Women losing focus
From the ban on children camel jockeys to the deterioration of the family unit, Dr Ghalia voices her opinion on what is going right and what is not, in the Qatari society
By Vani Saraswathi

officials in their country as well, so we are not worried about them being stranded here. Was this part of your work as a member of the UN committee on child rights? Not quite. In Qatar, nationally I have focussed on two to three areas. I worked for a while on disabilities and I now work with children in general. I Chair the Committee of Childhood at the Supreme Council for Family Affairs and I also Chair a committee that has been appointed to combat human trafficking. And the main focus of that committee was child camel jockeys and our main aim was to ban children from participating in these races. At the level of UN a lot of work has been done to ban camel jockeys in several countries. And what we have done is to make recommendations to all countries that comply with the convention and also the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which stipulates that children under the age of 18 cannot be employed in hazardous jobs. I have completed almost four years as a member of the UN committee and it has been a rich experience. In the UN, what we do is monitor countries of the world that are party to the convention on rights of the child. This is a convention that is most universally ratified. And we keep an eye on how countries are progressing on the achievements of the rights of children in their country. Have the GCC states ratified this? Yes, all of them. There is also the issue of domestic workers... The other focus of the committee on trafficking is migrant workers, specifically domestic workers. For migrant workers there is a new labour court set up. And it really extends them plenty of protection. But there is a certain category of migrant workers that do not have adequate protection and they need some help. These are the domestic servants. The problem with domestic servants is that because of the specificity of their jobs, it is difficult to go into the homes

and monitor what’s going on. All you can do is raise awareness as to what rights they have and make sure they lead a dignified life. We do have contracts for them; nevertheless we find these contracts are not completely adhered to. And the domestic servants don’t know their rights. We have to raise awareness about their rights and urge them to ask for it. And we have to raise awareness among employers as well, that these are the rights of those workers and that it has to be upheld. At the same time we have to find a mechanism that will make sure that this is going on.

Robots to replace children
On December 29, 2004, Qatar announced that it was banning the use of children as jockeys in camel races. The Cabinet, headed by the Prime Minister H H Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani, at a meeting approved taking all necessary measures to ban recruitment and use of children as jockeys in camel races. Qatar is preparing to substitute robots for jockeys from next year. The remote-controlled jockey,

Dr Ghalia Mohammed bin Hamad Al Thani was educated in Lebanon (where her father was posted as the Ambassador of Qatar) and finished her schooling in Qatar. She did her medical studies in Jordan and graduated in 1987, and her Paediatrics specialisation in the United Kingdom and graduated in 1992. She was employed by HMC in 1987, but has been working continuously since 1992. Dr Ghalia Mohammed is now the Chairperson of Paediatrics Department at HMC. She is also a Member of the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child and the vice-chairperson of the National Committee on Human Rights

t was in her words, ‘one of the happiest days of her life’. Dr Ghalia Mohammed Bin Hamad Al Thani is a woman who wears many hats, and all with equal panache. Qatar Today sat down with this multifaceted lady on the day the ban on using children below the age of 18 as camel jockeys was announced. A ban that was the fruition of years of focussed effort by Dr Ghalia Al Thani and likeminded compatriots. In an exclusive interview she speaks of the different roles she plays – physician, human right activist and homemaker, and of the challenges facing Qatari women in a new era of equal rights and enlightenment.

the first time we reported a case. But we didn’t realise the scope of the problem from the beginning... but it is wonderful that we have now handled the problem and slapped a ban. I do not wish to dwell on what happened before. We need to now focus on the fact that Qatar will not now train, or recruit, or involve children under the age of 18 to conduct the races. What plans to rehabilitate the existing children? We already do. We have children now who have had some sort of permanent damage because of injuries sustained when they fell off the camels. We have a couple of them with us here in the hospital whom we are rehabilitating. Other children who have had surgery or treatment have gone home – back to their countries (primarily Sudan and Somalia). How many are there now? I am not sure how many are there now at Shahaniya. But at any given time there is an average about 50 kids there. What is the plan if you can’t find their families? We can find their families. These children come in with individuals, and most of the time these individuals were either uncles or cousins. So there is a link. It is not like they are thrown here and the escort went away. I don’t think we will face that major problem. We have done some very good work with

