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The Patriarchal Bargain in a Context of Rapid Changes to Normative Gender Roles: Young Arab Women’s Role Conflict in Qatar


Social norms in patriarchal countries in the Middle East are changing at differing rates. In Qatar, expectations about education have shifted, and women’s participation in higher education is normative. However, women’s participation in the workforce remains relatively low, and women still are expected to perform all household and child-rearing activities. Interviews with 27 18–25 year-old Qatari women enrolled in college in Qatar are used to illustrate the conflict between norms about education, workforce, and family. Many young women resolve this normative conflict by giving preference to family over work and education. Other women hold conflicting norms and goals for their future without acknowledging the normative conflict. Overall, young women in this sample feared divorce, were uncertain about customary family safety nets, and thus desired financial independence so they would be able to support themselves if they were left alone later in life due to divorce, or the death of their husband. The Qatari government should revisit the appropriateness of continuing to emphasize the patriarchal family structure and socially conservative family norms, if they desire to advance women in their society.

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Correspondence to Laurie James-Hawkins.

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This research was approved by the IRB’s at collaborating institutions: Emory University, University of Toronto, and Qatar University. This paper is not under consideration elsewhere and has been prepared in accordance with instructions for submission to your journal. The material included in this manuscript has not been published or presented in any other format or context. There are no known conflicts of interest. Informed consent was obtained from all participants in accordance with IRB standards at the participating institutions.


Funding for this research was provided by the Qatar National Research Foundation (QNRF) grant NPRP-5, Hanan Abdul Rahim and Kathryn Yount, principal investigators. The authors would like to thank Hanan Abdul Rahim, Rania Salem, and Monique Hennink for their comments on this manuscript.

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James-Hawkins, L., Qutteina, Y. & Yount, K.M. The Patriarchal Bargain in a Context of Rapid Changes to Normative Gender Roles: Young Arab Women’s Role Conflict in Qatar. Sex Roles 77, 155–168 (2017).

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  • Emerging adulthood
  • Islam
  • Middle East
  • Patriarchy
  • Qualitative research
  • Sex roles
  • Social norms
  • Transition to adulthood