Qatar tops MENA region in female literacy rate
QATAR is the only country in the MENA region where female adult literacy is higher than male adult literacy, which confirms the vital role women have come to play in nation building, says Qatari writer and Faculty Member of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, Dr Amal Mohammed al Malki. In an exclusive interview with Qatar Tribune’s Joseph Varghese, she also takes a look at the role of women in future in Qatar and beyond in the region. Excerpts: Q: How would you assess the present status of Arab women? A: Arab women have achieved some critical rights, such as a more equal personal status code for women in Morocco, the right to divorce in Egypt, the right to vote and run in elections in Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait over the last decade or so.
However, there is so much more to be done. Women are still caught between politics and culture.
There is the need to institutionalise their rights to ensure they are not left to be hijacked by political factions or outdated traditions.
How would you rate the role of Qatari women in the process of nation building? Qatari women are a central resource in Qatar’s strategy of national development.
According to World Bank statistics on women and development in the Middle East, Qatar is a leader in women’s advancement in the MENA region. Qatar closed the malefemale secondary school enrollment gap back in 1980, much, much before any other MENA country.
UNESCO figures for 2000 put Qatar as one of the only six MENA countries (along with the UAE, Kuwait, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Jordan) where adult female literacy is over 80 percent. It is the only country in MENA where female adult literacy surpasses male adult literacy.
Among the school-age population, Qatar stands third in the ratio of female to male literacy, second only to Palestine and Saudi Arabia. More than any other MENA country, Qatar has encouraged women to continue their education after high school, with three Qatari women attending a post-secondary college or university for every male who does so. Qatari women study the humanities, arts, and education at the tertiary level by a ratio of 9:1 over men, suggesting that Qatar, already and will for decades to come, rely primarily on experts drawn from its female population to design and implement its core educational strategies.
What are the stages of development Arab women have passed through in the past one to two decades? Arab women’s recent development has been mainly tied to politics and economy, and thus we see that women in stable economies and political atmospheres have been granted more freedom and equality, especially in terms of education and employment.
The two main global agreements in recent history that have benefited Arab women are the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a universal “bill of rights” for women that requires all signatories to abolish all laws that are inconsistent with women’s equality with men and the Fourth World Conference on Women, better known as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing Declaration 1995).
What has been the impact of Arab Spring on Women in the Arab world? Nothing that is positive so far. On the contrary actually, women rights are further jeopardised due to change of political ideologies and women themselves are the first victims of any political unrest, so until the Arab Spring settles down and we see its results on women’s struggle for equality, I’m afraid any claim of it having positive impact on women is just hypocrisy.
However, I would like to reverse the question and talk about the impact of women on the Arab Spring.
Women have proved that they are in fact equal citizens with political consciousness and can be major players in the political scenes.
Men and women stood side by side in every venue calling for freedom and political reform. They talked to the world east and west and utilised traditional media as well as new media.
They proved to the world and their own societies that they aren’t passive and that they have voices which they used in all languages.
Why is it that you are the only Qatari faculty member of the Education City? It happened that I had the right qualifications and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. The moment I knew what I wanted and that is to teach in Education City, I was determined to achieve my aim.
I believe nothing is impossible and you can overcome any obstacle with determination and hard work. To teach in a branch campus here in Qatar, I had to go through the main campus, which meant that I had to teach in Carnegie Mellon- Pittsburgh before teaching here. It was one of the most fulfilling experiences that shaped who I am today.
Do you think that Qatari women are unwilling to take up such responsibilities? I believe in the will and power of Qatari women and I believe that many will follow in my footsteps.
What kind of role do you foresee for the Qatari woman by 2030? I see her working as a partner and a leader. She will be the wife and mother, student, educator, manager, minister, politician, economist, pilot, athletic, and many more. She will demand the respect of the world and will break all stereotypes about her.