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Qatar: Discrimination suffered by women laid bare in new report

Women who spoke to Human Rights Watch said they had to ask male permission for gynaecological examinations
HRW found that women could be subject to travel bans by their husbands or fathers, with females under 25 having to obtain permission to travel abroad (AFP)

Women in Qatar have complained of being "treated as children", as a new report reveals the extent to which male guardianship laws restrict their ability to receive gynaecological exams and travel overseas.

Women who spoke to Human Rights Watch said medical staff would need their husband or male guardian's permission for prenatal care, transvaginal ultrasounds, pap smears and sexual health checks. 

Other restrictions uncovered by HRW also showed that women could be subject to travel bans by their husbands or fathers, with females under 25 having to obtain permission to travel abroad.

Dana, a 20-year-old Qatari woman, said she had to lie about her marital status to receive urgent healthcare by giving her friend's name. 

'They refused to actually do a physical on me because I wasn't married'

- Dana, a 20-year-old Qatari woman

"One time, an ER doctor referred me to the woman's hospital for an ultrasound," Dana told HRW. "I was in so much pain he thought my ovary had burst. But they wouldn't give me a vaginal ultrasound without a marriage licence.

"They refused to actually do a physical on me because I wasn't married."

While Nadine, a 33-year-old British resident in Qatar, said she suffered "in silence" after being denied specific examinations by healthcare workers, including transvaginal ultrasound, a pap smear test or a womb biopsy without a marriage certificate. 

"I had horrible pain. I used to have massive blood clots. I realised it was like being in labour," Nadine told HRW. 

"I was having these contractions and blood clots come out the size of your palm. But because of all the obstacles you go through, you kind of give up."

She believes healthcare workers refused to give her the vaginal examinations over fears it would "break the hymen." 

'Few viable options'

The findings from HRW come from an analysis of 27 laws, as well as regulations, policies, forms, official government communications and interviews with 73 women. 

"Women in Qatar have broken barriers and achieved significant progress in areas such as education, yet they have to navigate still state-enforced male guardianship rules that limit their ability to live full, productive and independent lives," said Rothna Begum, senior women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. 

"Male guardianship reinforces the power and control that men have over women's lives and choices and may foster or fuel violence, leaving women few viable options to escape abuse from their families and husbands."

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Lolwa, a 44-year-old interviewed for the report, said women in Qatar were "treated as children".

Qatar's male guardianship rules contradict some of its own laws, according to HRW, which set the end of guardianship at 18 years old and violate the country's obligations under international law.

A Qatari government spokesperson disputed HRW's findings in a statement to Middle East Eye and said they "inaccurately" portray Qatar's laws, policies and practices related to women.

"The accounts mentioned in the report are not aligned with our constitution, laws or policies," the Qatari statement said. 

"The government will investigate these cases and prosecute anyone who has broken the law. 

"Enshrined in Qatar’s constitution is a prohibition on discrimination against women… There is zero tolerance in Qatar for gender-based violence or domestic abuse."