The ban has been a while in the pipeline, and now that it has been announced, what lies ahead? You have caught me on a very good day. Probably one of the happiest days of my life. It (the ban) is a dream come true. I have known that it was always going to happen. Qatar has always been instrumental in setting the rule for the whole region; in the way it protects human rights, democracy. All of the standards that we believe in as a culture and as a religion. But there were some difficulties in getting it to see light. We recognised the problem a few years ago. I can’t remember when was

Do you work with the embassies on this? Yes, there is some work with them. The embassies really do their job. They make sure that contracts are signed. But it is a social problem – our society is very good no doubt. We don’t have that many reported cases of abuses or wages that are not paid. They are occasional. We have requested information on cases that are filed with the police. And I must say there are not many. But we feel we can do better, and we feel we can legalise the way we protect domestic servants. Increasingly we see Qatari women in decision-making roles, be it in the education sector or health or businesses. And all this has been rather recent, what were your experiences at the beginning of your career? When I came back from the UK in 1992,

which costs just under $5,500, is being developed by a Swiss firm at a cost of $1.37 million in an experiment sponsored by the Qatari government, which has the rights to the device. Made of titanium, it is designed to look like a small human armed with an electronic whip. It is controlled from the touchlines by an armchair jockey manning a joystick and computer screen. More sophisticated models will be equipped with cameras in their eye sockets that will transmit a jockey’seye view of the racetrack back to the controller. An earlier, more rudimentary version was said to have been a great success when it was used in a trial several months ago. To ensure the robotic jockeys are widely used, the organising committee of camel races is buying 100 of the devices and will rent them out at prices subsidised by the government. February 2005 Qatar Today 31

30 Qatar Today February 2005


Research to be stepped up

Because it happened the way it did, it happened strong, that’s why the social change came smoothly and easily. Those of us, who did have some trouble, didn’t have to suffer long. In Qatar the revolution seems to be top down... That is 100 per cent true. How do you maintain a balance between work and family? I have been very lucky. I have been blessed. I had a very supportive family before I got married - my father especially. Mothers are always supportive. Fathers tend to be a little more conservative, but I had a forward thinking father. And I got married to a very understanding person. In my close circle I don’t have many issues or problems. They have always encouraged me to go further and work harder. At the same time this kind of support gives you more of a moral obligation that you have to keep the balance. You have to give them in return what they are giving you. It is exhausting, but it’s a pleasure. For me there is no emotional struggle, it’s just physical. It is knowing how to balance your time. And I feel an intelligent woman can do everything. We can be great managers, housekeepers, mothers... we can do all at the same time. It is about time management and little bit of sacrifice. Your fun time maybe cut... But do you have any fun time at all? I manage... I love reading. I know it’s a cliche, and everyone says that. But that is what I love to do. Reading for pleasure, just about anything... not work related. What is the greatest challenge for Arab women, given the changing social dynamics? Let me tell you my honest opinion, at the risk of upsetting some of my women colleagues... and I will talk specifically about Qatari women. I see that they are losing their focus. And I am not talking about working women alone. I am talking about women in general. The importance of the home is losing its value. This is a price that every society that is becoming westernised is paying. We

With over a decade’s experience at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), and being part of the dynamic changes taking place at the Corporation, Sheikha Ghalia gives us an idea about the direction the Corporation has taken. Along with technological advancements there has been a deliberate attempt to change attitudes and work culture. “Physicians now recognise the importance of being internationally accredited. Few years ago all hospitals used to work independently of each other. Good academic centres, like HMC, have now realised, international standards are very important and accreditation is very important. And the fact that we became affiliated to Cornell Medical College gave us more ambition to really become a worldrenowned centre for excellence in research and education and medical services.” According to Sheikha Ghalia this is also becoming more evident in attitudes of staff towards patients and the way they work with each other as well. “We are working on getting accredited by the Joint Commission International and aim to get accredited by 2006. On whether the Hamad Medical City, being planned post-Asiads, will step up research, she says that they would not be waiting that long. and started working, I had some worries and concerns. That being an ambitious person I might not be able to achieve what I aspire to because of the social limitations, because of the fact that our society is so conservative and women do not really appear in the open. Even if they did get very good education. They have been educated for many years and they have been doing some excellent work in the ministry of education for example. But they have never been allowed to appear in the open, they had to do their work in the shadow of the men, never in the 32 Qatar Today February 2005

