The participation of Arab women in politics is a rare phenomenon; Arab society is generally patriarchal, with a reserved perspective of women assuming political positions – regardless of their qualifications, experiences, or competences. This is not only the case in the Arab world, but also in the international community where many women struggle in order to prove their potential. To capitalize on this, it is important to cast the light on inspiring women in the field of politics who have not only succeeded in the face of these challenges but have thrived in proving their potential. In Qatar, the role of women in politics has emerged through the appointment of women in the Shura Council and their representation of government departments and the State abroad. Dr. Hend Abdulrahman Al-Muftah is one of the first women in this forefront. She was appointed in November 2018, as one of the first four women in the Shura Council. Dr. Hend’s achievements are not only limited to the political sphere but extend beyond that. So, who is Dr. Hend Al-Muftah?
I am a Qatari woman who is truly proud of her country and proud of belonging to it. I am a mother, a wife, an employee, an academic, and recently, I have become a politician through my appointment as a member of the Qatari Shura Council. Ultimately, I am a human being and a citizen. I am currently working at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies as Associate Professor and Vice President of the Financial and Administrative Affairs. The nature of my work is primarily focused on general supervision of all matters related to annual and strategic operational plans, including budgeting, policy development, revision, assessment, and development, and outreach to local and external communities with regard to the nature of the work of the Institute in academic and research fields and different areas of cooperation. I work as a professor and I give lectures at the School of Public Administration and Development Economics in the Public Administration Program. The courses I teach include human resources management in the public or non-profit sector, as well as leading and supervising the graduation projects. This is in addition to my research work, which I try to manage in light of my many responsibilities. I am also the director of the Qatar Office of the Branch of the International Child Protection Organization, a Brussels-based organization, and a Member of its Board of Directors. In addition, I am the President of the Library and Information Society in Qatar, which unfortunately has been in the process of being set up since 2014. Praise be to Allah, I was one of the top students in school. Since I was a child, my mother, May Allah have mercy on her, has been calling me “the first” because I have always ranked first in my class, and it was her dream that I become a doctor. She used to proudly call me “doctor” in front of her neighbors and friends. That is why I grew up having two goals in mind: firstly, excellence in performance and achievement; secondly, becoming a doctor to realize the dream and ambition of my mother, May Allah have mercy on her. Since the study of medicine was not available at Qatar University at the time, I applied to study medicine abroad, specifically in the Gulf Arab University in Bahrain. In an emotional moment just a few hours before travelling and seeing the tears of my mother, I decided not to travel to study and instead joined Qatar University. Only two majors were available to me at that time: either English Literature or Public Administration (it was a new college at the time). So, I studied Administration and graduated, Praise be to Allah, and I was appointed as a Teaching Assistant at the college. After graduating from my bachelor’s program, I continued to pursue the two goals that I had in mind. My passion for postgraduate studies motivated me to achieve my ambition to obtain a PhD, not only to fulfill my mother’s dream, but also to return the favor to my country and contribute to its construction and development. Praise be to Allah and thanks to my family’s support and a lot of hard work, I was able to obtain both master’s and PhD degrees. I found my experience abroad to be very enjoyable, despite its challenges. While working on the thesis of my master’s degree in developmental studies, I discussed the status and challenges of Qatari women in the labor market in general. However, the thesis of my PhD focused on the relationship between the formation of Qatari human capital at the macro level through education and at the institutional level through training and professional development. I achieved this by examining a case study of the oil and gas sector in Qatar, and the practical reflection in this concern on the State’s investment in the field of development of Qatari people through education and the working environment. Through the PhD thesis, I have concluded that investment in the human element is the most important element in the development of any society regardless of its political, economic and social background. It is the basis of the development of societies and is considered to be the main factor in the economic, political and social development of societies. I started my career as soon as I got the PhD in a managerial position at Qatar University. I then progressed to a number of positions and moved between a number of institutions. I worked as an Advisor to the Minister of Commerce and then moved to Qatar Railways Company (Rail), of which I am proud truly proud of the achievements we made. Then, I worked as the Chief Executive Officer of the Childhood Cultural Center, and finally as a Vice President for Administrative and Financial Affairs at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. I was among the first to be appointed, along three other honorable ladies, for the first time in the history of Qatari women as members of the Shura Council. Through this, our political careers were launched.
