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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women examines the report of Qatar

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
  against Women 

2 July 2019

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today examined the second periodic report of Qatar on measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Soltan Bin Saad Al-Moraikhi, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Qatar, said that Qatar attached great priority to compliance with the Committee’s observations and recommendations and had already begun the review of national legislation and bringing it in conformity with human rights conventions, in an incremental manner which Qatar had adopted as its approach.  Since presenting its initial report to the Committee in 2014, Qatar had achieved far-reaching developments at the legislative, institutional, policy and strategy levels that had enhanced and strengthened the human rights infrastructure, including in the areas of gender equality, women’s empowerment, promoting women’s leadership roles, their full participation on an equal basis, and promoting gender mainstreaming in development.  Four women had joined the Shura Council and for the first time, the Family Affairs Department had been established within the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs, as a high-level body to deal with the family and especially women’s issues, in line with the Qatar National Vision 2030.

Committee Experts welcomed the progress Qatar had made in recent years in advancing the fundamental rights of women, however, the legislative framework must be further amended to address discrimination against women, including the Family Law and the Nationality Act, and Qatar must address the persistent lack of implementation of the existing laws.  The reservations to the Convention were limiting Qatar’s progress, and some States parties had raised an objection to Qatar’s reservations which were seen as incompatible with the purposes of the Convention and as such were prohibited.  Stressing the importance of an independent and well-resourced national gender machinery, Experts expressed concern that the setting up of the Family Affairs Department, which replaced the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, represented a regression and downgrading of the body’s autonomy and independence.  Qatar lacked a law prohibiting domestic violence and a national strategy to fight this form of violence against women, Committee Experts said, and urged the country, in addressing prostitution, to pay more attention to the demand, rather than focus on punishing the women.

In concluding remarks, Mr. Al-Moraikhi reiterated Qatar’s political will to establish a supportive environment for the implementation of the Convention, which he stressed was an ongoing process.

Hilary Gbedemah, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, welcomed the respectful and enriching manner in which the dialogue was conducted and invited Qatar to accept an amendment to article 20 paragraph 1 of the Convention concerning the Committee’s meeting time.

The delegation of Qatar consisted of representatives of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs, Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Shura Council, Qatar National Commission for Education, Culture and Science, Planning and Statistics Authority, and the Permanent Mission of Qatar to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Qatar at the end of its seventy-third session on 19 July.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage .

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/ .

The Committee will reconvene on Wednesday, 3 July at 10 a.m. to consider the third to fifth periodic reports of Mozambique (CEDAW/C/MOZ/3-5 ).

Report

The Committee has before it the second periodic report of Qatar (CEDAW/C/QAT/2 ).

Presentation of the Report

SOLTAN BIN SAAD AL-MORAIKHI, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Qatar, said that on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Qatar’s accession to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Human Rights Department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Qatar had organized a forum which had focused on scrutinising and analysing the achievements to date.  The forum had recommended the strengthening of national mechanisms dealing with women’s issues, and the continuation of the State’s efforts in reviewing and amending laws and legislation to ensure compliance with the terms and provisions of the Convention.  Explaining the consultative dialogue which led to the formulation of the present report, the State Minister stressed the seriousness with which Qatar took all the issues contained therein.  Compliance with the Committee’s observations and recommendations was on the State’s list of priorities, while Qatar had in recent years begun to implement a strategic policy of reviewing national legislation and bringing it in conformity with human rights conventions, Mr. Al-Moraikhi said.  This had already been done with the Convention against Torture, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.  This approach distinguished Qatar’s incremental approach as one of the pillars of the values and principles of human rights in conformity with the State’s social, cultural, and historical context. 

Since presenting its initial report to the Committee in 2014, Qatar had achieved far-reaching developments at the legislative, institutional, policy and strategy levels that had enhanced and strengthened the human rights infrastructure, including in the areas of gender equality, women’s empowerment, promoting women’s leadership roles, their full participation on an equal basis, and promoting gender mainstreaming in development.  In 2018, Qatar had acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  The most important among the major legislative reforms was the amendment of the legal framework regulating the rights of expatriate workers, who played a central role in the development progress of Qatar, including passing laws that provided for wage protection, abolition of the kafala sponsorship system, the setting up of the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking, and the establishment of a support and insurance fund for migrant workers.  Furthermore, laws on permanent residency, on political asylum, and the non-Qatari ownership and use of properties had been adopted in 2018. 

