The permanent constitution stipulates that all citizens shall have equal rights and obligations without discrimination on the grounds of race, sex or religion. From this constitutional principle, based on the principles of Islamic Sharia and the directives of H.H Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the state of Qatar formed a National Strategy for the advancement of women in all spheres in cooperation with UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women).
The commitment to consolidating the status of women in the political arena is clearly seen in a number of initiatives which have been taken in the last few years to enable women to play a positive role in the parliamentary and political fields. Also, all necessary measures and mechanisms where applied to facilitate women's participation in running public, private and mixed sector institutions. Revitalizing women's role came into practice when Qatari women took part in the elections for the Central Municipal Council, the first popular elections ever held in Qatar in March 1999.
Women participated in the elections both as candidates and voters. Female registration accounted for 43.8% of registered voters and 42.7% of them cast their votes. Although none of the six women who contested the election won any seat, one of them got 34.5% of the total votes in her constituency. In the 2003 elections, a woman was returned unopposed. Not only do working women make up 25% of the indigenous work force, but they also keep pursuing top posts such as Minister of Education, and president of Qatar University, two posts held by Qatari women.
The Emiri Decree no. 9 of 1976 and its amendments regulate the employment of Qatari women in the public sector. The law states that women are equal to men and are entitled to equal pay if doing the same kind of work without discrimination on any grounds. The same principle applies when it comes to appointment, benefits and social security. Of the total government workforce, Qatari women make up 43.5%, according to a workforce census carried out in March 1999. They constitute 25% of the total workforce in the country.
As for laws regulating work in the private and mixed sectors, women are entitled to a two-month paid maternity leave. Also, nursing mothers are given one hour off per day to look after their babies.
The percentage of females enrolled in public and higher education has increased over the last few years with the creation of more diversified opportunities for women, which has consequently created more employment opportunities for them in different new fields after graduation. There is an apparent presence for females majoring in technical specializations at Qatar Technical College of Qatar University, mainly, in information technology, geographical data systems, applied chemistry and applied biology.
The Ministry of Education has set up two model scientific schools, one for boys and the other for girls to emphasize the principle of equality in educational opportunities. These two schools have contributed to setting the scene for providing the suitable scientific environment for gifted students to develop systematic thinking.
The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Civil Service Affairs and Housing, acting upon a decision made by the Council of Ministers, drew up a training program designed to find a solution for the surplus in the number of the female Qatari graduates in certain specializations to qualify them to work as elementary school teachers. Today there is a number of Private Women's only institutes and colleges such as the Shaqab Institute for Girls and Shaqab College of Design Arts which later became Virginia Commonwealth University School of Arts. These are affiliates of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development.
Women's participation in the workforce is considered one of the important indicators of women's status in the society and the change of their traditional role from child bearing, housekeeping, and children raising to new roles (getting involved in the labor market and enjoying economic independence and social participation). With the ever increasing presence of Qatari women in economic fields, the Qatar Investment Corporation for Ladies was set up in April 1998 with the support of the Sheikha Mouza Bint Nasser Al-Misnad, wife of the Emir of the State of Qatar.
The Corporation attempts to open up opportunities for women to acquaint them with the available opportunities for investment of savings. Women are given the opportunity to personally follow up on things with the help of a specialized team of experts who run investments locally and internationally. Nothing in the Qatari law prevents women from owning land or property since Islam allows women to have their own funds and properties independent from their husbands. Financial institutions in the country offer loans and credit to the public without discrimination on the basis of sex.
Qatari women are actively involved in a number of non governmental societies which deal with family- related issues. Such societies play a key role in reinforcing women's position in the society through training courses, lectures, etc. They also have a prominent presence in the field of voluntary work. Non-governmental organizations help in spreading awareness of the importance of effective women's participation in society. One of the most important milestones in this context was the first women's conference organised by the Family Development Center under the theme of "Family Life and the Labour Market" from 26-29 April 1997. The conference which witnessed active national and international participation was held under the auspices of the Emir's wife.
Qatari journalism has witnessed an impressive presence of women who have come to express their opinion as openly as men. Nevertheless, certain obstacles, including some social customs and traditions, have hindered women's participation in media fields. Moreover the lack of opportunities for female students to major in this field makes things even harder for them.