Sheikha Aisha bint Faleh Al-Thani delivered a Monthly Dialogue lecture on the subject of “Women in Qatar: Quotas, Qualifications, and Qatarization” on December 4, 2012. Sheikha Al Thani is the chairperson and founder of Al Faleh Group, an organization that provides educational products and services, and she also serves on the Board of Directors for the Supreme Education Council, Reach Out to Asia, and Zaytuna Institute and College.
Sheikha Al Thani began the lecture by noting that “despite great strides in education and employment, a large gender gap remains in position of status in Qatar for women.” There is still much work that needs to be done to close the gender gap in the labor market, especially in relation to the integration of Qatari women on a level playing field in the workforce in Qatar, the Sheikha argued.
Education is one of the key pillars of His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani’sVision 2030 for Qatar, and one of the greatest agents of change for the role of women. “Qatar has become a regional leader in education,” and has invested heavily in reforming the K-12 educational system led by the Supreme Education Council. In addition, some of the world’s leading universities and educational institutions have been invited to impart quality education and transfer knowledge and skills. Through these institutions and through the emphasis on reforming educational policies, Qatari women are emerging as professionals who contribute equally to the country’s sustainable growth in a knowledge-based economy. “There is a strong positive correlation between employability and the quality of education a woman receives,” and so women in Qatar have been increasingly and actively participating in the economy, the labor market, and society. Thus, Qatari women are shattering old paradigms, the Sheikha said.
In comparison to the neighboring Gulf Cooperation Coucil (GCC) states, Qatar has the highest percentage of local women employed in the national labor market. Despite this positive statistic, Qatar has the region’s lowest percentage of women in senior leadership roles, and trails far behind the European average. “United Nations data showed that only 7% of people in senior and managerial positions were women, which was the lowest in the region.” This means that “women are still underrepresented in decision-making positions in many fields,” but, Al Thani argued, this is gradually changing in Qatar as more educated women are continually changing the face of the labor market.
Although education is one of the most powerful tools for the empowerment of women in society, it is only one area of social, economic, and political participation. Qatar has positively introduced gender quotas in national employment, but, the Sheikha argued, there is a risk that these are not properly introduced. There still needs to be more done to tackle the careful implementation of “Qatarization” and gender quota policies for the inclusion of women in the labor market. “Because this lack of participation is holding the region back from further economic growth, some governments have stiffened their resolve to ensure that unrealistic quotas are met,” she argued. “Not surprisingly, many public and private sector managers are reluctant to hire and retain nationals, especially women, whom they feel lack the skills needed for the job.”
Thus, Qatarization and gender quota policies must be introduced in a careful and constructive manner so that all stakeholders gain from women’s participation in the labor market. The Sheikha gave the example of Qatar Petroleum (QP) as a company that has addressed Qatarization in a strategic and systematic manner. “It has adopted a process for attracting qualified talent from all available sources. This includes hiring entry level candidates directly from the ranks of recent graduates from women’s colleges and vocational institutes,” she said.
Such job placement programs and public-private partnerships providing a direct link between educational institutions and the labor market is a must for future of Qatar. The connection between education and the labor market cannot be stressed enough, the Sheikha said, as one necessarily eases the burden on the other. Highly educated graduates will need less training from their employers and this will lead to a smooth and symbiotic relationship between the two spheres.
In conclusion, the Sheikha offered some recommendations for the effective application of Qatarization policies to address the gender imbalance in the Qatari labor market. “Introducing a quota system for women will not be easy, and there is a risk of moving too fast, even for those companies that are most aggressively tackling Qatarization.” Further, Qatar should implement an education policy that takes into account practical skills such as professional development programs and entrepreneurship programs to help women become innovators and entrepreneurs. The transfer of knowledge and acquiring job skills are long and arduous processes that need time to take shape. Educational reform has occurred relatively recently and so not enough time has passed to be able to assess the success of these campaigns. “For reforms to be effective, evaluation of policies must become an essential component of the process of monitoring so that initiates can be revised and improved based on measured outcomes,” she explained.
Although women in Qatar play a huge role in community and social development, raising awareness about the possibilities of contributing to the country’s economy is important. Sheikha Moza bin Nasser and her daughter Sheikha Al Mayassa are great role models for Qatar, the region, and the world.
Sheikha Aisha bint Faleh Al-Thani is the chairperson and founder of Al Faleh Group, a land mark in Qatar providing educational products and services of the highest quality. Three schools, including Doha Academy, fall under the group’s umbrella. After graduating from Qatar University with a Bachelor’s in Education and a Bachelor’s in English Literature, Sheikha Aisha went on to get a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Hull in the United Kingdom, followed by a Ph.D. in corporate governance from Cass Business School, at City University, London.
Article by Suzi Mirgani, Manager and Editor for CIRS Publications