First Published: 2006-05-02

 
Qatari women suffer from inequality in society
 

Qatari rights group urges government to take action against abuse of expatriate labour, sex trade in women.

 

Middle East Online

By Faisal Baatout - DOHA

Discriminated against

An officially-sanctioned Qatari rights group warned Tuesday of the less-than-human working conditions of the expatriate labour force in the Gulf state and urged the government to take action.

The National Human Rights Committee also warned of a growing sex trade in women and highlighted discrimination against women in the labour market and the inequality they suffer when it comes to marriage and personal issues.

"The abuse of labour rights is on the rise, especially in the building and construction sector, which is something that would tarnish the image of the country if not checked," the committee said in its annual report.

"Domestic help are treated like chattel, they work long hours, they are beaten, detained, sexually harassed and sometimes raped."

It said it received 116 individual and 15 group complaints last year.

Like other Gulf Arab states, gas-rich Qatar has experienced phenomenal wealth in recent years from rising energy prices and is spending billions of dollars on building new infrastructure and skyscrapers, requiring the import of more and more labourers from Asia, mainly India and Pakistan.

Gulf states have for years depended on the migrant Asian workforce to do everything from working on oil rigs, sweeping streets, serving food and cleaning homes, with the more educated virtually running the services sector.

The plight of labourers is not unique to Qatar.

Booming Dubai saw violent protests by construction workers last week and in March over wages and living conditions, amid reports that authorities have deported those labelled as troublemakers.

The Qatari committee said the hardship faced by labourers stem from an inflexible sponsorship system under which employers hold the passports of their employees, the delays in getting paid and unsuitable living conditions.

It has called on the government to revise all laws concerning expatriate workers.

The committee, which was established three years ago, has 15 members, of whom eight are government representatives.

Qatar, a peninsula located half-way along the Gulf's west coast, has a population of 750,000, of whom only 150,000 are nationals.

In its strongly worded report, the committee also spoke of a rising sex trade in conservative Qatar, which applies a hardline interpretation of Islam similar to but less stringent in some areas than neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

"Women are brought to the country under the guise of aiding them and then they are taken advantage of for prostitution and other indecent acts or they are hired jobs in hotels and coffee shops as a coverup for prostitution," the report said.

It also said many female housekeepers are sometimes lured into prostitution because they find themselves stranded in the country when their work permits expire and they fail to find new jobs.

The report had harsh words for the plight of women in general in Qatar's male-dominated society and urged the government to sign up to international treaties which forbid discrimination.

It said women get paid less for the same job carried out by men, they cannot get travel or personal identification documents without the consent of their male guardians, they are thrown into financial hardship in cases of divorce and cannot pass on citizenship to their children if they marry foreigners.

The report made no mention of the case of Hamda Fahd bin Jassem al-Thani, a member of the ruling family, who has been detained by her family in Qatar for almost three years for fleeing to Cairo to marry an Egyptian without their consent.

She was held in prison for a year before that after she was abducted in Cairo by Qatari security officers.

London-based rights group Amnesty International, which wrote last year to Qatar's emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani about Hamda, plans to submit the case to the UN's Committee against Torture.

Marriage like other personal and family affairs in Gulf societies is governed by sharia (Islamic law) and is usually arranged by parents, with many women denied the right to choose their partner.

 

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