Photo Credits:



Bahrain Docs and News


Written by Helle Duus Alex.

Women in Bahrain

Women’s rights have been a cornerstone of the political reforms initiated by King Hamad with for the first time women being given the right to vote and stand as candidates in national elections after the constitution was amended in 2002. The extension of equal political rights has been accompanied by a self-conscious drive to promote women to positions of authority within government.

The move to give women the vote in 2002 was part of several wide-ranging political reforms that have seen the establishment of a democratically elected parliament and the release of political prisoners. Before 2002, women had no political rights and could neither vote in elections nor stand as candidates.

There was, however, some ambiguity towards the extension of political rights from sections of Bahraini society, not least from women themselves, with 60% of Bahraini women in 2001 opposing extending the vote to women.[1]

Although many women stood as candidates in both municipal and parliamentary elections in 2002, none were elected to office. Women candidates were conspicuous by their absence in the lists of Islamist parties such as Al WefaqAl-Menbar Islamic Society and Asalah.

Following the poor performance of women candidates in the parliamentary elections, six women, including one Christian, were appointed to the upper chamber of parliament, the Shura Council. In 2004, Bahrain appointed its first female minister, Dr Nada Haffadh to the position of Health Minister, and in 2005, Dr Fatima Albalooshi, the second woman minister was appointed to the cabinet. In April 2005, Shura member Alees Samaan became the first woman to chair a parliamentary session in the Arab world when she chaired the Shura Council. The head of the main women's organisation, the Supreme Council for Women, Ms Lulwa Al Awadhi, has been given the title of 'honorary cabinet minister'.

In June 2006, Bahrain was elected head of the United Nations General Assembly, and used the honour to appoint Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa as theAssembly's President, making her the first Middle Eastern woman and the third woman in history to take over the post. Sheikha Haya is a leading Bahraini lawyer and women's rights advocate who will take over the post at a time of change for the world body. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said of her, "I met her yesterday and I found her quite impressive. All the member states are determined to work with her and to support her, and I think she's going to bring a new dimension to the work here."[1]

Several women's rights activists have become political personalities in Bahrain in their own right, or even gained international recognition, such as Ghada Jamsheer, who was named by Forbes magazine as one of the "ten most powerful and effective women in the Arab world" in May 2006.

Ghada Jamsheer, the most prominent women's rights activist in Bahrain[2] has called the government's reforms "artificial and marginal". In a statement in December 2006 she said:

The government is using the family law issue as a bargaining tool with opposition Islamic groups. This is evident through the fact that the authorities raise this issue when ever they want to distract attention from other controversial political issues. While no serious steps are taken to help approve this law, although the government and its puppet National Assembly had no trouble in the last four years when it came to approving restrictive laws related to basic freedoms.

All of this is why no one in Bahrain believes in Government clichés and government institution like the High Council for Women. The government used women’s rights as a decorative tool on the international level. While the High Council for Women was used to hinder non-governmental women societies and to block the registration of the Women Union for many years. Even when the union was recently registered, it was restricted by the law on societies.[3]

Bahrain's move was widely credited with encouraging women's rights activists in the rest of the Persian Gulf to step up demands for equality. In 2005, it was announced that Kuwaiti women would be granted equal political rights to men.

About Jalila al-Salman's case

Arrested early last year in a dawn raid of her family home, the Vice President of the Bahrain Teachers' Society was held in an unknown location. Unable to communicate with the outside world, denied access to a lawyer and tried in a military court, Jalia was detained with fellow society leader Madi 'Issa Madi Dheeb.

The pair was faced with a string of charges including, "attempting to overthrow the ruling system by force", after they called for a teachers' strike in support of pro-reform protesters.

Amid reports of torture, Jalia was deprived of food, water and sleep, held in a freezer for eight days and denied access to the bathroom, Amnesty members wrote directly to the King of Bahrain calling for the immediate drop of convictions and forcing authorities to act.

The announcement of Jalia's release finally marks the end for the mother of three. Unfortunately, Madi 'Issa Madi Dheeb remains in Bahraini custody, facing five years in prison. Amnesty International will continue to fight for Madi and his freedom.

Source: Amnesty International.

26 March13

2 April 2013