With regard to the empowerment of women, the State Minister continued, four women had joined the Shura Council and for the first time, a woman had been appointed as an official spokesperson for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.  The Family Affairs Department had been established within the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs, as a high-level body to deal with the family and especially women’s issues, in line with the Qatar National Vision 2030.  Internationally, Qatar had pledged $30 million to the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund over five years, agreed to donate $4 million to the United Nations Refugee Agency in Lebanon for shelter and health care of Syrian refugees, and during the Doha Forum in December 2018, had committed to providing $500 million in funding for United Nations organizations, including $8 million annually between 2019-2023 to the United Nations Refugee Agency, $4 million annually to the United Nations Children’s Fund, and $15 million annually to the Security Council’s Counterterrorism Committee.  Over the next two years, Qatar would provide $16 million annually to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

Questions by Committee Experts

Opening the interactive dialogue with the delegation of Qatar, Committee Experts welcomed the progress that Qatar had made in recent years in advancing the fundamental rights of women, in particular the ratification of the two International Covenants and the fact that the principle of equality was enshrined in the country’s Constitution.

However, Qatar still had to amend the legislative framework to address discrimination against women in national laws, including the Family Law and the Nationality Act, and focus on strengthening the implementation of certain amended laws.  Recognizing the challenges involved with speedy reforms, the Experts stressed the importance of ensuring a paradigm shift and addressing the normative hierarchy which still existed, and above all, the persistent lack of implementation of the existing laws.  This was particularly important given the fact that Qatar did not have a Constitutional Court which could address the relationship between the Convention and the country’s legal framework.

The reservations that Qatar had entered to the Convention were limiting progress, the Experts noted, and asked about the intentions concerning the withdrawal of those reservations, perhaps in an incremental and progressive manner.  Reservations incompatible with the purposes of the Convention were prohibited, and in fact several States parties had raised an objection to Qatar’s reservations which they deemed incompatible.    

The National Human Rights Commission was important for the implementation of the Convention, Experts noted, and asked about the intentions to strengthen it and so ensure its capability to serve as an oversight mechanism and to undertake the review of the legislation and identify laws that were in contradiction with the Convention. 

Legal gaps existed in the areas of violence against women and girls and private life, Experts noted, and asked about the intentions concerning the adoption of the law prohibiting direct and indirect discrimination, and the removal of all discriminatory provisions from the existing laws.

Stressing the importance of access to justice and the principle of equality before the law, the Committee asked about training for the judiciary.

Replies by the Delegation 

The delegation explained that the national law did not contain a specific and clear definition of discrimination, however, many articles in the Constitution provided for equality regardless of sex, religion and other factors, and that all citizens were equal in their rights and responsibilities.  In addition, all laws stressed the principle of gender equality and no law prevented women from exercising their rights or accessing services.  Women did not lose those rights when they got married; they were independent individuals who had the right to occupy all positions.
 
Qatar sought t0o strengthen its legal framework by aligning its legislation with international human rights instruments; some examples included the adoption of the law on blood money, the laws allowing women to obtain passports and driving licences without the approval of their guardians, and others.  A committee had been established to review and revise all the legislation to ensure their alignment with international conventions.  On the legal status of the Convention in the national domestic order, the delegation explained that according to the Constitution, all international instruments accepted by the Emir became part of the legislative system of the State.

The promotion of human rights was one of the priorities in Qatar, which was being gradually implemented in practice in line with the country’s society and history.  Qatar had reviewed its reservations to the Convention against Torture as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Qatar had adopted a clear policy for women’s empowerment in all fields and was paying particular attention to cultural stereotypes, in line with the Qatar National Vision 2030, which together with the second National Development Plan 2018-2022 focused on strengthening the enjoyment of women’s rights on an equal basis with men.

The law establishing the Constitutional Court had been passed and Qatar planned to implement that law very quickly, given the extraordinary importance of such a court for the harmonization of the national legislation with Qatar’s international obligations.

The delegation concurred on the need for a paradigm shift in the society, without which the successful implementation of laws was not possible, and said that Qatar was making progress in line with its national context.  The national mechanisms for women’s rights were in place and operating in harmony with the Convention and national texts, including those on gender parity.  Following the ratification of the two International Covenants, a committee had been set up to study the compatibility of the country’s laws with those instruments.  In addition, a whole host of civil society organizations had been established and they played an important role in the promotion of human rights in the country.
Questions by Committee Experts

Concerning the establishment of a State administration unit responsible for women’s rights, the Experts stressed the importance of having an independent mechanism with financial and other autonomy to promote and advance women’s rights.  This new body had replaced the Supreme Council for Family Affairs.  Was this not in a way a regression and a downgrading of the independence of such a body, given that the new mechanism was a part of the ministry, which raised concerns about its autonomy?  Was Qatar considering the establishment of a Women’s Ministry?

