I am submitting this abstract to report on some of the research from the study titled “Qatari Women: Engagement and Empowerment” (UREP 15-035-5-013), a grant funded by the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF), which was aimed at looking at women's empowerment and engagement in Qatar. The research focuses on the majlis setting, which has been understudied, and the function and impact of the gatherings in relation to women's empowerment. The study looks at female empowerment through social, economic, cultural, political and educational lenses. The aim is to determine what facilitates and hinders women's empowerment in Qatar. My role in the research was as a student researcher. I contributed with the ethnographic research, writing the survey questionnaire, and producing a documentary that will be shown in Ajyal Film Festival 2015. We conducted two surveys for the purposes of this study; the latter survey, which collected responses from a nationally representative sample of male and female Qataris in December 2014 and January 2015, is the focus of my research. (Additional details on the methodology can be found at the end of this abstract.) My research focuses on the relationship between majlis participation and the sense of political efficacy and free speech. I argue that Qatari majlis participants are more likely to feel a higher level of influence over the state regarding issues that concern them and a higher level of freedom of speech, and I explain this result by linking majlis participation to the larger body of research on the impact of civil society. Citizens that engage in civil society are more likely to express their ideas, trust, accept and collaborate with one another (Krause, 2008). This participation essentially aids the feeling of empowerment, influence, and free speech. Majaalis are a space of civil society in which 80% of Qataris are engaged. In this civil society setting “individuals attempt to empower themselves through identifying notions that will lead to their personal and societal development, happiness and satisfaction” (Krause, 2008, 9). Social and personal development occurs in the majlis through skill building activities. Our survey results show that 83% shared their opinion with the group, 73% helped the group make a decision, 70% gathered or shared information on a topic important to them, 64% received encouragement or encouraged someone to take action on something important, 63% of participants have given a speech or presentation, 40% planned a meeting, and 25% contacted a person or institution to voice a concern. Some of the majlis activities mentioned above fall exactly into Brady, Verba and Schlozman's (1995) guidelines of what constitutes engaging in civic skills. I hypothesize that these activities within the majlis then aid in personal empowerment in the public sphere, such as feelings of political efficacy or freedom of speech. This specific hypothesis is important because the majlis space itself has been overlooked as a space of civil society due to its semi-public, semi-private nature. There is reason to believe that there are civil society activities occurring within the majlis; therefore it is important to examine the effects of the space that the majority of Qatari citizens participate in and its relationship to their feeling of influence and free speech. The survey results show that different types of majaalis are correlated with an individual's feelings of influence and free speech differently, and I look into this result with further research and interviews to help clarify this relationship. Also, my additional research helps me determine causality, in other words, whether the majlis actually causes empowerment among people. To conclude, the survey results show, with statistical significance, that majlis members, as opposed to non-majlis members, feel more influence over the state and more freedom of speech concerning issues important to them. I am currently conducting additional research on scholarly work related to civil society and empowerment, along with interviews with regular majlis participants, which will help me determine whether the relationship between majlis participants and the sense of influence and freedom of speech is a matter of correlation or causation. My presentation will discuss both survey results and results from my additional research. A note on the methodology of the survey: The Social And Economic Survey Research Institute (SESRI) at Qatar University, an established surveying institution, carried out the phone survey from December 25th 2014 until January 15th 2015. Respondents were chosen via random sampling through computer automated random mobile numbers provided to SESRI by a major telecommunications company in Qatar. A computer was used to automatically dial the mobile numbers of respondents with no chance of interviewer dial error. Respondents that didn't respond the first time were called multiple times throughout different times of the day over the survey period. All respondents were Qatari and above 18 years old, and a total of 302 females and 347 males were surveyed. The response rate is 34.4%, which is relatively high, compared to response rates of phone surveys in the U.S. (Pew Research Center). Interviewers asked the questions in Arabic and recorded the results through entering a number that was coded to a specific answer in the computer making the process quicker and more accurate in order to decrease the likeliness of interviewer error. The study sponsor, QNRF, did not play any role in editing, or censoring any of the survey questions or results. The survey results are within a +/ − 4% sampling error, meaning that the results are within an 8% range of representing the population as a whole. In my work, I report the survey results are reported with a 95% confidence level, meaning that I am 95% sure my results reflect the population as a whole within the range of sampling error.


Brady, Henry E., Sidney Verba, and Kay Lehman Schlozman. 1995. “Beyond SES: A Resource Model of Political Participation.” The American Political Science Review 89 (2): 271–94.

Krause, Wanda. 2008. “Women in Civil Society: Key Issues in the Middle East.” In Women in Civil Society: The State, Islamism, and Networks in the UAE, 1–26. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. Pew Research Center. “Assessing the Representativeness of Public Opinion Surveys.” May 15, 2012. Accessed November 3, 2015.

Qatari Women Engagement and Empowerment: Qatar National Research Fund, UREP 15-035-5-013. March 29, 2014 – September 29, 2015.


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