South Africa & World

Male Guardianship Severely Curtails Women’s Rights

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by News Agency

Qatar’s discriminatory male guardianship system denies women the right to make many key decisions about their lives, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 94-page report, “‘Everything I Have to Do is Tied to a Man’: Women and Qatar’s Male Guardianship Rules,” analyzes official male guardianship rules and practices.

Human Rights Watch found that women in Qatar must obtain permission from their male guardians to marry, study abroad on government scholarships, work in many government jobs, travel abroad until certain ages, and receive some forms of reproductive health care.

The discriminatory system also denies women the authority to act as their children’s primary guardian, even when they are divorced and have legal custody. These restrictions violate Qatar’s constitution and international law.

“Nawal,” a 32-year-old Qatari woman, said when she applied to the state marriage committee to allow her, a Qatari national, to officially marry a foreign national according to Qatari law, her brother refused to give his permission as her guardian. “I needed his signature and letter and he kind of felt powerful and showed resistance,” she said. “We had a personal issue, and he was like, ‘I’m not going to help you.’”

Um Qahtan, a 44-year-old Qatari woman, said that her husband had threatened her that if she left him, he would prevent their four children from traveling with her, and transfer the children from international schools to government schools. She said after she left him, “he has done both things.”

In a February 2021 hearing, she said a judge rejected her petition to transfer her son to a different school on the basis that he could not interfere with the father’s “God-given right to decide where his child goes to school.”

“Sanaa,” a 31-year-old Qatari woman, said: “To get a scholarship to study abroad you need guardian permission … Even at Qatar University, as a TA [teaching assistant], you need your legal guardian’s permission stating that they don’t mind you going and continuing your studies abroad.”

“Nayla,” a 24-year-old Qatari teacher, described how in 2019 to work as a teacher: “I had to get my father’s ID and letter of consent that he doesn’t mind me taking this job and working with this place…. It’s for the Ministry of Education.”

“Muna,” a 32-year-old Qatari woman, said authorities stopped her at the airport in 2020 and said, “there are new internal state regulations.” She said she refused to give her father’s number initially and argued: “what you are doing is illegal, the law says I can travel above 25.” But, she said, “They said it’s in the best interest of the internal state security of Qatar and best interests of families of Qatar … Then I gave him the number and I hoped my dad is awake, it was midnight, and he is 67…. We are citizens and have the right to know what law we are being stopped for.”

“Dana,” a 20-year-old Qatari woman, said, when she was 18, she had to lie that she was married by giving her friend’s name and number as her husband to obtain urgent health care even though it did not relate to sexual activity. “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.”

“Nadine,” a 33-year-old British resident in Qatar, said she had suffered from endometriosis since the age of 13 but could not get it diagnosed in Qatar until a few years after getting married. She said that healthcare workers would not allow her to undergo certain examinations including a transvaginal ultrasound, a pap smear test, or a womb biopsy without a marriage certificate. She said: “You suffer in silence. I had horrible pain.”

Robert Tapfumaneyi

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