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Qatar women launch start-ups despite social constraints

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QATARI women are increasingly defying social constraints and joining the workforce in the booming energy-rich country, which offers support for new enterprises and encourages start-ups by university graduates.

They benefit from a national “Qatarisation” programme, which aims to increase the number of working citizens by guaranteeing them jobs and high wages in industry and government departments. 

The programme also helps people set up their own businesses in the small Gulf emirate.

Maryam al-Subaiey, 28, started her own company, Q-Talent, which sells items “Made in Qatar.”

“I was the director of programmes and creation at Qatar TV,” she told AFP. “Before that I worked in marketing, and the ministry of foreign affairs. And I started several youth initiatives. So I just reached a point in my life where I wanted to create something that’s my own.”

Former first lady Sheikha Moza bint Nasser al-Misnad, had played a major role in opening the way for women in the Gulf emirate.

The mother of the emir, Sheikh Tamim, she chairs the Qatar Foundation, which specialises in education and culture, and runs an “Education City” that groups branches of a number of universities, including Georgetown, and also a “Science and Technology Park” in Doha.

In 1999, women became entitled to occupy senior government positions.

Minister of Information and Communications Technology Hessa al-Jaber ranked fifth on Forbes list of “200 Most Powerful Arab Women – 2014: Government”.

At Carnegie Mellon University in Doha, Qatari women are four times more likely to join the business programme than their male peers, said Selma Limam Mansar, associate dean for education.

Subaiey remarked that “women here in Qatar… are treated like queens. We have all our rights… The opportunity is there for me and it’s up to me to go and grasp it or not.”

Caroline Carpentier, author of “Qatar Success Stories — Inspiring Women”, studied the situation of women in all fields and came up with a series of portraits in her book. 

“The older generations have paved the way for younger ones,” Carpentier said. “But it’s also a young country where opportunities exist” and where new businesses are well-supported.

To begin with, the country has a very favourable economic environment, with a current GDP growth rate of 6.5 percent that is predicted to reach almost eight percent by 2017.

Young Qataris are increasingly invited to participate in the construction and promotion of their state, where multi-billion dollar massive infrastructure projects are being carried out in preparation for hosting the 2022 football World Cup.

At a February 23 forum for start-up creators, many of the new companies presented were run by young women, some of them still students.

Amal al-Shammari started the so-called “Embrace Doha” initiative that aims to provide support to expats in the Gulf country. 

Foreigners, the vast majority of whom are men unaccompanied by any family, make up almost 90 percent of the country’s estimated 2.3 million population. Yet there are 585,000 women in Qatar, the highest figure ever recorded.

“It’s not difficult for women to work here. We really believe in ourselves and we have a lot to give to the community, society and even to our country,” said Shammari.

But constraints remain, imposed by a patriarchal, traditional society.

“The culture is still conservative… and they do think that women can’t do some things” the way men do them, she said. 

And while the labour law stipulates equal pay for men and women, some sectors, such as agriculture and fishing, are reserved for men.

In 2012, only 35 percent of women of working age were employed, a percentage that has slightly improved.  

Yet Shammari said “this generation is proving the opposite” with women leading and acquiring top positions in several fields.

At universities, young Qatari women are more likely to pursue their ambitions.

Mansar said “we have a majority of women in the programme, all the programmes, so 57 percent of the students are female.” And later on, they “go out and look for employment or start their own companies.”



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