The benefits of civil society for Bahrain and for you
Protecting victims of rape
In recent months in Bahraini women’s activists have been lobbying against a loophole in the law which allows a rapist to escape punishment by marrying his victim. In traditional societies, such a route was sometimes sought by the families of those involved so as to avoid scandal. However, most people today would see such a solution as being a further violation against the innocent female victim of an act of violence.
Organizations like the Bahrain Women’s Union have for a long time been active in raising this issue. They have succeeded in bringing this matter to the attention of members of the Shura Council; Bahrain’s appointed Parliament. Five Shura MPs have put forward a proposed bill abolishing this loophole and ensuring that rapists are punished. At the time of writing we are expecting the Shura Council to be voting on this issue in the next couple of weeks.
In anticipation of this vote, women’s rights campaigners have been active on Twitter, tweeting in support of this proposal under a hashtag which translates as #Her_Right.
If the bill is approved by the Shura Council, it will be passed on to the elected Council of Representatives for a vote; before going for ratification by the Government.
How can women’s activists achieve greater rights?
Successful activism often comes from a clear understanding of the law and the legislative process; and then lobbying on very precise issues where change is achievable.
In order to be effective, activists must prioritize their efforts towards the goals which can realistically make lives better for women.
The social media is an excellent means of increasing public awareness and support; as well as drawing the attention of MPs and officials to the issue.
The above example is a good example of a successful campaign: Women’s activists campaigned to raise awareness about a very specific legal issue which had a terrible effect on the lives of a small number of women, as well as sending a very negative signal about attitudes towards rape. MPs then went ahead and used the legislative powers of Bahrain’s parliamentary system to seek a change in the law. We hope they are successful!
CEDAW, Domestic Violence Law & Family Law
We have seen a lot of progressive pro-women legislation passing through Bahrain’s two chambers of parliament recently:
During April 2016 both houses of Parliament approved amendments to Bahrain’s application of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (first ratified by Bahrain in 2002, with some reservations).
During 2015 Parliament also approved legislation protecting women and families from domestic violence.
In recent years there have been efforts to implement a Family Law for both the Sunni and Shia communities. The Sunni Family Law was approved in 2009. However, the opposition Al-Wefaq Islamic Society used its parliamentary strength to block a Shia equivalent, which would have diminished the power of local clerics to pronounce on issues of divorce and child custody. This continuing legal vacuum has often forced Shia women to resort to Sunni courts to seek justice.
What does Bahrain’s Constitution say about women’s rights?
“The State endeavors to support women’s rights and the enactment of laws on protection of family and family members.”
“Based on the firm belief that family is the nucleus of the society and that good family is key to a cohesive society as well as key to upholding religious and ethical values and national sense of belonging, the State protects the legal form of family as well as maternity and childhood, provides care to children, protects them from exploitation and moral, physical and spiritual negligence.”
“Men and women alike, have the right to participate in public affairs and political rights including suffrage and the right to contest as prescribed by law.”
Why do women’s rights matter?
As half of our society, it is astonishing that women have historically been left behind in jobs, education, social opportunities and respect for their capabilities and attributes.
Bahrain has tended to be the most progressive state in the GCC region for educating, employing and empowering women; but there is still a very long way to go before we see women playing an equal role in society.
In the 2014 Parliament elections – despite a significant number of excellent female candidates – only three women won seats in the elected Parliament, while nine women made it into the 40-member appointed Shura Council.
Around the CEDAW vote and for other pieces of pro-women legislation, Islamists have fought strong social media and public campaigns against women’s empowerment. Certain Islamist political societies completely reject the participation of women in politics.
This means that those who support women’s rights must be equally vocal and active in making their voices heard and influencing public opinion.
ABC of civil society