Is the talent of women in Qatar being wasted?

by  — 14 July 2013

Though Doha is home to many talented and highly qualified women, both Qatari and expatriate, they are not being fully utilised in the workforce, writes Victoria Scott.

A lawyer I know here works as a swimming teacher. There is also a physiotherapist working as a nursery teaching assistant, an engineer who is an admin assistant, and a midwife not working at all. They have three things in common – all are expatriate trailing spouses, all mothers, and all with jobs far below their qualification level and usual salary - if they are working at all.

Expatriate women with visas sponsored by their husbands are legally allowed to work in Qatar, but face a range of hurdles in their race to climb the career ladder. These include childcare, sponsorship laws, and a lack of flexibility. To get around them, many choose jobs that guarantee long holidays and shorter hours, often for low salaries and in areas unrelated to their expertise.

While sponsorship is not an issue, many Qatari women also find it hard to balance their careers with family life. They make up the majority of local university graduates, but only 35 percent of female nationals work. Recent research by Wamda, a platform designed to empower entrepreneurs in the MENA region, concluded that these women want more flexibility and different childcare options, demonstrating that whether Qatari or expatriate, working women here share a desire for change.

Whether Qatari or expatriate, working women in Qatar want more flexibility and different childcare options.

I believe that it is primarily childcare issues which are holding these women back. At the heart of the problem is a disconnect between school hours and average working hours. While the schools are open for five days a week, many organisations require the employees to work for six days. Add to this the lengthy school holidays, and you have big childcare gaps to fill.

Of course, one option is to hire a maid. It is true that a full-time live-in maid is an affordable and convenient option, but it is not for everyone. Some families prefer not having a member of staff living in their home, and many more do not have the room to accommodate one. And even if one has a maid, the difficulty of school-runs remains. Working parents often rely on taxis, minibuses or illegal drivers.

Qatar’s limited maternity leave of 50 days also remains discouraging. Once this leave is over, the nursing mothers face a problem too. Under Qatari labour law, they are given one hour off per day to nurse their infants for a year. However, the provision of only a single hour assumes their baby is nearby, or that they have the use of a pump and privacy at the office.

Some would like to have peripatetic career, but this is tricky. Expatriate spouses must register as working women with the government, thus assuming that they only work with one employer. Qatar currently has no registration process for freelance workers.

Others choose to set up businesses from home, offering services such as cake making and hairdressing – and as inoffensive as these businesses are, they are all illegal under Qatari law, which requires all registered companies to be 50 percent Qatari-owned and run from an office.

So, what to do? According to opinions among both working and unemployed women in Qatar, they want wrap-around care at schools, provided by trained staff, longer maternity leave, workplace crèches, flexible working hours for school-runs, agencies offering live-out, licensed, trained nannies, and the establishment of a licensed childminder scheme for after-school care. They would also like job-sharing to be an accepted option, and freelance work to be officially endorsed by the government.

If just some of these suggestions could be met, I believe Qatar would not regret the expertise, enthusiasm and experience that presently unemployed women could then provide to the country. After all, as Qatar moves towards a knowledge-based economy, does it not make perfect sense to make the most of the skilled workers who are already here?

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