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CEDAW Review: Qatar’s gender discriminatory laws and practices comes under fire

CEDAW Review: Qatar’s gender discriminatory laws and practices comes under fire
Nofe Al Suwaidi

Although under-reported locally, this is a critical time for women and women’s issues in Qatar. Qatar is currently being reviewed for the first time by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva, Switzerland. Thursday (February 13th, 2014), CEDAW members had the chance to engage with Qatar’s delegation representing the Qatari government. A wide range of issues, laws and practices were covered, issues such as domestic violence, citizenship, political participation, discrimination in the workforce, and others.

What’s CEDAW?

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was first adopted by the United Nations in 1979 and entered as an international treaty in 1981. In March 2009, Qatar ratified the CEDAW agreement and as such comes before the Committee every few years to present the progress and the steps taken to eliminate all forms gender discrimination against women. There are 30 Articles in the CEDAW agreement against which this progress is compared that is listed here.

Qatar’s Review

At its 57th Session, the Committee reviewed Qatar amongst other member states (including Bahrain, Cameroon, Finland, Iraq, Kazakhstan and Sierra Leone). The Qatari delegation representing the State was led by H.E. Dr. Juhaina Al-Easa, Vice President of the Supreme Council of Family Affairs. Five Shadow Reports were submitted reviewing Qatar within the mind frame of discrimination against women. Only one of these reports was submitted from a local perspective.

Highlights from Qatar’s Review Sessions

CEDAW Legality and Application in Local Courts
CEDAW members questioned how CEDAW Articles are applied and what is their legitimacy in Qatari courts. Qatar’s delegates stated that in cases of incompatibly between local laws and the CEDAW Convention, CEDAW gets primacy. When examples where CEDAW was used in local courts and in constitutional court were asked for, none were shared.
An apt comment on this by Ibrahim Al-Baker on twitter: “It seems that Qatar’s representative isn’t aware that the Constitutional Court hasn’t been activated yet in Qatar?”

Civil Society and Independent Associations
CEDAW members stated that there are no independent associations in Qatar today dealing with women’s issues and wanted further information about the steps taken by Qatar in order to encourage the formation of independent organisations. To which Qatar claimed that there were no laws in place prohibiting these organisations from being established, however, there are no members of the community who applied for establishment of such organisations.
However, there are various requirements in the lengthy process of forming an independent association, including seeking approval from the Prime Minister. As CEDAW members pointed out, such approval from the Prime Minister in itself is a hindrance to the establishment of such organisations. It is also important to note that any associations with political persuasions is prohibited from formation. “In the case that a women’s association were to encourage female representation at the Central Municipal Council or Shura Council, under this law it would not be able to do so,” says Esraa Al-Muftah, a Qatari social activist who was live tweeting the review.

Qatar’s Reservations to CEDAW Articles

In the State’s report submitted to the CEDAW, Qatar entered reservations to the following articles:

Article 2: States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women and, to this end, undertake:
(a)   To embody the principle of the equality of men and women in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation if not yet incorporated therein and to ensure, through law and other appropriate means, the practical realization of this principle;
The State of Qatar presents its reservation on Article 2 (a) based on the CEDAW Article’s inconsistency with Article 8 of the Qatari Constitution in regards to the rules of hereditary transmission of authority.

Article 9: (2) States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children.
Qatar based its reservation on (2) of Article 9 on its inconsistency with the Qatari law on citizenship.

Article 15: (1) States Parties shall accord to women equality with men before the law.
Qatar presents a reservation on (1) in regards to maters of inheritance and testimony, the state believed CEDAW Article is with the provisions of Islamic law.

Article 15: (4) States Parties shall accord to men and women the same rights with regard to the law relating to the movement of persons and the freedom to choose their residence and domicile.
The State presented a reservation on this Article as it is inconsistent with the provisions of family law and with “established practice”.

Article 16: (1) States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women:
(a) The same right to enter into marriage; and
(c) The same rights and responsibilities during marriage and at its dissolution
The State declared that Articles (1a) and (1c) are inconsistent with the provisions of Islamic law.

Article 16: (1f) The same rights and responsibilities with regard to guardianship, wardship, trusteeship and adoption of children, or similar institutions where these concepts exist in national legislation; in all cases the interests of the children shall be paramount.
Finally, Qatar presented a reservation on Article (1f) based on its inconsistency with the provisions of Islamic law and family law.

In order to deal with the increasing population and dealing with the demographic instability in the country, the government should be more serious about granting Qatari women their full citizenship rights.”

Qatari Mothers’ Ability to Transfer Citizenship
Qatar stated that it is currently ‘studying’ the Citizenship law in regards to how a mother can transfer her citizenship to her children, in the case that the father is non-Qatari. However, reasons stated for such a law not being in place is that citizenship is determined by ‘blood ties’ (Law No. 38 of 2005).
Although, a law does in fact exist and a ‘specialized committee’ is set in place for such cases (Qatari mother and non-Qatari father), however, the process lacks much-needed standardisation.

There was no clear response to whether these temporary measures were in order to set up a proper process to transfer the Qatari Citizenship to children of Qatari mothers. Qatar claims that children of Qatari mothers married to non-Qatari fathers receive a ‘priority status’ in cases of applying for citizenship. However, CEDAW stressed that this measure does not equate the status of a child of a Qatari mother married to a non-Qatari to that of a child of Qatari father married to a non-Qatari.

Al-Muftah feels the citizenship law contradicts the Constitution and should be ruled unconstitutional.  She adds, “In order to deal with the increasing population and dealing with the demographic instability in the country, the government should be more serious about granting Qatari women their full citizenship rights. In most of CEDAW’s Articles, Qatar’s delegates use Shariah as an excuse, however this is an area where Shariah cannot be used to justify the reservation.”

Women at work and in politics

In 2011, Qatar Statistics Authority released a report that a man earns 25%-50% more than a woman In the workforce, it has been documented that women in leadership positions account for a mere 14%.

The practice of asking for a letter of approval from male guardians, was also raised, but Qatar said it was not a legal requirement but just practiced by some.

That there are no female representation in the Shura council is also a matter of concern. According to the Qatari delegation, the council was appointed and not elected, and it would be considered when elections are in place. But they could not provide a satisfactory comment on whether they would be a quota in the parliamentary election.

CEDAW has urged Qatar to establish a law specific to acts of violence against women till such a time a law specific to domestic violence is in place.
Domestic Violence and Lack of Legislation

According to the Qatar Statistics Authority, in 2012, 16% of males and 7% of females in Qatar believe wife-beating can be justified in some cases The report also indicates that 20% of younger males between the ages of 15-24 agreed believed that wife-beating is justified. Qatar Foundation for Child and Woman Protection noted 639 cases of domestic violence last year, 461 of which concerned women and 178 children.

Yet, there is no law on domestic violence. CEDAW has urged Qatar to establish a law specific to acts of violence against women till such a time a law specific to domestic violence is in place.

For Qatari women, the session is hopefully the beginning of a progressive future.

The Qatari delegation showed there was in fact progress, even if slow, in the past years in terms of the elimination of all forms of violence against women.

Full transcript of the CEDAW sessions on Qatar will be available within a week on the CEDAW website.

[Photo courtesy: Juanedc via FLickr]

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Comments

  1. Truth lover

    Apart from some controversial terms, there are obvious discriminatory practices sponsored formally by the government in areas like salaries, housing and maternal leave, to say the least.

    What astonishes me is that our female population never took any initiatives! They seem indifferent !

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