Sexual violence and imprisonment are facts of life for many of Qatar’s women workers. Largely women from Nepal, India and the Philippines, Qatar’s domestic workers face isolation and exploitation in the world’s richest country. Disenfranchised and vulnerable, the most marginalised workers have been neglected from the labour debate, which has recently enveloped Qatar. Human rights organisations have been given a rare platform to put pressure on the powerful state of Qatar in relation to treatment of workers, but silence resounds on the subject of women workers. Ex-pat domestic workers in Qatar are isolated from the community and their movements are heavily restricted, living on their employers’ premises, depriving them of the communal voice found in the male labour force which has enabled the recent exposure of their devastating working conditions. Further to this, domestic workers are explicitly excluded from the region’s labour and domestic violence laws.
The treatment of women workers is reflected in Qatar’s unusual prison population. Qatar has one of the highest female prison populations in the world at around 13%, which is more than double the global average and exists in spite of Qatar having one of the most distinct ratios of men to women in the world at 3:1. The majority of the women in prison are low paid ex-pats, tried in an unknown language, without representation and often without access to consulate assistance. It is estimated that around five Nepalese women a monthare arrested for pregnancy out of marriage in Qatar. These arrests often take place in hospital, following dangerous attempts to abort pregnancies using home remedies, which result in the women being rushed to hospital. Such situations are exacerbated by the lack of access to contraceptives and abortions, in a country where women have to pay for the contraceptive pill and are accosted for purchasing condoms in supermarkets and diaphragms are unavailable. If the women survive the effects of the self-induced abortions then they are taken from hospital to prison and sometimes flogged. If the women give birth, the babies join them in prison for up to two years.