Temporary special measures aimed to accelerate de facto equality, another Expert said, and noted that there was either a lack of political will for gender equality, or inadequate knowledge of what temporary special measures entailed.

Replies by the Delegation

The Supreme Council for the Family had been replaced by the Family Affairs Department set up in the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs, the delegation explained, adding that the new body was responsible for women’s empowerment.  It also guided the efforts of organizations working to support women.  The National Development Strategy 2018-2022 contained 56 projects which addressed issues such as social protection, women’s empowerment, family support, home support services, and others.  It had been built on the basis that women were an integral part of the society who must be supported by all its segments.

Shattering stereotypes was not incumbent on the State, another delegate noted, but on the society.  The State had a role to play, notably to support the efforts of the society, and in particular civil society, academia and the media, to work on raising awareness and engendering change.  Women too could take initiatives in this area.

Questions by Committee Experts

Continuing the dialogue, Committee Experts noted that Qatari women were mainly seen as wives and mothers, and emphasized that discrimination began in the family.  Did the legislation contain the prohibition of gender-based discrimination, and what measures were in place to fight gender stereotypes, for example in relation to unmarried women?  What was Qatar doing to fight sexism in the society and combat gender stereotypes, such as those related to the participation of women in sports?  Qatar lacked a law prohibiting domestic violence and a national strategy to fight this form of violence against women.

Significant efforts had been invested in addressing human trafficking, which had been criminalized in accordance with the Palermo Protocol.  Among other measures, Qatar had allocated a budget of $6 million to strengthen the fight against human trafficking nationally and in the region.  Concern existed about impunity for human trafficking in the country, considering that no employer had been prosecuted under the anti-trafficking legislation.  Despite the law prohibiting the confiscation of domestic workers’ passports, 90 per cent of employers still did so, without any consequences.

Prostitution was illegal and carried punishment of several years in prison, the Experts noted, and urged the country to better recognize the links between prostitution and human trafficking for sexual exploitation.  Instead of punishing women, the country should pay more attention to the demand side.

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to the questions raised, the delegation explained that the National Anti-Trafficking Committee had been set up to lead the country’s efforts in this domain.  In July 2017, it had approved the national plan to fight human trafficking to 2022, whose pillars were prevention, including through monitoring and capacity-building; protection of victims of trafficking in persons; prosecution, including through enhancing the rule of law and creating special courts; and international cooperation.  Qatar emphasised the role of Visa Departments in fighting trafficking in persons during the recruitment of expatriate workers, as well as the role of recruitment centres which operated in 20 countries and reduced the risk of trafficking by removing the intermediaries in recruitment processes.

Violence against women was prohibited and the crime of rape carried heavy sanctions.  Any abuse by the husband of his wife was a crime under the Penal Code, while stricter sanctions were applied to the crime of adultery if the victim was a child.  The anti-trafficking law criminalized prostitution.  

Questions by Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, Committee Experts took positive note of the fact that four women had been included, for the first time, in the Shura Council, and asked whether there were intentions to ensure gender parity in this body.  Women were appointed to traditional ministerial posts, the Expert remarked, and asked when women would be appointed to other ministries, such as defence.  How were women encouraged and supported to participate in political and public life?

Under the Nationality Act, Qatari women married to foreign men could not confer nationality on their children, while Qatari man could always do so, in contrast to the Constitution which guaranteed equality between women and men.  Nationality was a basis for the human rights of women, children, and foreign male spouses.  Had Qatar even withdrawn the nationality of certain groups of people because of their political positions?

Replies by the Delegation

The Shura Council was the country’s legislative body, divided in five committees.  Female members of the Shura Council played the same role as the male members, without any discrimination, and had the power to propose draft laws and decrees.  In 2017, 22 new members had been appointed to the Council who were selected based on their abilities and educational background.  All the four women appointed to the Council were academics.  As for the municipal council, women had been candidates since the very first round of those elections.  There were 4,000 women working in the military and women constituted 37 per cent of the workforce.  Women made up 18 per cent of the workforce in the government and 11 per cent in the private sector.  The right to work was guaranteed by the Constitution without any discrimination.  

