NU-Q researchers and students win UREP grant to study societal engagement among Qatari women
Stereotypes abound about women’s limited roles in the Middle East, particularly in the Arab Gulf. A closer look at Qatar, however, challenges misconceptions about female repression and exclusion. Leadership, voting rights, education levels and participation in the workforce all measure highly among women in Qatar, according to recent research, and NU-Q is playing a key role in finding out the drivers of, and obstacles to, this phenomenon.
“We want to understand what encourages female engagement in Qatar and what limits it,” said Jocelyn Sage Mitchell, assistant professor in NU-Q’s liberal arts program, and the primary investigator of the study entitled “Qatari Women: Engagement and Empowerment.”
“Our study is the first of its kind to survey a large sample of Qatari women about their participation in social groups and their choices in the economic, educational and political spheres. We anticipate that our findings will help us see more clearly the link between this type of participation and general societal engagement among women.”
The NU-Q-led study was granted US$150,000 in the latest award cycle of Qatar National Research Fund’s Undergraduate Research Experience Program (UREP). Based on one of the findings from a previous UREP grant that Mitchell oversaw—which specifically highlighted the amount of female participation in women’s social groups in Qatar known as majlis al-hareem—the study is unique because it involves all three NU-Q programs: liberal arts, communication and journalism.
“The research question stemmed from a liberal arts question, which provided a theoretical framework linking the strengths and expertise of our communication and journalism programs to produce a more powerful array of results,” Mitchell said. “This project is a great example of unifying our university to create important findings that benefit not only our faculty and students, but the country as well.”
The research will involve surveying nearly 1,000 Qatari women about their participation in majlis al-hareem, ranging in type—family, social, neighborhood, intellectual, religious—and involvement. Through audiovisual recording and ethnographic observation, the study results will also feature rich contextual elements.
“To my knowledge, the majlis al-hareem has never been studied in Western social science,” said Christina Paschyn, lecturer in the journalism program at NU-Q. “We will use the audiovisual data to create a documentary and an interactive museum installation. So while we are conducting a highly scientific study based on a big sample of Qatari women, which will be analyzed using sophisticated statistical methods, we also aim to engage the wider public in the results through audiovisual productions.”
The research team consists of 15 female NU-Q students, overseen by three NU-Q faculty members—Mitchell, Paschyn and Kirsten Pike, assistant professor in the communication program—joined by three researchers from other Qatar-based universities: Tanya Kane, adjunct anthropology lecturer at Texas A&M University at Qatar and Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar; Justin Gengler, senior researcher at the Social and Economic Survey Research Institute of Qatar University, and Sadia Mir, language studies instructor at College of the North Atlantic-Qatar.
“I think the project is very exciting for the students involved,” Pike said, “Not only will it give them valuable experience conducting ethnographic research, creating media, and participating in academic presentations, but it will also allow them to learn more about the stories and concerns of local women and to share them with a broader audience.”
Most of the students involved in the study are Qatari nationals. Through their work on the project they will gain a strong sense of what a social research project entails at every stage. And without them, this research would be impossible, Mitchell said, since it involves access to and discussions with Qatari women and detailed interpretations of their responses.
The students are currently training to be certified in human subject research. With data collection to finish in the spring, the team plans to process data and curate audiovisual results over the summer and fall. Findings will be presented throughout the fall at museums, conferences and film festivals in Qatar and internationally.