The benefits of civil society for Bahrain and for you
Why quality of life?
One could argue that the primary role of all civil society organizations is to improve the quality of life of people across society. This either encompasses the work of charities which aim to improve the quality of life of those with special needs and the most vulnerable sectors of society; or clubs which provide entertainment and activities for members to give greater value and purpose to their lives; or societies which lobby government and institutions to better serve the public and help citizens enjoy their rights and freedoms.
Quality of living challenges for Bahrain
In Bahrain we do not find absolute poverty. Citizens are granted free healthcare, free schooling, free services and heavily subsidized basic goods and utilities. Low income families are also entitled to free housing. The elderly, disabled, widows, the unemployed and low income families are also entitled to pensions and welfare benefits. Meanwhile nobody pays taxes.
Nevertheless, there is a proportion of society which has to survive on relatively low wages at a time when the costs of living have steadily increased. Socially-disadvantaged sectors of society like orphans, those with special needs, the unemployed and the elderly also face hardships. Arguably, welfare payments are often insufficient to allow them to enjoy things that others take for granted – entertainment activities, holidays abroad, private education and disposable income.
Housing has also been a major source of grievance. Although families of lower income are entitled to free housing, waiting lists have often taken many years and some people living in older government housing projects complain that their homes are in states of disrepair. Consequently, there are ambitious programmes to build 40,000 new homes over the coming years for low income families.
Improving the quality of life of others
There are numerous charities and programmes which prioritize the improvement in citizens’ quality of life in Bahrain. Some of these simply amount to efforts to raise funds for widows or the disabled; other civil society projects operate initiatives to improve the lives of the most vulnerable.
The Baytkum Baytna [“Your Home is Our Home”] initiative by Ayadi Relief is a competition which brings together groups of young people who go round and fix up the homes of low-income families, extensively redecorating elderly and dilapidated homes over a five-week period. The campaign has been very successful because it is structured as a competitive event, providing entertainment for those participating and making it an exciting project for the media to cover – while also drawing attention to the plight of poorer Bahrainis.
Improving our own quality of life
The sports clubs, youth clubs, activity centres and community centres across Bahrain all attempt to provide activities which can give greater meaning and purpose to our lives.
Regular attendance at a sports club offers improvements for our health and wellbeing, while offering opportunities to socialize with others and engage in competitive sports.
Civil society isn’t simply a political phenomenon, it can and should touch all aspects of people’s lives to offer a more fulfilling existence. Civil society occupies the space between the individual and the State, empowering members of the public to improve their own lives – helping them understand what their opportunities, rights and freedoms are and showing them how they can exercise these.
Lobbying the State to improve quality of life
If a government does not receive feedback from the public and civil society organizations, we shouldn’t expect it to use its resources effectively and in the best interests of citizens.
Civil society can help make the voices of individuals heard at the national level and show where the authorities have been weakest in providing services. Trade unions and civil society groups for women, disabled and other sectors of society can lobby MPs and Government to consider the needs of those groups who they represent.
All these entities should also be active in the media and social media to facilitate an informed public debate about issues of concern and ensure that these matters are prioritized by those with the power to make a difference.
No matter how much a state and its economy are flourishing, there will always be segments of society which are relatively disadvantaged, including those whose disabilities or personal suffering can’t simply be compensated for by financial support alone.
This means that there will always be a crucial role for civil society in working for the good of the weakest and most vulnerable. As a society and as good Muslims, we are measured by our readiness to reach out and support those in need.
ABC of civil society