The Nationality Act prohibited dual nationality, and nationality could only be withdrawn if it had been conferred illegally.  Qatar was following the humanitarian and legalistic approach to stateless persons, explained a delegate, saying that the 1984 law provided for residency for this group.  Nationality was provided on the basis of ius sanguinis and under the Qatari law, the child was linked to the father.  Permanent residency for children and non-Qatari husbands of Qatari women was a step closer to a nationality, but more time was needed to study the issue.

Questions by Committee Experts

Education was compulsory for all children in the State territory up to the age of 19 years, the Experts noted next, and asked whether this decree applied to migrant children and children of migrant workers as well, the percentage of such children not in school, and measures taken to ensure that they attended schools, apart from opening new schools.  Were teachers trained in women’s empowerment and gender equality and did the State study the textbooks to remove gender stereotypes and gender-based discrimination?

Replies by the Delegation

Qatar attached the greatest importance to education and had in place several instruments that guaranteed education for all children on the State territory.  The Constitution guaranteed the right to education, the Qatari National Vision 2030 stressed the importance of mandatory quality education for all as a pillar of human development, and the national education and development strategies prioritized the provision of quality education to all children.  The concept of quality education entailed gender equality and inclusion of marginalized groups.  Parents who failed to enrol their children in school were liable for monetary fines.  Expatriate labourers were free to choose public or private schools for their children.

The Ministry of Education attached ever greater importance to the question of education and awareness raising on the Convention and other human rights instruments.  In collaboration with the national human rights commission, the Ministry was working on including in the curricula human rights and non-discrimination education, as well as the teaching of human rights in Islamic religion and tradition, such as accepting others, respect, or democracy.  The status of women, the concept of equality, and discrimination against women were already included in the curricula, which addressed issues such as feminine literature or leading women figures.

In response to the Committee’s comment concerning the difficult situation of girls with disabilities in education and educational segregation, the delegation reiterated the great importance attached to the education of children with disabilities, which was enshrined in the 2004 law on the rights of persons with disabilities.  Education for children with disabilities was implemented in mainstream schools and in specialized centres for those who were not accepted in mainstream schools. 

Questions by Committee Experts

The Committee commended the efforts to increase the participation of women in the labour force and the legislative steps taken to strengthen the rights of migrant workers, but a number of concerns remained, such as the non-recognition of the principle of equal pay for work of equal value, the persistent wage gap between women and men, and horizontal and vertical occupational segregation.  Did Qatari women have to have a written permission from their husbands or guardians in order to apply for a job outside the home?  Was a Qatari woman expected to quit work once she had children?  Hazardous and arduous work for women was prohibited as was work that was harmful to women’s morals – what was the definition of such work?

Commending the abolition of the kafala system and its replacement of regulated labour relations between migrant workers and their employers, an Expert noted with concern that those were different from the rights granted in the Labour Act and which applied to Qatari workers, for example in matters of working hours, paid leave, etc.  What was being done to bring the law on domestic workers in compliance with the relevant International Labour Organization Convention?

Replies by the Delegation

The Constitution reaffirmed the equality of all citizens in rights and duties and it protected women from discrimination.  National legislation adopted in 2018 aimed to further strengthen the rights of women and ensure they enjoyed them on an equal basis with men.  The National Commission for Women’s Affairs had put forward legislation and measures to strengthen the equal participation of women in all areas covered by the Convention.

Qatari laws aimed to ensure the legal protection of all categories of workers, including foreign employees, and to that effect the Government had passed a new law on the rights of domestic workers, which, inter alia, had introduced a complaint mechanism for this group of workers.  The delegation stressed that basic health care was provided to all free of charge.  When a domestic worker was ill, she or he must be accompanied to the doctor by the employer, who had an obligation to guarantee the required rest.

The law prohibited hazardous work for women and work that was morally damaging to women.  Those professions were defined by the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs.  To date, the Ministry had not published a list of hazardous work, thus women could work in any profession. 

Questions by Committee Experts

Continuing the dialogue, the Experts commended Qatar’s efforts to improve the physical and mental health of women and children, both nationally and internationally, through its support to various United Nations organizations, and asked about evaluation and impact assessments of the many strategies adopted to this end.  What measures were in place to ensure equal access to health services, including sexual and reproductive health services, to female migrant workers.