Could you please tell us more about your role in the Shura Council?
The current Shura Council consists of 41 members, with only four women. Personally, I believe that the role of women in the Legislative Council, as well as in the Executive Council, is equal to and not less than the role of men. In general, our main role as members of the Council is limited to discussing the legislation submitted to us by the government for discussion and reporting on its compatibility with the general orientations of the State and the interest of the country and the citizens, in addition to approving the budget and some other matters. We also constantly raise some general issues for discussion and study, and then attempt in producing effective and tangible solutions that will help solve some of the issues that the citizens face. Even though the experience of women in the council is relatively new, our role as female members is similar to that of our fellow male members. We participate in all the discussions of the Council and the laws and legislations presented to it. We do not hesitate to express opinions and participate in the committees. Last year, I was elected for the position of the Chairman of the Educational and Cultural Committee. In addition, my colleague Dr. Aisha Al-Mannai is a member of the Arab Parliament, while my colleague Reem Al-Mansouri was elected in the current session to be a rapporteur in the Shura Council. We try as much as possible to be effective not only by attending, but also by our participation in the Shura Council and by enriching opinions and papers that are discussed in the legal projects and requests for discussion in general and also in the external representation of the Council both inside and outside the Qatari society.
What has attracted you to the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies?
The academic environment is my favorite environment generally, as I started in such an environment with Qatar University. Frankly, what truly attracted me to the Doha Institute is that it is made by Qatar. The institute has not been copied by any other foreign institutions as is the case with some educational institutions. In addition, its courses were not prepared by the “copy and paste” philosophy. The Doha Institute is proudly an organic Qatar-made academic product with an Arab identity and international vision. The Institute is also characterized by a bright message: to contribute to the formation of a new generation of Arab youth who are excellent academically and professionally and in terms of research in the neutral and systematic critical analysis, policy making, and decision making, and enriching Arab knowledge in general. It is no secret to all of us that the Arab world today is witnessing political and sectarian fluctuations and disturbances that are affecting the security and safety of peoples and the unity of the nation. This is why the Doha Institute hopes that this new generation of young people will have a good influence in enriching their societies and developing them intellectually, culturally, and institutionally. In this regard, the Institute is not only interested in developing the skills of its students by proposing solutions, analyzing policies, evaluating decisions or writing research papers, but also focuses on building a culture of respect for the other opinion, and that opposing the other opinion does not ever mean opposing, excluding, or confiscating of the right of others to express opinions. Systematically, we can say that the most important characteristic of the Institute is also the philosophy of cross majors. For example, a student enrolled in the Political Science Program can study Social Sciences, Administrative Sciences, or even Conflict management and Psychology. This is a special feature of the Institute because it gives students the opportunity to learn about all the sciences and knowledge, even if they are not related to their major. The last point that attracted me to the institute was to restore the dignity and revival of the Arabic language. It reinforces the study in Arabic, which unfortunately has been marginalized in this era and has become endangered amid the “invasion” of the English language, which has become the language of money, business, and education.
Have you witnessed an impact on the students of the Institute?
As an affiliate of the Institute, my answer to this question may be somewhat inaccurate or partial, but it must be emphasized that perfection and idealism in institutional performance exist only in theories and on pages of books. Any organization that tries to maintain the level and quality of institutional effectiveness must take into account two things: continuous assessment, and development. Continuous assessment is based on the following questions: What has been achieved in accordance with the strategic and operational plans? What is the level of their compatibility with the basic objectives and standards? Has the same been achieved by the same criteria or deviated from them? If such deviation exists, what is the degree of acceptance and tolerance in this regard? Finally, what are the lessons learned from them? Hence, the second phase commences; it is based on the results of the assessment phase, or the stage of continuous development. The institute here is no exception, but like dozens of academic institutions, we started with a specific plan, vision and goals, and we later expanded according to the results of ongoing assessment processes. We faced some challenges, and we faced institutional and human fluctuations, but in the end, we continued the journey. The most important thing we maintained was continuous assessment and development. We started with nine programs, and today we offer seventeen academic programs and we intend to launch the PhD program soon, Allah Willing. The Arabic language program has developed for non-native Arabic speakers and we are now offering the fellowship program of the Doha Institute for Arabic Language. Our ambition is limitless but always linked to the assessment and development processes and the lessons and challenges. In order to put this ambition within an applicable institutional and legal framework, it must be related to reality, and not merely written on paper. In this context, we, at Doha institute, avoid striving for leadership or the first place in institutional achievement or effectiveness. What matters and what we seek in the current stage is excellence and quality. We do not seek to compete with Qatar University, Education City, or other local academic institutions, although it is a healthy institutional phenomenon. Rather, it is healthier to work hand in hand to complement one another and to cooperate with each other especially as we have the same educational task and work on the same resources.
