Qatar is the only Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country still implementing male guardianship laws for female travel after Saudi Arabia lifted its restrictions on Friday. Saudi Arabia announced it would now allow both male and female citizens over the age of 21 to travel without a parent or guardian’s permission. While the rest of the GCC countries are working to protect and empower women’s rights, Qatar seems to lag behind.
According to the Qatari Interior Ministry’s website, guardianship laws require females under the age of 25 to travel abroad with a male parent’s consent. These measures restrict women who may need to travel abroad out of necessity, for education, visiting a relative or for medical needs.
According to the Saudi news agency Al Arabiya, Qatari men can – and do – apply to the courts in order to prevent their wives from traveling.
“Married women are entitled to travel without permission irrespective of their age,” it states on the Qatari Interior Ministry’s website. “In case the husband doesn’t want her to travel, he has to approach the competent court to prevent her journey.”
The same rules, however, do not apply to the men. According to the ministry’s website, men are allowed to travel freely once they reach the legal age of 18: “No permission is required for those who are 18 years old or more as they have reached the legal age of puberty.”
Furthermore, the Qatar official e-government portal Hukoomi’s instructions for citizens’ passport renewal specify that only Qatari males over the age of 18 can apply for a passport on their own. It also states that those same people may apply for renewal on account of unmarried daughters, sisters and nieces.
Saudi Arabia’s new decree, as of Friday, grants women who are of age the right to apply for and renew their passports themselves. Their recent changes also allow women to register independently for marriage, divorce or a child’s birth, and to receive family documents. The new decree also establishes that either the mother or father can act as a child’s legal guardian.
According to NPR, it was not too long ago that Saudi Arabia attempted to silence women’s rights activists and punish those who had political dissent, thus increasing the amount of female asylum seekers such as Rahaf Mohammad Alqunum and Samah Damanhoori, who actually succeeded in finding asylum abroad. In 2017, both Saudi men and women made a total of 817 asylum claims.
Neither Bahrain nor the United Arab Emirates implement guardian systems for female travelers, and Kuwaiti women gained the right to travel without a guardian’s approval back in 2009.
According to Amnesty International, Qatar acceded to international human rights treaties concerning migrants and women, but included reservations that limit their effect. Thus, their legal developments for women’s rights in general are slow.
The Qatari government, according to Amnesty, recently rejected Article 3 of their International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) on “the equal right of men and women in the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights.”