The Expert wondered to what extent comprehensive sexuality education was adequately integrated into the general framework for a value-based curriculum that contained concepts such as family values, and asked whether comprehensive sexuality education would be part of the upcoming reform of the educational system and curriculum.  Would Qatar consider decriminalizing abortion, at least in the case of rape, incest, and when pregnancy represented a risk to the life and health of the mother?

Another Expert congratulated Qatar on its dynamic implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular those related to access to water, decent work, and to technologies, and praised the efforts to make the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda as the basis of its Vision.  How were women involved in these activities, in particular in decision-making at the policy level?

The Qatar National Vision 2030 aimed to reduce its carbon footprint, the Experts noted with satisfaction, and asked whether it contained the commitment to finance adaptation in vulnerable countries such as small island developing States.  Water scarcity was very acute and most of the water used to grow food needed to be desalinated, which required large amounts of energy.  To what extent did Qatar consider the question of climate justice and the gender dimension of climate change in its plans and measures?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the law on medicine and dentistry regulated abortion, which was prohibited except if pregnancy would harm the health of the woman or if the foetus was severely deformed.  Abortion could only be performed with the consent of both parents, and there were no plans at the moment to expand the grounds for legal abortion to include rape and incest.

Qatar was an active supporter of several international coalitions and initiatives which aimed to ensure food security in many countries, particularly in arid lands and those affected by climate change.

Questions by Committee Experts

On vulnerable groups of women, the Committee Experts voiced concern about the lack of appropriate conditions in which migrant women were held in detention and deportation centres in Doha, especially those with children.  What was being done to improve their situation, and in particular to avoid detaining pregnant women and women with children?  Was there a strategy in place for asylum seeking women and did they receive any support?

What programmes were in place to prevent violence against and abuse of women, particularly women and girls with disabilities?  How could persons with disabilities, many of whom were women, make decisions concerning their mental health treatment?  Could the delegation inform on measures taken to support the employment of women with disabilities? 

Discrimination against women remained a great concern to the Committee.  In the area of freedom of movement, women were limited by the institution of male guardianship, while the age of marriage for girls was 16, and under certain conditions and with the approval of a judge, under the age of 16.  What were criteria to evaluate the best interest of the child in such cases?  Furthermore, women did not have an equal right to enter marriage as they had to obtain the permission of the guardian or family, and divorced mothers lost custody of their children.

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to these questions and others, the delegation said that illegal migrants were housed in detention centres, which were regularly visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the ambassadors of their countries of origin.

The Government was actively engaged in supporting the employment of persons with disabilities and hired them on a regular basis. 

The Family Code had sparked many debates, and the Supreme Council for the Family had played a key role in passing this law and balancing out the principles of Sharia and women’s rights.  The age of marriage was 18 for boys and 16 for girls, and there were certain conditions under which an exception could be granted by a judge, with parental consent.  A man could repudiate his wife, but now divorce could also be initiated by the woman, which meant that she had decided, on her own will, to terminate the marriage.  If the woman was not an injured party, she had to reimburse the dowry paid by the husband.  The decision on the custody of children was based on the best interest of the child. 

Women were mothers, sisters, daughters and workmates, and they were half of the society that was created to be respected and dignified, a delegate stressed.  They had full dignity and freedom, women were scientists, lawyers, teachers, on a par with men.  In family matters, women and men were subjected to laws of the religion, to customs and traditions.  Everyone was free to agree or disagree with this situation, without breeding animosity.  Qatar respected the lifestyles of others and expected others to respect its lifestyle.

The signature of a Convention did not mean its implementation to the letter; it was impossible to copy the experiences of others and import them without giving due consideration to the culture, society and any other characteristics of the signing country.  More important than equality was justice, stressed a delegate.

Concluding Remarks

SOLTAN BIN SAAD AL-MORAIKHI, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Qatar, in his concluding remarks, reiterated Qatar’s political will for the establishment of a supportive environment for the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was an ongoing process.  Qatar would continue to deepen its expertise in this matter and learn from other countries, and would also continue to review its legislation to ensure its harmonization with the Convention.  The interactive dialogue had shown the need to provide more data and statistics on the implementation of the Convention, which would be addressed in Qatar’s next report.  The Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations would be taken into serious consideration and would be distributed to all concerned.

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, welcomed the respectful and enriching manner in which the dialogue was conducted.  Thanking the delegation for the constructive dialogue, the Chair invited Qatar to accept an amendment to article 20 paragraph 1 of the Convention concerning the Committee’s meeting time and urged it to pay particular attention to the Committee’s concluding observations identified for immediate follow up.

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