Can you please tell us about a professional experience that has affected you?
I enjoyed the different work experiences in each institution. Every institution I worked in was a professional experience that left me with its positive effects and good relations. However, there was a period I passed through in my career which I consider to be a bitter experience as a result of my wrong or unwise decision, where I faced what I can name a “professional war” that harmed my professional and academic paths and affected my social status and personal reputation. This was all because of my pursuit of administrative and institutional reform and development which was “fought” by a group of employees who want to keep the situation as it is to avoid their personal damage. So, they fought with me with all their means! I was harmed a lot by the institutional practices at the time, which were not only unprofessional practices in resisting change or professionally incompetent, but they were morally unacceptable. War was waged against me in ways that are despicable and low morally and institutionally. I was defamed and accused of administrative and financial corruption in a newspaper and on social media. It was a harsh experience for me, and I came out with several useful lessons, but I practiced my career and my national duties after it with a more determined will with regard to the institutional development and change! I believe very strongly that good relations and good words are not just Sadaqah [charity], but they have a magical impact on selves. I try as much as possible and through all leadership positions not to engage myself in professional conflicts or disputes and to deal with other opinions with respect and appreciation as we do not work to create hostilities but to build the good relations that will remain even after leaving work.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
I would like to tell the Qatari woman that you are one of the luckiest women in the world. You are fortunate to have obtained most of your rights easily. Unlike other women, you did not have to resort to demonstrations demanding your rights and did not bother to claim them for decades. You have obtained them thanks to the support of the political leadership that believed in the importance of your role and empowerment in society, so it is your responsibility to maintain these gains and not to abuse or distort them. Qatari women must also maintain scientific and professional gains and employ them in line with returning the favor to the country and its advancement globally. Praise be to Allah, Qatari women have demonstrated their competence and efficiency in all fields, especially in the field of entrepreneurship, in which they have demonstrated high leadership skills. We are extremely proud when we see the participation of Qatari women as honorable models in different projects. Therefore, leaving a mark in the institutional work is not hard to achieve even in the absence of power and authority. Accordingly, the Qatari woman should choose a job not only based on the extent of compatibility with the specialization and the attractiveness of the benefits of the salary, nor should the job be considered merely a “fingerprint” of attendance and absence as well as drinking coffee and tea with colleagues, but it is the initiative and innovation for development and change and to leave a good impact in the organization. My second advice is the need to continue working on self-improvement and self-development. The university degree is the beginning and not the end of your journey. Therefore, education and training must continue and should not be limited to technical and vocational skills, but should also include personal and “life” skills to create the required balance between family and work. It is also necessary to make the right professional decision. For example, if a woman is nominated for a leadership position and believes that she is not the “right person” for some reason, she should not hesitate to reject it in order to avoid harming her career. In this regard, I encourage Qatari women, especially the younger generation, to write off some terms from their professional vocabulary such as “I cannot,” or “I do not know.” Those who do not know can learn, and those who cannot can try because trial and error is what generates knowledge and experience. My third advice is addressed to wives and mothers, who must create a balance between family and work, without exceeding the limits or carelessness at the expense of the other side. Your family, husband, and children have a right just like your work does.
- Interview written by Al Anoud Al Kuwari.
- Interview was edited to improve readability and flow.