Qatari Women: Engagement and Empowerment

Project: Research project

Project Details


Female engagement and empowerment in the Middle East and in the Arab Gulf in particular have been largely overlooked in social science literature until quite recently (Sonbol 2012). Even so, research has often highlighted exceptional “woman worthies” over time (e.g.,Lienhardt 2001, 62, 171–72; Ahmed 1992; Mernissi 1993; Peirce 1993; Fay 2012; Stowasser 2012) but has often ignored the ordinary women of today and their engagement with their societies. In addition, another strand of literature emphasizes the historical participation and involvement of women in their societies before the advent of oil wealth (e.g., Foley 2010), which is used to argue that oil wealth has created an increase of patriarchic society and a further withdrawal of women from their economies and polities (Ross 2012). Too often, the Western and global mindset emphasizes social and cultural exclusion and segregation of women, particularly in the Arab Gulf region, to argue that women are left out, oppressed, and silenced. As Pollard (2013, 345) argues, “Western societies have long reduced Middle Eastern women only to customs such as veiling, seclusion, and polygamy” and this misperception leads to “bizarre and denigrating . . . understandings of women’s roles and traditions.” Yet Qatar is an exemplar country that stands in direct contrast to this stereotype of women. Not only does Qatar have many strong female leaders—Sheikha Moza bint Nasser and Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad Al Thani; several women on the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women 2012 list published by CEO Middle East / Arabian Business; three women ministers (in Education, Public Health, and Communication and Information Technology); and female representation on the Central Municipal Council—but Qatari women have also enjoyed voting rights since 1999, and have achieved high levels of education rates as well as a rising labor force participation that is higher than other countries in the region (Fay 2012, 2). However, as Dr. Amal Al Malki, the first Qatari professor at Education City, argued, “The era of reform that Qatar is going through has brought reform to women in all aspects of life. . . . Although women in Qatar enjoy a larger space of freedom than other women in other countries or than women of my generation, we could still do much better” (Al Malki 2011). Despite high government priority in the Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2008) and the Qatar National Development Strategy 2011–2016 (QNDS 2011) toward empowering women to participate actively in economy, society, and politics, the government has noted very real concerns with cultural and traditional barriers to this participation. In addition, the government is concerned with the protection of the family unit as the core of Qatari society and is actively seeking to halt the rising trends of divorce rates and instances of non-marriage among Qatari women. It is essential to understand Qatari women’s methods of engagement with their families, communities, economies, and polities, as well as their concerns and opinions on factors that help or hinder their own empowerment and inclusion in society. Our research aims to understand the drivers and obstacles of women’s empowerment in Qatar, through studying Qatari women directly through quantitative (survey) and qualitative (participant-observation ethnographic, audiovisual) methods, focusing in particular on female participation in “women’s gatherings” (majlis al-hareem) and its links to outward engagement. Our research outputs include written and audiovisual components to better understand and dissemin
Effective start/end date3/31/142/29/16


  • Qatar National Research Fund (UREP 15-035-5-013)


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