Abstract for Qatar Foundation Annual Research Conference 2016 Qatari Women's Engagement in Politics By: Noor Khalifa Al-Tamaimi For the past year and a half, I have been a student researcher on the QNRF UREP grant, “Qatari Women: Engagement and Empowerment” (UREP 15-035-5-013). The grant as a whole focused on understanding the drivers and the obstacles of women's empowerment in Qatar. We focused our research on female participation in women's gatherings in the Majlis and its links to societal engagement. I was involved in several aspects of the grant project, including ethnographic observation, photography, writing the survey questionnaire, creating a documentary, and now analyzing the survey data. The survey aimed to understand the perceptions of both the Qatari males and females about a number of cultural, educational, economic, and political topics. I will be using a few of the survey findings to investigate my theory. I start my research with a puzzle: Qatari women are equally educated and equally interested in politics as Qatari men, and yet Qatari women are very underrepresented in the political sphere. Why are Qatari women choosing not to pursue politics after graduation? My analysis of our survey results points to an answer: cultural norms and social pressure. In a society where males hold the majority of influential positions women undergo a series of challenges to be noticed. Cultural norms also pressure women not to pursue a career they could excel in. Statistics show that women have virtually the same interest in local politics as men did. Yet the survey results also show that both genders believe that males make better political leaders than women do. Also, a majority of Qataris believe there is social pressure for women to focus on family instead of work. All of these findings lead to a conclusion. I suspect that women are not choosing to pursue politics because there is a substantial societal pressure women them not to pursue politics, and because of the difficulties of reaching the targeted position because of their gender. Qatar's recent development saw a statewide encouragement in developing a knowledge-based economy that requires more qualified people to pursue jobs in all spheres political, economic and scientific (Qatar National Vision 2030). Statistics show that more women are completing higher education than men, making them well educated and qualified to pursue any job (Ridge 2014; Walker 2014). Yet when it comes to joining the workforce, a number of women choose not to pursue the career their college degree qualifies them to achieve. The fact is, when it comes to pursuing work in politics or holding important political positions, there is a clear majority of men holding these positions. My preliminary research shows that Qatari men outnumber Qatari women in key political positions throughout the country: out of 29 Municipal Council members there are 2 women. Out of the 35 Majlis Al-Shura members there are no females and there is one female out of 100 male Ambassadors. Why aren't women choosing to pursue politics? Some may say that there is a lack of political interest among women. Yet my survey analysis shows no difference between Qatari women and Qatari men when asked if they were interested in local politics: The survey found that 3 of every 4 Qataris, whether male or female, are very interested or somewhat interested in local politics. And my own research into the gender of those who attend the politics programs of local universities such as Qatar University and Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar show that women outnumber men in these programs. Thus, there is substantial interest in political studies for both males and females. Is the lack of societal support the reason why we see so few women in the political sphere in Qatar? The survey results clearly show that Qatari society is divided on whether women have a place in the political sphere. 6 out of 10 Qataris believe it is acceptable for a woman to run for political office, meaning that almost 40 percent of society does not view this as acceptable. On the other hand 3 of 4 Qataris feel that men make better political leaders than women do. These results are the same for both men and women, showing that this is not a male attitude, but a societal attitude toward the place of women in the political sphere. In my opinion, these survey findings show that there is a substantial pressure on women to stay out of the political sphere. My theory is that there is a considerable social constraint from both the males and the females in the Qatari society on women not to pursue a political job. This social constraint in my opinion comes from the fact that males outnumbers females in key political positions which leads to the societal conception that women are incapable of handling key political positions. There could be several reasons behind the pressure on women not to pursue politics. Our survey found that 7 out of 10 Qataris believe there is social pressure on women to focus on family instead of work. Another reason could be the belief that men belong in politics while women do not, as almost 40 percent of Qataris believe it is not acceptable for women to run for political office. A third reason could be the cultural norm of women taking on public jobs that require them to constantly travel or appear in the media. Fourth, the fact that most political and high-positioned jobs are male dominated makes it hard for women to rise in job status. I recognize that a Qatari woman's choice not to pursue politics after graduation could be a result of many social, educational, and societal factors. Yet the research shows that females are graduating at higher rates than men, and that women are as interested in politics as men, so the small numbers of females in key political positions are indeed disappointing. This research aims to understand the reason behind women's under representation in the political sphere through our original survey research and my additional interview research in the hopes that these findings will help ease the path for more Qatari women to participate in the political sphere in the future.


“Economic Development.” Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics. Accessed November 14, 2015. http://www.mdps.gov.qa/portal/page/portal/gsdp_en/qatar_national_vision/Economic_development.

Qatar National Vision 2030. General Secretariat for Development Planning. July 2008.

Qatari Women: Engagement and Empowerment. $150,000 from Qatar National Research Fund (a member of Qatar Foundation), UREP 15-035-5-013. Grant, March 29, 2014–September 29, 2015.

Ridge, Natasha. Education and the Reverse Gender Divide in the Gulf States: Embracing the Global, Ignoring the Local. New York: Teachers College Press, 2014.

Walker, Lesly. “Female University Students in Qatar Outnumber Men 2:1 - Doha News.” Doha News. June 12, 2014. Accessed November 14, 2015. http://dohanews.co/female-university-students-outnumber-males-nearly/.


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