government positions, although there are no women in high-level government positions.[19]


Women in Qatar vote and may run for public office. Qatar enfranchised women at the same time as men in connection with the 1999 elections for a Central Municipal Council.[33][34][35] These elections—the first ever in Qatar—were deliberately held on 8 March 1999, International Women’s Day.[33] It was the first GCC country to enfranchise its population.[36]

In 1999, Mouza Al Malki became the first female candidate in the GCC to contest a municipal election.[37] Sheikha Yousuf Hasan Al Jufairi became the first female to hold a municipal position when she won the Central Municipal Council (CMC) elections for the Airport constituency in 2003.[38] Qatar appointed its first female cabinet minister in 2003, when Sheikha Ahmed al-Mahmoud was named as Minister of Education.[39] Two women were simultaneously elected to the CMC for the first time in 2015.[40]

Gender equality

Qatari women have made significant legal and social advancements since the 1990s. Sheikha Mozah has been a vocal advocate for women's issues, supporting women's conferences, higher education opportunities and the creation of a cabinet-level position in the government dedicated to women's concerns. As a result of these advancements, Qatari women have many career opportunities, including leadership positions, in education, banking, charitable projects, health and human services, tourism, law, civil service and even diplomacy.[41]

In 1998, the Womens Affairs Committee was founded as a branch of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs in order to manage the welfare of Qatari women. As well as seeking to uphold women's rights, the committee aims to integrate women into society by providing economic assistance and employment opportunities.[15] Qatar appointed its first female cabinet minister in 2003,[39] and in the same year, a female candidate won the Central Municipal Council (CMC) election for the first time in history.[38] Qatar sent women athletes to the 2012 Summer Olympics that began on 27 July in London.[42]

36%–42% of Qatari women are in the workforce and experts say women are moving forward with more rights.[43][44]

See also


  1. "Table 4: Gender Inequality Index". United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  2. "The Global Gender Gap Report 2013" (PDF). World Economic Forum. pp. 12–13.
  3. "Qatar's Challenge to Saudi Arabia: An alternative view of Wahhabism". academia.edu. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  4. Magee, Peter (2014). The Archaeology of Prehistoric Arabia. Cambridge Press. p. 50. ISBN 9780521862318.
  5. Abu Saud 1984, p. 24 "Bedouin women were therefore responsible for the process of buying and selling within their own tribe."
  6. Abu Saud 1984, pp. 24–25
  7. Abu Saud 1984, p. 25
  8. Abu Saud 1984, p. 26
  9. Abu Saud 1984, p. 31
  10. Abu Saud 1984, p. 35
  11. Abu Saud 1984, p. 34
  12. Abu Saud 1984, p. 173
  13. 1 2 Abu Saud 1984, p. 174
  14. "Qatar University". Qatar e-government. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
  15. 1 2 3 Asia Pacific Infoserv (2008), p. 64
  16. "Female university students in Qatar outnumber men 2:1". Doha News. 12 June 2014. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
  17. Abu Saud 1984, p. 39
  18. King, Courtney. For Qatari Women, Change Slow in Coming
  19. 1 2 "The Culture of Qatar". HilalPlaza. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  20. Abu Saud 1984, p. 52
  21. Abu Saud 1984, p. 146
  22. 1 2 3 Abu Saud 1984, p. 147
  23. Abu Saud 1984, p. 149
  24. 1 2 Abu Saud 1984, p. 135
  25. 1 2 3 4 Abu Saud 1984, p. 136
  26. 1 2 Abu Saud 1984, p. 137
  27. Abu Saud 1984, p. 140
  28. "For women at track meet in Qatar, it's a coverup". Washington Post. 7 May 1998. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  29. "Sports". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar. Retrieved 6 May 2015.
  30. 1 2 3 "London 2012 Olympics: Saudi Arabian women to compete". BBC News Online. 2012-07-12. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  31. Yamani, Mai (2009). "From fragility to stability: a survival strategy for the Saudi monarchy". Contemporary Arab Affairs. 2 (1): 90–105. doi:10.1080/17550910802576114.
  32. Richard H. Curtiss. "For Qatari Educators, Women Are Both the Problem and the Solution" (May/June 1996). Washington Report on Middle East Affairs: 84. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  33. 1 2 Lambert, Jennifer (2011). "Political Reform in Qatar: Participation, Legitimacy and Security". 19 (1). Middle East Policy Council.
  34. Miles, Hugh (2005). Al-Jazeera.
  35. "In Bahrain, Women Run, Women Vote, Women Lose" New York Times
  36. Maisel, Sebastian; Shoup, John A. (2009). Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab States Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Arab States. 1st. Greenwood. p. 373. ISBN 978-0313344428. Qatar became the first Persian Gulf country to enfranchise its indigenous Qatari population (male and female) in an election for a Municipal Council.
  37. Habib Toumi (10 April 2011). "Women candidates to test their luck in Qatar polls". Gulf News. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  38. 1 2 Jack Kelly (9 April 2003). "Qatar ruler pushing nation toward democracy". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  39. 1 2 Duraid Al Baik (7 May 2003). "Al Mahmoud is Qatar's first woman minister". Gulf News. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  40. "Qataris elect two women for first time". Agence France-Presse. 14 May 2015. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  41. "Qatari Women". Embassy of the State of Qatar in Washington, DC. Archived from the original on 15 January 2016.
  42. "Saudi Arabia to let women compete in Olympics for first time". CNN. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
  43. Toumi, Habib. Qatari women moving forward with more rights, expert says, December 22, 2011
  44. "Country reports: Qatar". Freedom House. Archived from the original on 15 January 2016.


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