Human Rights Watch calls on Qatar to dismantle male guardianship
Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Qatar on Monday to eliminate male guardianship rules that prevent women making independent decisions on basic rights such as marriage, travel and accessing reproductive health care.
New York-based HRW said that after taking initiatives on women's rights, including on education and social protection, Qatar was now falling behind Gulf neighbours, after Saudi Arabia in 2019 allowed adult women to travel without permission.
One of 50 women interviewed by HRW described females' lives as akin to being "constantly in quarantine". Now 40, her parents had refused to let her accept a scholarship to study abroad.
Unmarried Qatari women under 25 need guardian approval to travel abroad. Women can be subject to travel bans at any age by husbands or fathers, the rights group said.
While there is no law requiring permission to work or pursue higher education, some women said they still needed approval.
"Male guardianship reinforces the power and control that men have over women's lives and choices and may foster or fuel violence, leaving women few viable options to escape abuse from their families and husbands," HRW said.
Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: a timeline
Saudi Arabia has announced that women will soon be allowed to obtain a driver's licence without the permission of a legal guardian. Here are some other milestones women in the Islamic kingdom have reached over the years. By Carla Bleiker
1955 – first school for girls, 1970 – first university for women: girls have not always been able to go to school like these students in Riyadh. Enrolment at the first school for girls, Dar Al Hanan, began in 1955. The Riyadh College of Education, the first higher education institute for women, opened in 1970
2001 – ID cards for women: at the start of the 21st century, women could get personal ID cards for the first time. The cards are the only way for them to prove who they are, for example in disputes relating to inheritance or property issues. IDs were still only issued with the permission of a woman's guardian, though, and to the guardian instead of directly to the woman. Only in 2006 were women able to get IDs without permission
2005 – end of forced marriages, on paper: Saudi Arabia banned forced marriage in 2005, but marriage contracts continue to be hammered out between the husband-to-be and the father of the bride, not the bride herself
2009 – the first female government minister: in 2009, King Abdullah appointed the first female minister to Saudi Arabia's government. Noura al-Fayez became the deputy education minister for women's affairs
2012 – first female Olympic athletes: Saudi Arabia agreed to allow female athletes to compete on the national team for the Olympics for the first time. One of them was Sarah Attar, who ran the women's 800 metre race at the 2012 Olympics in London wearing a headscarf. Before the Games, there was speculation that the Saudi Arabian team might be banned for gender discrimination if they didn't allow women to participate
2013 – women are allowed to ride bicycles and motorbikes: Saudi leaders allowed women to ride bicycles and motorbikes for the first time in 2013 — but only in recreational areas, wearing full Islamic body covering and with a male relative present
2013 – first women in the Shura: in February 2013, King Abdullah swore in the first 30 women to the Shura, Saudi Arabia's consultative council. This allowed women to be appointed to these positions, soon they would be allowed to actually run for office...
2015 – Women may vote and be voted in: in Saudi Arabia's 2015 municipal elections, women were able to vote and run for office for the first time. By contrast, New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote, in 1893. Germany did so in 1919. At the 2015 Saudi polls, 20 women were elected to municipal roles in the absolute monarchy
2017 – first female head of the Saudi stock exchange: in February 2017, the Saudi stock exchange names the first female chairperson in its history, Sarah Al Suhaimi
2018 – women to be allowed to drive: on 26 September 2017, Saudi Arabia announced that women would soon be allowed to drive. Starting June 2018, they will no longer need permission from their male guardian to get a driver's licence and won't need their guardian in the car when they drive
2018 – women to be allowed in sports stadiums: on 29 October 2017, the country's General Sports Authority announced that women would be allowed into sports stadiums for the first time. Three previously male-only arenas will soon be open for women as well, starting in early 2018
Qatar's human rights record has been in the spotlight as it prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, especially over migrant workers' conditions for which Doha has launched labour reforms.
Qatar described the HRW report as inaccurate but said it would investigate the cases.
"The government continues to enforce, introduce and expand policies that provide women with freedom and agency to make their own decisions," the Government Communications Office (GCO) said in a statement.
The Qatar Olympic Committee announced on Sunday it would conduct a review to promote gender parity.
Last year, Qatar allowed women to obtain a driving licence without permission but, as in other Gulf states, they require guardian approval to marry. Women cannot act as their children's primary guardian, even if they have legal custody, HRW said.
Women are becoming more vocal about their rights, but laws limiting freedom of expression and association, government intimidation, and online harassment remain obstacles, it added.
In 2019, HRW said, women tweeted from an anonymous account about Qatar's guardianship system, but it shut down within 24 hours after cyber security officials summoned one woman.
The GCO did not respond to a request for comment. (Reuters)