Women empowerment in Bahrain

The Kingdom of Bahrain, a small island nation off the Arabian Peninsula is considered more liberal in its interpretation and application of Islam than adjacent countries. Traditions and laws primarily hold women back from their full participation in the economy and politics of the Islamic countries. Discrimination that has carried forward into the constitution of the land was caused by adherence to historical remnants of a society that does not really exist in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
The condition of women improved immensely in the country under the rule Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa who was spurred with economic and political reforms. The only law that prevails in the country is Sharia Law (Islamic Law), which shows discriminatory laws against women.  Shari’a (Islamic law) is the main source of legislation, and the rights, duties, and gender roles of women in Bahrain are strongly influenced by the country’s culture and religion.
The Shia-Sunni sectarian and ethnic tension was seen in the country for very long period of time. These tensions apparently acted as catalyst for increased women participation in political movements and demonstrations calling social equality and promoting of equal democratic rights. With support of the local government and nongovernmental organizations, hopes for equal rights were encouraged in women of the country.
The quasi-governmental Supreme Council for Women (SCW) and NGO’s like Women’s Union Umbrella played important role in the process terminating the discriminatory laws against women. These entities have worked towards the promulgation of a personal status code to mitigate injustices in arbitrary application of Sharia in family related matters.
In May 2009 the government adopted the first personal law which aimed to regulate family matters, marriages, divorce, and child custody etc. giving equal importance to opinion of women. In 2002 Bahrain ratified the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). As a result of CEDAW women have been given equal rights to pass through heredity citizenship to their children. They now have access to adequate health care, academic opportunities and employment. Their participation in workplace has increased.
Discrimination against women is one key indicator of the failure of a political system in the democratic process, while participation is considered to be one of its most important elements. Bahraini women are present in the three legislative, executive and judicial branches of authority. They participate in the committee which drafted the National Charter and in the process of the referendum on the Charter. The Kingdom has further sought to ensure that there are women in the Consultative Council (a branch of the National Assembly).
The Bahraini Constitution states that all citizens have the right to participate in all public affairs and enjoy all political rights. Women and men in any democracy exercise their right to vote, to stand for public office, to participate in unions, and to enjoy freedom of speech and equality before the law. The Bahraini Constitution is no different than other states in which the law guarantees not to discriminate between men and women in political, social, economic, and cultural life.40 The Bahraini government endorsed the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW convention, March 2002). Moreover, the government encouraged women to participate in the municipal and parliamentary elections of 2002. At the same time, the Higher Council of Women, which is the umbrella group for all activities related to the rights of women, sought women’s right to divorce, marriage, and custody of children.
Women in Bahrain have entitled themselves as major part to the economic growth of the nation. The participation of women in the labor market has visibly increased over the last three decades; they have excelled in new sectors and assumed positions previously monopolized by men. The State has also taken care to promote gender equality in all laws promulgated on the economy and the labor market, such as the Commercial Companies Act, the Commercial Registration Act, the Trade Act and the Non-Governmental Sector Employment Act.
Economic development in the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) has given opportunities to the women the country. The establishment of the first Association of Businesswomen in the Kingdom of Bahrain in 2000 encouraged these government efforts. The association, which is the second of its kind in the Gulf Council Countries, is a positive example of progress towards a non-biased gender economic environment, and a confirmation of the presence of women in the economic sphere. The government has provided a number of programs to motivate Bahraini women to participate in the economy. Tamkeen is one such organization that encourages women to become entrepreneurs in field of tours and travels.
Concluding the success story of women in Bahrain it seen that:
Bahrain was the first in the Gulf region to both have women fully participate in national
elections and to elect a female MP
There are currently 15 female MPs in the National Assembly
Women represent 72% of students in Bahrain
Bahrain was the first country in the Gulf to start education for females – the first official
school for girls opened in 1928, with free education
Women represent 35% of the labor force of Bahrain1
Women represent 37% of the labor force in the financial sector
Women play a vital role in Bahrain’s vision 2030. Women’s entrepreneurship is an expected solution for many things: increasing women’s financial independence, contributing to growth and development of the GCC, creating jobs and changing the image of the Arab world in the West. As long as families and GCC governments can adjust to the resulting social changes, Arab business women’s upward mobility will likely continue uncompromised. Their work sets an important example for other parts of the world: for business, economic development, nation-building and women’s empowerment.

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