Bahrain is in need of a strong legislative voice in support of empowering women, protecting their rights, and ensuring that families and children are protected by the law.
This is necessary for consolidating the Government’s own efforts to secure legal protections for women. This is also vital for initiating and promoting new legislative proposals, such as the draft bills circulated within the Shura Council and the Council of Representatives at the end of the last legislative year for protecting victims of rape.
In order to achieve this, the elected Parliament’s Women and Children’s Committee was an initiative which came into being after 2012, with the mandate of acting as an advocate for women in the Parliament; supporting pro-women legislation; and standing up for causes in the interests of women.
On 8 November 2016 a vote was held in the Council of Representatives for membership of the four smaller permanent committees, each composed of five members. The resignation of Khaled al-Shaer after this vote left this committee with a membership of three MPs associated with the Salafist Al-Asalah society.
Ali al-Muqla is an official member of Al-Asalah and Sunni cleric Anas Buhindi and Jamal Dawoud are both consistently described by the local media as unofficial members of an “Asalah bloc” in Parliament. All these MPs have regularly supported Islamist-flavoured legislation in Parliament; such as the recent motions opposing compulsory music lessons and denouncing events hosted by the Culture Authority.
In addition, the chairperson of this Committee is once again Rua al-Haiki, who with the support of Islamist colleagues succeeded in removing the 2014-15 Chairwoman, Jamila al-Sammak. During Rua’s tenure so far, much of her time was spent trying to block legislation for the implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Jamila and the only other elected female MP Fatima al-Asfour, resigned from the committee following Al-Haiki’s November 2015 win. They have again refused to associate themselves with the committee after the new changes; despite Al-Sammak until a few days ago being seen in the media as the favoured candidate for chairwoman. This leaves women under-represented within the committee.
Since its inception, the official position of Al-Asalah has been against the participation of women in politics, as well as being opposed to most forms of women’s participation in public life. For example; Dawoud and Al-Muqla were co-sponsors of an early 2015 proposal for paying women a weekly stipend if they refrained from getting a job, with the stated purpose of “encouraging women to remain in the home”.
As was made clear above, the Women’s Committee by definition must be an organization for championing the cause of women inside Parliament and ensuring that legislation is in line with women’s aspirations. A committee staffed by MPs with a record of opposing women’s rights and who ascribe to the view that women should be excluded from political life is not fit for purpose.
At the very least, a majority of members should be able to demonstrate a commitment to the full participation of women in politics and a clear track record of support for the empowerment of women.
As we saw with the CEDAW vote; all legislation related to women and families is passed through this committee and MPs take a vote based on the recommendations of this committee. Therefore a committee staffed by MPs objectively opposed to the full rights of women can only act as a block on such legislation.
As well as reviewing the composition of this committee and amending guidelines for membership, we would hope to see a stronger voice across Parliament in support of King Hamad’s progressive vision for women’s empowerment.