“There are a lot of different levels of research. We know for a fact that Qatar Foundation (QF) is working on establishing a very good basis for research in the country and we know that HMC is also working towards establishing solid medical research. Cornell is going to introduce good research. We are not going to wait for the new medical city to come up for us to start our research project.” She also hopes to see more decentralisation in the medical city. “The whole of HMC will become more decentralised. That is our ambition. And I do believe that this is the way forward. More autonomy for the new hospitals: the new children’s hospital will work under the umbrella of HMC but will be autonomous. The same goes for the trauma centre.” The Children’s hospital that originally was planned as a 328-bed hospital will now co-ordinate its facilities with the Speciality Teaching Hospital (STH) being planned by QF. “We are working as one and not competing with each other, we are planning to have all the required bed capacity for the children between the two hospitals. This is work in progress and we haven’t decided on the final numbers. STH will work very closely with HMC’s Women’s hospital and the Children’s hospital. So that all the work is complementary and not competitive.” some social struggles. Although we got the political support, we had to still deal with our own social difficulties. Some of us could not have our pictures taken or appear in newspapers. Some of us could not travel, let alone appear in a photograph. The social change followed the political change... and this happened very quickly. If it were to happen the other way around – the social change before the political commitment and desire - it would have taken much longer, when you would have needed to change a whole generation.

can avoid it if we are smart enough. What worries me now, is that women are losing focus, when they are gaining all their rights, all of it... there are very few issues left and those few are being addressed actively. Qatari women, who have got all their rights overnight, have somehow lost their focus on the most important thing, which is the home. And their role in the home is much more important than it is anywhere else. The majority have not been able keep the balance. Funny thing is that they are all not necessarily working. Working women have a better ability of managing their time. Because the whole day is structured, so they can dedicate different parts of the day to different issues. Non-working women, I have found, are more likely to lose time, to waste time. Like? I hate sitting in the clinic and seeing a child coming to the clinic with the nanny and not with the mother or the father. And this is a phenomenon I am seeing frequently. I also hate the fact that sometimes the child comes with the mother and the nanny, and then you ask the mother something to do with the child and she needs to ask the nanny to find out. This worries me so much. Because losing the mother – you can lose her with her physically being there – means for sure that the family unit is going to break-up. This is the major challenge for women. Now that they know they can do whatever they want, they can fulfil their dreams; the challenge is to not lose focus on the reality and the importance of the family unit. This is something that is happening worldwide isn’t it? Yes. But as I said, we are blessed with so many things. It is a small country, a small population, it is very wealthy. It is starting almost from scratch, so it can learn from bad experiences of other countries. It is a conservative country, with a strong sense of religion, which should keep it rooted. There is no reason for it to lose its values. We have seen in other countries, as it developed, the family unit deteriorat-

ed. We need to learn from those mistakes, and not let it happen in our society. We are already losing the extended family. That has already deteriorated around the edges. It is still there, but it is getting smaller and smaller. The least we can do is make sure that the nuclear family stays strong. Although there is a certain obligation of the state, the government, the main obligation falls on society to hold on to its values and its morals. And there is no need to lose it, just because the country is getting westernised. Is it because we tend to say Westernised instead of Developed, because the Asian society in general is very much family oriented? Yes, but when we say a country is developing, we mean developing to the standards of the West. With all the good and the bad that comes with it. A lot of good will come from it: education, health, infrastructure, open markets. But along with it you are importing certain other values, which again have both positives and negatives. There are wonderful things like democracy and freedom of thought and speech... but the bad things are loss of family values, lack of discipline in certain areas, lack of respect between generations... In our societies the respect that the younger generation has for the older generation does not exist in the West. It would be so sad if we lose that. It is a difficult thing to keep and maintain, but it is not impossible. What is your advice for the young women, on the threshold of a serious career? It would be to go for it. Don’t let anything stand in your way. But don’t lose your moral and cultural background. Hold on to it for dear life. Because this is what will keep you going, and keep you strong. There are a lot of positive things in our culture that protect and support us. And don’t lose focus; be smart. And when they start their careers they have to be the best in whatever they do. They have to give it everything they have. And when they get married and have their children, they should also be best at that. n February 2005 Qatar Today 33

spotlight. Never reaching a stage where they would shine. But almost overnight, you saw this changing. And suddenly you heard about an under secretary for education (who is now the Minister of Education), suddenly you saw people at the university excelling and setting very good standards. These ladies did not appear suddenly. They were always there. They were always highly qualified. They had their positions and they were working hard. They just needed political support. Almost all of us in my generation had

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