International Woman’s Day – 8 March 2015
Woman’s Day in 2015 in Bahrain is an excellent moment for women to celebrate for a whole number of reasons:
King Hamad has just instructed the Government to grant full housing rights for widows, divorcees and un-married women; so that the most vulnerable females in Bahrain’s society enjoy living standards on a par with all other Bahrainis and they are prioritized for housing services.
Bahrain’s annual Spring of Culture is currently hosting a string of events fronted by women: Women artists, dancers, actresses, craftswomen, female academics; and many others of Bahrain’s brightest and best.
The Bahraini Parliament is finalizing discussion of new measures to address violence in the home, and protect women from all forms of domestic violence and abuse. Debate of these measures is being driven by Jameela al-Sammak, Head of the Parliamentary Families Committee and one of several excellent and assertive female figures who recently gained entry to the two Bahraini houses of Parliament.
The Supreme Council for Women and other civil society and private sector groups have been continuing with initiatives to empower women in the workplace and support Bahraini businesswomen. It has never been easier for Bahraini women to start businesses and with an ever-growing proportion of women pursuing higher education and achieving excellent results, we hope that the workplace becomes more open to recruiting women.
However, as Bahraini MP Abbas al-Madhi recently pointed out, amongst older generations, sexist attitudes are still rife and this has presented an obstacle to recruitment. He said: “Let’s speak honestly – in some companies, the person hiring will be religious, an older man, and when he’s looking at an application he’ll say, why should I hire a woman? A man would be better. We don’t have a law that says we have to have a certain percentage of women and men.” We pray that such attitudes quickly become a thing of the past.
A campaign also recently been launched by the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society (BHRWS) to put back on the national agenda a Family Law to cover Bahrain’s Shia community. Although all other segments of Bahrain’s society are covered by laws protecting women equal with international standards, Shia clerics and Al-Wefaq Islamic Society in the past blocked parliamentary efforts to provide protection for the Shia community, which would restrict the monopoly of local clerical figures over traditional law practices. We hope that these efforts will prevail and it won’t be for much longer that Shia women are forced to resort to Sunni courts to seek justice.
The Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, pointed out that the Batelco Care Centre for Family Violence in Bahrain recorded 470 cases of domestic violence against women 2013. “They were abused, either by their husbands or other family members and have reportedly turned to the centre for psychological counselling or physical shelter”.
Such incidences of attacks against women are shocking, but it is positive that these crimes are increasingly coming to light and being discussed in the public domain. However, greater transparency must be accompanied by action.
So, while the situation for women in Bahrain is improving all the time, careful consideration shows that we still have a long way to go. Progress does not happen automatically, it is up to all of us at all levels of society to promote change: Challenging sexist attitudes and making sure that our places of work and local communities are models for equality of the sexes and respect for all.
Change only happens if we make it happen.