We write in advance of the 73rd Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and its review of Qatar’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). This submission addresses articles 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 12, 14, 15, and 16 of the Convention.

This submission is based on information contained in Human Rights Watch publications and media reports.

1. Discrimination against women in its Personal Status Law and other laws (CEDAW articles 1, 2, 11, 15, and 16)

Qatar’s Family Law No. 22 of 2006 codified matters of personal status for the first time in Qatar; some of its provisions, particularly those relating to marriage and divorce, discriminate against women.

The concept of male guardianship incorporated in Qatari law undermines women’s right to make autonomous decisions about marriage. The law provides that women can only marry if a male guardian approves of the marriage while it allows men to have four wives at any one time.[1] The law requires a husband to provide “maintenance” for his wife during marriage.[2] The law also requires a wife to be obedient to her husband, maintain the house and its belongings, and breastfeed infant children unless there is an impediment. Under the law, a wife can lose her right to maintenance if, for example, she refuses to have sexual relations “without a legitimate reason” or works outside the home without her husband’s permission.[3]

Men also have a unilateral right to divorce while requiring women to apply to the courts for divorce on limited grounds, such as if she has been abandoned or abused, or if her husband has failed to support her financially.[4]

The minimum age for registering a marriage is 16 for girls, in contravention with international standards that recommend a minimum age of marriage at 18.[5]

Women also face discrimination regarding the status of children after divorce. The law grants a father legal guardianship of the children regardless of whether a court has ordered that the children should live with the mother. The law expressly states that the Muslim mother shall have physical custody of children up to age 13 for boys and age 15 for girls, unless the court rules otherwise, but the law gives all decision-making authority to fathers.[6] A non-Muslim mother may only retain custody of the child until the age of seven.[7] Children can also be removed from living with their mothers if their mothers re-marry.[8]

Under inheritance provisions, female siblings receive half the amount their brothers get.[9]

Single women under 25 years of age must obtain their guardian’s permission to travel outside Qatar. Married women are entitled to travel without permission irrespective of their age. However, if a man does not want his wife to travel, he can approach the competent court to prohibit her journey.[10] A wife can be deemed disobedient, and thus lose her husband’s financial support, if she travels despite his objection.

2. Discrimination against women in the Penal Code and other laws (CEDAW articles 1, 2, 5, and 15)

Zina offenses (sex outside of marriage) that criminalize consensual sexual relations outside marriage and other “moral” offenses under Qatari law violate international human rights law, as do the punishments associated with them. Muslims convicted of zina can also be sentenced to flogging (if unmarried) or the death penalty (if married). Non-Muslims can be sentenced to imprisonment. Article 281 of the Penal Code, for example, stipulates that “whoever copulates with a female over sixteen without compulsion, duress or ruse shall be punished with imprisonment for a term up to seven years. The same penalty shall also be imposed on the female for her consent.” Article 282 increases the penalty to up to 15 years if either or both parties knew “that he is prohibited to marry her for permanent or temporary reasons.”

According to one media report in 2017, a lawyer in Qatar estimated that every day he sees about two to three zina cases tried in court but hardly sees sentences being carried out. The lower courts usually issue severe punishments such as flogging and stoning, but most end up in the Court of Appeals which “almost always” lowers the sentence. In the case of flogging, a loophole about “not being medically fit to withstand” the lashes is used to exempt prisoners from the punishment, according to the lawyer. He did not know of any stoning sentence that has been carried out in recent years.[11]

Zina offenses are often applied in a way that discriminates on the basis of sex: women are disproportionately impacted due to prevailing social attitudes and because pregnancy serves as “evidence” of the offense. Women who have suffered rape or sexual assault face a risk that they will face zina charges if they report the crimes committed against them. Men can deny the act of zina, whereas women are less able to do so if they are found to have miscarried or are pregnant. Moreover, hospital staff members report women who have miscarried or are pregnant outside of marriage to the police. According to one media report from 2017, a Filipino domestic worker said she had been reported to the police by the hospital after she sought treatment for heavy bleeding and the hospital staff believed she had miscarried. She had spent a year in prison but had not yet been sentenced at the time of the report.[12]

Zina offenses can also impact vulnerable women, such as migrant domestic workers, disproportionately. Some employers accuse domestic workers of zina to counter rape or sexual assault allegations that the worker has made against the employer. As domestic migrant workers live in their employer’s homes, they face the risk that employers will report them to the police if they suspect them of having a sexual relationship.

