Parliament’s Women’s Committee is continuing with its inexplicable position of opposing legislation in support of women’s rights. Chairwoman of the Women’s Committee, Rua al-Haiki, on 15 February reaffirmed that she would go ahead with recommending that MPs reject the draft bill, removing reservations concerning the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

In previous statements, Al-Haiki had claimed: “A Muslim cannot agree to sign the provisions of CEDAW because it conflicts with many of the tenets of the Shari’ah. It seeks to change the culture of nations and tear them away from their past, their history and their faith.”

However, her more recent justifications for rejecting CEDAW are primarily based on legal technicalities. In a 15 February statement Al-Haiki clarified: “According to the CEDAW convention, reservations can only be made during the signing, ratification or entry to the convention. The only step that the participant state (Bahrain) can currently undertake is withdrawing the reservations according to article 28 of the convention, which makes it clear that ‘redrafting’ amounts to full withdrawal of the reservations”.

Al-Haiki in her statements goes to great length to stress the “momentous” implications of such technicalities. However, the central question should be: “Are these measures good for Bahrain?” Manifestly, protection of the rights and dignity of Bahraini women is something that Rua al-Haiki and all women should be fighting for and advocating in favor of.

King Hamad and his wife Princess Sabeeka have been among the strongest advocates of the rights and freedoms of women and this is clearly enshrined in the constitution. Furthermore, the Government – in particular the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, along with the Supreme Council for Women – have strongly supported full ratification of CEDAW, stressing accordance with Islamic law. 

So why is the Women’s Committee tangling itself up in arcane legal complexities which have no bearing on the core issues?

As the Supreme Council for Women and other entities have pointed out, the role of the Parliamentary Women and Children’s Committee should be as an advocate of the rights and freedoms of women, children and families to the Parliament and society at large. In fact, we have seen the opposite. The reconstituted committee with its dominance of Islamist MPs has turned into a committee for blocking the rights of women.

Committee member Jamal Dawoud recently proposed a new law forcing unmarried Bahraini women to choose between living with families or a legal guardian; a proposal which was clearly designed to obstruct the CEDAW proposal and restrict the ability of female students, professional women and others to go about their lives. Al-Haiki herself has also indicated that the Committee intends to unpick the domestic violence law passed by Parliament earlier in the year, in order to end up with a “clearer definition” of domestic violence.

When the CEDAW draft last went to Parliament on 15 December, it was clear that a majority of MPs intended to vote against the draft; particularly MPs from the Islamist, National Accord and National Blocs. Their opposition was mainly based on the recommendation of the Women’s Committee and the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. However, the 11 members of the National Participation Bloc appeared favourable. As a result, it looks almost certain that when the CEDAW draft returns to Parliament, a majority of MPs will reject it.

Despite the efforts of the Bahrain Women’s Union and the Supreme Council for Women, those who care about the rights of women have not succeeded in articulating to the public and MPs why this convention matters. This convention demonstrates Bahrain’s stance at the forefront of the international community in respecting women and according them their rights.

Numerous esteemed bodies have confirmed that CEDAW is not in conflict with Islamic law, and the draft bill furthermore stipulates the need for all rulings based on CEDAW to be compatible with Islamic law, so all the attempts to stir up emotions and sentiments on this issue are meaningless.

If Parliament votes against CEDAW, this will represent a significant blot on Bahrain’s international reputation and Bahrain’s record of enshrining women’s rights and international treaties. We hope that all rational and right-thinking Bahrainis will speak out to prevent this happening, so as to demonstrate our respect and esteem for the women of Bahrain.

Timeline of CEDAW discussions

2002: Bahrain joined CEDAW, but submitted several reservations, claiming that aspects of the convention conflicted with Islamic law and local traditions. Since then women’s activists have been campaigning for Bahrain to lift these reservations.

19 January 2014: The Bahrain Government declared that it was lifting any previous reservations it had over the CEDAW Convention. The Cabinet asserted that the articles of the Convention relevant to family life were in harmony with the Islamic Sharia.

10 February 2014: Supreme Council for Women’s (SCW) Deputy Chairwoman stressed Bahrain’s commitment to the framework of CEDAW as she addressed the Geneva session scrutinizing Bahrain’s 3rd Report on CEDAW implementation. SCW’s Secretary-General ahead of the meeting noted Bahrain’s readiness to review its existing reservations to CEDAW.

30 November: Following discussions, the parliamentary Women’s Committee announced that it would be recommending rejection of the CEDAW draft.

1 December: Citizens for Bahrain issued a statement criticizing the parliamentary Women and Children’s Committee’s recommendation for rejecting full implementation of CEDAW.

2 December: Bahrain’s Women’s Union strongly criticized the Women’s Committee’s position on CEDAW. 

11 December:  Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs raises reservations about the CEDAW draft.

12 December: The Supreme Council for Women stressed the importance of ratifying this Convention, noting the central role of women in society and the importance of empowering Bahraini women in all aspects of their lives. The Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also stressed the importance of CEDAW. The Ministry said that it was a mistake to believe that the Convention conflicted with Islamic Law. It said that “equality between men and women as a general principle is clearly enshrined in Islamic Shari’ah, which looks upon men and women as together being the basis for life in society”.

14 December: A statement from the Bahrain Women’s Union stressed that CEDAW is in accordance with Islamic law.

15 December: The parliamentary vote was postponed after the draft was withdrawn for further consultations by the Women’s Committee.

21 December: The Women’s Union issued a statement saying that the position of MPs on CEDAW “represents a major setback for implementation of international conventions” and “damages Bahrain’s reputation”.

29 December: The Women’s Committee is reportedly holding meetings with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Women’s Union concerning CEDAW. A statement said that the Committee had discussed the “absence of any legal basis for redrafting the convention”.

3 February: Following a further meeting with the Women’s Committee, the Women’s Union stressed its continued commitment to seeing CEDAW ratified.

15 February: Al-Haiki said that her committee had made a final decision to recommend rejection of the CEDAW draft, following a reported failure of Supreme Council for Women representatives to attend a meeting on the issue.

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