Women in Qatar start to break through glass ceiling

By Javier Picazo Feliu

Doha, Jan 3 (EFE).- Many women in Qatar still need the permission of a man to study, get married or leave the country, but a new generation is breaking stereotypes and driving a social and economic shift in the Gulf state.

Under Qatar’s male guardianship system, women cannot take decisions over their lives and require authorization from a male relative (parent, brother or husband if married). Mothers cannot take decisions on behalf of their children nor gain custody over them in the case of divorce.

In its “Everything I have to do is tied to a man” report, Human Rights Watch underlines that the guardianship system is a medley of laws, policies and practices whereby adult women need male guardian permission for many activities.

Once married, a woman can be deemed “disobedient” if she does not get permission from her husband before working, leaving home, traveling or if she refuses to have sex with him without a “legitimate” reason, the report says.

Despite the nation’s Family Law, which says that guardianship ceases when people turn 18, and an article in the Constitution that says there can be no discrimination between genders, the guardianship system is still applied by many households even after women come of age.

A lack in domestic violence legislation also means women are left exposed and unprotected when it comes to abuse from husbands and family members.

“Women in Qatar have broken barriers and achieved significant progress in areas such as education, yet they have to still navigate state-enforced male guardianship rules that limit their ability to live full, productive, and independent lives,” Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher at HRWatch, warns.

The rigidity of these rules depends on how each family applies them, and the Qatari women that have enjoyed open-minded environments are now paving the way for a new generation of empowered women who have reached the highest echelons in business and politics.

These women get divorced, travel without permission, go to restaurants and launch businesses.

“I have always had the support of my family (…) I never felt intimidated, my voice was always heard even as a fresh graduate,” Fatima Sultan Al Kuwari, human resources chief at Qatar’s leading telecom company Ooredoo.

“I have to brothers and two sisters and I never felt, even at home, any discrimination between my brothers and us as women, actually my dad was very equal in treating everyone, and coming here (Ooredoo) I was never discriminated against for being a women although I was a minority at the time,” the divorced mother adds.

According to the HR expert, women in Qatar have found a space in private companies where they can freely develop their careers without cultural or legal impediments whilst enjoying parental leave, a work-life balance and flexibility.

“Women are really very empowered here in Ooredoo (…) There are many female entrepreneurs that have boosted their businesses with great success,” Al Kuwari adds.

This shift is also taking place within the Qatari government where three women lead powerful portfolios with Hanan Mohamed Al Kuwari as Health Minister, Buthaina bint Ali Al Jabr Al Nuaimi as Education Minister and Mariam bint Ali bin Nasser Al Misnad as Social and Family Affairs Minister, Al Kuwari says.


Shams Al-Qassabi became a pioneer in Qatar when she launched her business challenging cultural barriers and garnering respect across the emirate thanks to her willpower and humble approach.

Al-Qassabi started making sauces and in 2004 opened a small cafe in Doha’s souq.

It is now one of the most famous restaurants in the country and a go-to for international celebrities and members of the emir’s family.

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