Article 316 makes abortion illegal in Qatar unless there is “medical necessity”. A woman who has an abortion faces a penalty of up to three years in prison.

3. Violence against women (Articles 2, 3, and 16)

The penal code does not explicitly criminalize marital rape. Other than article 57 of the family law which forbids husbands from harming their wives physically or morally, and general provisions on assault, there is no specific criminalization and definition of domestic violence nor specific provisions in law setting out prevention and protection measures relating to domestic violence.

4. Migrant domestic workers (Articles 2, 3, 6, 11, and 15)

Human Rights Watch and other organizations have documented abuses of domestic workers in Gulf states, including in Qatar.[13] They include long workdays with no rest and no days off, indebtedness from recruitment fees, confiscation of passports by employers, delayed and unpaid wages, confinement to the employer’s house, and in some cases, physical, verbal, or sexual assault.

There are 173,742 domestic workers, mostly from Asia or East Africa, including 107,621 women, according to Qatar’s 2016 labor force survey.[14]

In 2017, Qatar adopted of Law No. 15 on Service Workers in the Home, which provides legal guarantees for domestic workers’ labor rights for the first time. While this is an advance, further steps are needed to ensure domestic workers’ rights are protected in accordance with international law.[15]

The domestic workers law outlines new protections such as a maximum 10-hour workday, at least 24 consecutive hours of rest each week, three weeks of annual leave, and an end-of-service payment of at least three weeks per year. However, it still offers fewer protections than Law No.14 of 2004, the Labor Law, which applies to most other workers and provides for a maximum 8-hour workday and a 48-hour work week. The Labor Law also provides reduced working hours during Ramadan of a 6-hour working day and a 36-hour work week, but no similar provisions are made under the Domestic Workers Law.

The domestic workers law has other gaps as well, and does not fully conform to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention, the global treaty on domestic workers’ rights.

The domestic workers law stipulates that the working day be interspersed with rest breaks, but it does not count rest breaks as part of the 10 working hours. 

While the domestic workers law provides for daily rest periods and weekly rest days, it allows domestic workers to work during these times if agreed between them and their employer. Employers can easily exploit this loophole. The deep power imbalance between employers and domestic workers makes it extremely difficult for a worker to negotiate fair working conditions, claim their rights, or refuse an employer’s request.[16]

Unlike the Labor Law, the domestic workers law does not set a limit on additional working hours nor require overtime pay. The Domestic Workers Law prohibits employers from forcing domestic workers to work while on sick leave, but makes no provisions for sick leave itself, including whether it should be paid. The Labor Law provides two weeks of sick leave at full pay, four weeks at half pay, and unpaid leave thereafter.

The domestic workers law provides for daily rest and a weekly rest day, but it does not explicitly state that workers may leave the household during this time.

The domestic workers law prohibits employers from deducting a worker’s pay to compensate for recruitment fees but does not prohibit agents from charging costs or fees, or taking a domestic worker’s salary to compensate any costs paid for the domestic workers’ recruitment. It also does not require employers or agents to reimburse a worker for recruitment fees already paid.

In November 2017, Qatar announced a temporary minimum wage of QR750 (US$206) for migrant workers, but this does not combat the current discriminatory practice of wage differentials based on nationality of domestic workers. Qatar is in the process of setting a minimum wage with the support from the ILO.

Qatar’s kafala (sponsorship) system gives employers excessive control over domestic workers, including the power to deny them the right to leave the country or change jobs. Unless Qatar abolishes or significantly reforms this system, it will remain difficult for domestic workers to exercise their rights under the new law as they can be arrested and deported for “absconding” if they flee their employer’s home. Financial barriers can prevent domestic workers from pursuing claims of abuse, as the kafala system prevents them from working for another employer while a claim is being adjudicated.

