Following Saudi Arabia’s historic move to lift restrictions on female travel last week, Qatar is the sole remaining Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country that continues to implement the oppressive male guardianship laws for the opposite gender.
The Gulf nation continues to restrict movement for women who are under the age of 25 and single.
According to Qatar’s Ministry of the Interior’s website, single women under the age of 25 require a male guardian’s consent to travel outside the Gulf nation. Qatari men can also apply to the courts to prohibit their wives from traveling. The ministry notes that “Married women are entitled to travel without permission irrespective of their age. In case the husband doesn’t want her to travel, he has to approach the competent court to prevent her journey.”
Friday’s decree in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia allows women to apply for and obtain a passport independently of a male guardian. It also allows women to register marriage, divorce, births of children, to be issued official family documents, and it allows for the father or mother to be legal guardians of children. Prior to this, only men were allowed to engage in such activities.
Human Rights Watch notes that “Qatar’s Law No. 22 of 2006 on family and personal status continues to discriminate against women. Under article 36, a marriage contract is valid when a woman’s male guardian concludes the contract and two male witnesses are present. Article 58 states that it is a wife’s responsibility to look after the household and to obey her husband.”
While Saudi Arabia has progressed in women’s rights — even appointing women to top government positions — it appears Doha still has a ways to go. Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman (MBS) appears to be delivering on his promises.
“Where is what Qatar has promised?” asked Amjad Taha, of the British Middle East Center for Studies and Research (BMCSR). “In Saudi Arabia, there are females in parliament and the council. In Qatar, there is barely female representation in their government.” He continued, “Al Jazeera has always been critical of Saudi Arabia and now that Saudi Arabia has passed that point and implemented the rules to give more rights to females — as MBS has done and increasingly aims to do more of — we should question Qatar. In terms of Qatar and their media, Al Jazeera and Al Jazeera English, we don’t even see one single report about women’s rights in Qatar.”
In a 2012 interview with Qatar’s state-run Al Jazeera news network, Qatari author and Founding Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Qatar Foundation’s Hamad bin Khalifa University, Amal al-Malki criticized the lack of women’s rights in Arab nations. “We have no voice. We have no visibility… And I am telling you, this is why women’s rights should be institutionalized, it should not be held hostage at the hand of political leaderships who can change in a second, right? Governments should be held responsible for treating men and women equally.”
Yet, she has not called out her own government. In fact, her Twitter timeline is littered with criticism of Saudi Arabia. Missing is criticism of her own government’s mistreatment of women.
Last month, al-Malki retweeted a researcher at Human Rights Watch who wrote, “Happy 30th birthday to Loujain al-Hathloul, a courageous human rights activists who remains behind bars in Saudi Arabia for no justifiable reason. #FreeLoujain” and Turkish-British novelist Elif Shafak who also tweeted for the Saudi woman’s release from prison.
Last week, she retweeted an Amnesty International tweet and video that highlights women’s rights activists who are behind bars in Saudi Arabia.
“Qatar is criticizing everyone but they refuse to take a look in the mirror at their own ugly reflection,” Taha said.
According to Human Rights Watch, “Qatar’s nationality law does not allow Qatari women, unlike Qatari men, married to non-Qatari spouses to pass on their nationality to their children.”
Asma Rayan, wife of Sheikh Talal Bin Abdul Aziz Al Thani – the second son of one of the founding fathers of Qatar – and her entire family are living in exile in Europe. Her husband was abducted and imprisoned in Qatar, where he is still being held. He is considered a threat to Qatar’s government.
With the focus on the World Cup 2022 to be hosted by Doha, the international audience is especially concerned about the Gulf nation’s human rights abuses and treatment of migrant workers. Meanwhile, the Gulf nation’s massive media and public relations campaign to create the illusion of a modern and just country is a far stretch from the reality of human rights abuses and maltreatment of its citizens that continues unchecked.
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