DOHA: A research team from Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) is upholding what former UN secretary-general Kofi Anan once said: “When women thrive, all of society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life”, through a study ‘Qatari Women: Engagement and Empowerment’.
Seeking to uncover ways in which Qatari women empower themselves through a survey involving 1,000 women and ethnographic research, the team of 15 female students, 11 of whom Qatari, overseen by three faculty members, expects to shed light on how women may take on larger roles in the rapid development of their nation, guided by Qatar National Vision 2030 and Qatar National Development Strategy.
“Although Qatari women outnumber men in terms of higher education graduate figures, they do not make up 50 percent of the national workforce,” says Mitchell Jocelyn Sage, Primary Investigator and Assistant Professor of Liberal Arts.
This imbalance is one of the reasons why the team is seeking to investigate factors which could affect highly educated women contributing to the development of their nation.
“We see a lot of hindrances to full female participation and involvement within the Qatari community so we began the research by asking what the reasons behind the social and economic obstacles are and what helps Qatari women become more involved in their society and economy,” Mitchell said. “So we thought we would approach it in a way that enables their individual voices to be heard.”
Joining Mitchell in the team is Christina Paschyn, Lecturer of Journalism, and Kirsten Pike, Assistant Professor of Communications, faculty mentors Tanya Kane, Adjunct Anthropology Lecturer, Texas A&M University at Qatar and Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar; Justin Gengler, Senior Researcher, Social and Economic Survey Research Institute of Qatar University, and Sadia Mir, Assistant Professor of English, Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar.
Comprising a survey and ethnographic research, the results of which could assist the government in future policymaking, the study was recently awarded a one-year grant through the Undergraduate Research Experience Programme of Qatar National Research Fund, established by Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development in 2006.
The survey follows an ethnographic research earlier this year that saw student researchers engage Qatari women in majlis settings.
“The majlis is known to be a male social activity but there are also majlises for females, and are an important but understudied and overlooked area of female engagement,” said Mitchell. “Through the majlis, we are able to explore not only the issues discussed there but also the ways in which women empower each other.”
The team sought to investigate the role the majlis plays in the life of a Qatari woman.
“Is it an area where women are able to learn skills to be enable to participate more in their social and economic choices? Is it a place where they are sharing information and creating awareness by discussing common issues? A place where women encourage each other to solve a problem?
“Through the observation of the majlis setting, we are exposed to social and behavioural attitudes of Qatari women we believe have a connection to their greater engagement within the wider community,” she said.
Tied to human development goals of Qatar National Vision, the study seeks to support the government in understanding obstacles and drivers of national women’s engagement in society.
“The human development pillar is one of the most important, because it is the educated national workforce that will take charge of the country in the short and long term,” said Mitchell. “With 50 percent of the local population being female, ways in which to engage them becomes essential to national development.
“The female labour force participation rate is not a dire situation as increasing numbers of the younger generation of women are getting more involved,” she adds.
“However, about 66 percent of the Qatari workforce is male, and ideally that should be an even split. So through studies such as ours, we are able to contribute to continued improvements of this situation by letting Qatari women’s voices be heard.”
Through the combination of the survey and the ethnographic research, set to be presented through academic papers and multimedia, Mitchell and her team believe that insights gained through the study could pinpoint issues hindering national women’s engagement in society.
“Our study could reveal social indicators we can highlight to the government. It might also lead to friendlier working hours or workplace childcare that would enable Qatari women to contribute more to the development of their nation,” she says.
However, Mitchell believes the diverse methods through which the team will present the research, via museum installations and a documentary for example, will attract a wider audience in Qatar and abroad.
“In the wider world, there is a stereotypical perspective that Gulf women are silent, oppressed and passive members of society. However, people who live in this region are aware that this is not true, because Qatari women, for example, are very vocal, passionate and active in their societies when they want to be. Therefore, combating a misunderstanding such as this is inherently interesting to the outside world.”