5. Discrimination against women in Qatar’s 2005 Nationality Law (CEDAW articles 1 and 9)

Qatar does not allow for dual nationality and discriminates against women by not allowing them to pass nationality to their children on the same basis as men. Law No. 38 of 2005 on the acquisition of Qatari nationality allows men to pass citizenship to their spouses and children, whereas children of Qatari women and non-citizen men who have lived in Qatar for more than 25 years can only apply for citizenship under narrow conditions.[17] However, the government has not consistently approved such applications. A 36-year-old man born in Qatar to a Qatari mother and Bahraini father told Human Rights Watch in June 2017 that he had applied for Qatari nationality six years earlier, but had never received notification of a decision.

The discriminatory law has long plagued women and their families. After June 2017— when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt cut off relations with Qatar, expelled Qatari citizens and demanded their own citizens return—Qatari women with mixed Gulf nationality families suffered acutely. The political rift tore apart entire families stretched across the four countries.[18] Some Qatari women found that their children and spouses who did not have Qatari citizenship were required to return to their countries of nationality; Qatari women in the other countries were forced to return to Qatar and brought their non-citizen children with them.

In September 2018, Qatar passed a law on permanent residency that would be available for the first time to children of Qatari women married to non-Qatari men. Under the new law, only up to 100 people per year can acquire permanent resident status for the first time. The law allows those who are granted permanent residency to receive government health and educational services, invest in the economy, and own real estate. The permanent residency law however, falls short of granting women equal rights to men in conferring nationality to their children and spouses.[19]

Recommendations

The CEDAW committee in its 2014 concluding observations made a number of recommendations that have not been implemented, including calls on Qatar to repeal or modify without delay discriminatory legislation, including provisions in the Personal Status Law, the Nationality Law, and the Penal Code.

We encourage the Committee to make the following recommendations to the Qatari government:

  • Reform the Personal Status Law to provide women with equal rights in entering marriage, during marriage, and at its dissolution, including in all issues concerning children, inheritance, and property rights.
  • Remove restrictions on women’s freedom to travel abroad including the requirement that women under 25 need male guardian permission and the right of men to apply to courts to prohibit their wives from travelling abroad.
  • Increase the minimum age of marriage to 18, in line with CEDAW and CRC recommendations.
  • Enact laws to make all forms of violence against women and girls, including domestic violence, a criminal offense. Explicitly criminalize marital rape. Ensure that legislative reform includes provisions for victim assistance such as protection orders, and appropriate protocols and guidelines for all government officials responding to violence against women.
  • Decriminalize adult consensual sexual relations in private by amending article 281, 282, and other provisions in the Penal Code.
  • Align the new 2017 domestic workers law in line with the ILO Domestic Workers Convention, including by ensuring that domestic workers have equal rights to workers covered under the Labor Law including in relation to hours of work, overtime compensation, periods of daily and weekly rest, paid annual leave, and sick leave.
  • Require through further legislation, such as any implementing regulations, that employers allow domestic workers to leave the household during rest and leave periods, and that all hours during which workers are required to be on call should be calculated as part of their working day. It should also clarify that agents should not confiscate salaries of domestic workers or require employers to pay their salaries to them where the agency is not the worker’s direct employer.
  • Ensure that domestic workers enjoy minimum wage coverage, including an hourly minimum wage, under law and that compensation does not discriminate based on sex, race, or national origin.
  • Ratify the ILO Domestic Workers Convention.
  • Enforce the 2017 domestic workers law, including by investigating and prosecuting allegations and complaints against employers and agents for violations.
  • Reform the kafala system to allow all migrant workers, including domestic workers, to leave or change employers at will, and without losing their legal status.
 

[1] Qatar’s Family Law no. 22 of 2006, art.28 stipulates that “a guardian of a woman shall conclude her marriage with her consent.”

[2] Qatar’s Family Law no. 22 of 2006, art. 57 (2) stipulates that the rights of the wife by the husband include “legal support or maintenance (permanent Alimony).”

