Women’s day-to-day lives are profoundly controlled and restricted by men in Qatar under the country’s stringent guardianship laws, a new report has found.
The study, carried out by Human Rights Watch, discovered women in the Gulf country must get permission from their male guardians to marry, get basic reproductive healthcare, and study overseas on government scholarships.
Most women interviewed said the rules have exerted a “heavy toll” on their ability to have independent fulfilled lives - with some saying it has contributed to feelings of depression, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
Women must obtain the permission of a male guardian to marry irrespective of their age and once the woman is married she can be seen as “disobedient” if she does not get her husband’s consent before working, travelling, or if she leaves the house or declines to have sex with him, without having a “legitimate” justification.
While men, on the other, are allowed to be simultaneously married to up to four women without getting consent from their current wife or from a guardian. Unfair discriminatory divorce laws have forced some women to remain cooped up with abusive husbands - routinely waiting years for a divorce to come through.
Nawal*, a Qatari woman, said when she was forced to ask the state marriage committee for permission to marry a foreign national, her brother refused to back her decision.
The 32-year-old said: “I needed his signature and letter and he kind of felt powerful and showed resistance. We had a personal issue, and he was like, ‘I’m not going to help you.’”
While Dana*, a 20-year-old Qatari woman, said at the age of 18 she was forced to pretend she was married by giving the name and number of a friend as her husband to access urgent healthcare.
“One time, an ER doctor referred me to the women’s hospital for an ultrasound,” she said. “I was in so much pain he thought my ovary had burst. But they wouldn’t give me a vaginal ultrasound without a marriage license. They refused to actually do a physical on me because I wasn’t married.”
Unmarried women under 25 must get permission from a guardian to make trips abroad under the restrictions.
While women are blocked from acting as their children’s primary guardian - even when they have obtained legal custody after getting divorced from their husband.
Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “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.
“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.”
She said Qatar is “failing women” and now “falling behind neighbouring countries” - calling for the nation to eradicate “all discriminatory rules” waged against women.
Qatar’s Government Communications Office though said in its response that the report “inaccurately” portrayed the country’s “law, policies and practices”.
“Gender equality and female empowerment are central to Qatar’s success and vision,” said the GCO. “Qatar is an advocate for women’s rights at home and abroad.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities
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