Looking for an Equal Standing

Qatari women have come a long way in achieving educational and workplace equality.

It is impossible to exaggerate how much things have changed for Qatari women over the last three decades or so. Back in the 1990s, almost no local woman was to be seen working in banks, corporations, or stores.

Although some women were employed as teachers and nurses, Doha’s public and private sector was almost exclusively manned by—well—men; however, thanks to a series of efforts in the 1990s heralded by the influential member of the Qatari royal family, HH Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser, women found a voice to express their capabilities. These efforts reached a memorable climax in 2003, when Sheikha Ahmed Al-Mahmoud became the first woman member of the Qatari cabinet as the minister of education.

If the experience of other nations is any indication, the empowerment of women in the 20th century has been based on three pillars: access to education, employment opportunities, and presence in social arenas.

Whenever women have ticked these three boxes, they have immediately continued toward true equality. Qatari women have achieved many milestones in all three areas over the last couple of years, becoming one of the most empowered women in the Gulf region.

This is more impressive when we realize that it all started near the turn of the 21st century, and so much ground has been gained in under three decades.

The first step was taken in 1995 by granting women equal educational opportunities. “At the time, I realized we were facing a national challenge related to education, and we needed to make a radical change in the educational system by providing advanced, quality education,” recalls HH Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser, co-founder and chairperson of Qatar Foundation.

Qatar Foundation’s first co-educational school, Qatar Academy, was launched in 1996 thanks to the efforts of pioneers such as Sheikha Moza, offering women better education opportunities.

The academy has now expanded to five schools, while other modern schools and colleges have been launched one after another.

As of the academic year 2021-22, women’s enrollment has grown to 75% at Qatar Foundation’s universities and over 60% elsewhere.

Nearly three decades after those first steps, equal rights for men and women at workplace has become part of the country’s public policy.

The Qatar National Vision 2030, as the country’s most important roadmap, promotes gender equality as a necessity—and one which has a huge economic importance. Women as half of the population have started to participate in the economy, boosting the nation’s human capital.

There are currently about 7,000 notable businesses owned by Qatari businesswomen, up from zero before the year 2000. It is impressive that in a country where traditions are respected Qatari women have entered the areas of business which were male dominated until recently. And women entrepreneurs are truly contributing to the economy.

“It is estimated that their investments amount to billions of riyals and is an important part of economic activity in Qatar,” said businesswoman Ibtihaj Al Ahmadani to The Peninsula.

With the employment of more women, the Qatari labor market is evolving rapidly, becoming a more conducive environment to thrive for women. Essentially, the first women who joined the Qatari job market paved the wave for the next waves and generations.

With women managers and employees proving to be valuable assets, the once traditional and male-dominated labor market of Qatar finds it reasonable to adapt itself to the new reality.

This trend is helped and reinforced by the formation of public and private entities which support women in the workplace. The Qatari Businesswomen Association (QBWA) is one such body. Chaired by Sheikha Al Anood Bint Khalifah, the association has been trying to “unlock the potential of future generations in support to the Qatar National Vision 2030.” As for the legal system, now the Qatari law supports “equal pay and growth opportunities,” according to QBWA board member, Mishael Al Ansari.

The new generation of Qatari women are not shy to express their innovative ideas, and the state is supporting them. In 2022, the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) reported a remarkable growth in the number of female innovators at QSTP as well as startups headed by women.

Yosouf Al Salehi, executive director of QSTP, recently noted that “there are more and more women trying to join the different programs being offered at QSTP, such as in the accelerator program. They also want to discuss how to open their businesses through the incubation program,” according to the Gulf Times.

QSTP’s innovation director, Hayfa Al-Abdulla, recently confirmed this to TBY, adding that women innovators exhibit high interpersonal skills which is necessary to kickstart a business in the real world.

What Qatari women have achieved can be an inspiration for other women living in similar cultures across the region. Pointing out that she never wanted the achievements of Qatar Foundation to only benefit the Qatari women alone, Sheikha Moza argues that “we thought of [the empowerment of women] as Arab-Islamic renaissance project, based in Qatar, to promote sustainable development in the Arab world, by creating positive change from an academic, research, and societal perspective.”

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