[3] Qatar’s Family Law no. 22 of 2006, art. 68 stipulates that “The wife shall be considered disobedient so as to be disentitled to marital support in the following circumstances: If she refuses to surrender herself to the husband or to move to the marital home without legitimate reason. 1. 2. If she leaves her marital home without legitimate reason. 3. If she prevents the husband from entering into the marital home without legitimate reason. If she refuses to travel with her husband when moving to another dwelling without legitimate excuse or if she travels without his permission. 4. If she works outside the home without the permission of her husband, unless he is abusing his right in preventing her from working.”

[4] Qatar’s Family Law no. 22 of 2006, art. 101 stipulates: “Separation between the spouses may be effected by: 1. By the decision of the husband and is termed divorce. 2. Agreement between the spouses, termed “Mukhala'h” or “khul'” (redemptive divorce). 3. Judicial decree, termed “faskh” (rescission). 4. Death of one of the spouses.” 

[5] Qatar’s Family Law no. 22 of 2006, art. 17 stipulates: “Males are not allowed to enter into marriage contracts before the age of eighteen (18). Females are not allowed to enter into marriage contracts before the age of sixteen (16). All marriages of males and females over the age of eighteen (18) and sixteen (16) respectively shall only be allowed after the approval of the guardian, verification of the consent from both parties to the contract and the permission of a competent Judge.”

[6] Qatar’s Family Law no. 22 of 2006, art. 173 stipulates that “custody of children granted to women shall terminates when a male child completes thirteen (13) years of age and the female child completes fifteen (15) years of age, unless the Court rules otherwise.”

[7] Qatar’s Family Law no. 22 of 2006, art. 175 stipulates: “A non-Muslim mother who is not an apostate shall have the right to child custody until the child becomes capable of understanding religious faith or until it is feared that the child may embrace a religion other than Islam. Nevertheless, the child may not remain with her after attaining the seven years of age.”

[8] Qatar’s Family Law no. 22 of 2006, art. 168 (1) stipulates that subject to the conditions stipulates in article 167: “Subject to the conditions set forth in the preceding Article, the custodian shall satisfy the following conditions: If the custodian is a female, she must not be married to a husband who is a stranger to the child, if such marriage is consummated, unless the Court decides otherwise for the child's interest.”

[9] Qatar’s Family Law no. 22 of 2006, art. 256 stipulates that “the daughter shall inherit by agnation half of the share of a male son if they are in the same rank.”

[11] Ana P. Santos, “The Boyfriend System: Migrant Life in Qatar,” Pulitzer Center, September 4, 2017:

https://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/boyfriend-system-migrant-life-qatar (accessed July 1, 2019).

[12] Ibid.

[13] Rothna Begum (Human Rights Watch), “Migrant Domestic Workers Overworked and Underprotected” commentary, Women Across Frontiers, June 15, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/06/15/migrant-domestic-workers-overworked-and-underprotected.

[14] Qatari Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics, Labor Force Sample Survey, 2016: http://www.mdps.gov.qa/en/statistics/Statistical%20Releases/Social/LaborForce/2016/Labour_force_2016_AE.pdf (accessed July 1, 2019).

[15] “Qatar: Fix Gaps in Domestic Workers Law,”  Human Rights Watch news release, June 26, 2018 https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/26/qatar-fix-gaps-domestic-worker-law.

[16] Human Rights Watch, Building a Better World Cup: Protecting Migrant Workers in Qatar Ahead of FIFA 2022, June 2012, https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/06/12/building-better-world-cup/protecting-migrant-workers-qatar-ahead-fifa-2022.

[17] Law no. 38 of 2005 on the acquisition of Qatari nationality, art. 1(4) https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/542975124.pdf (accessed July 1, 2019).

[18] “Qatar Isolation Causing Rights Abuses,” Human Rights Watch news release, July 12, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/13/qatar-isolation-causing-rights-abuses.

[19] See Rothna Begum, “Qatar’s Permanent Residency Law a Step Forward But Discrimination Remains,” Human Rights Watch commentary, September 11, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/11/qatars-permanent-residency-law-step-forward-discrimination-remains, and “Qatar: Residency Reform Doesn’t End Gender Bias,” Human Rights Watch news release, August 4, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/08/04/qatar-residency-reform-doesnt-end-gender-bias.