Conditions of Women
The Bahrain Constitution provides for equality and equal opportunity in healthcare, welfare, education, and employment. But in practice, these laws are seldom enforced. Women endure substantial pay and hiring discrimination in the workplace, where they comprised 21% of the labor force in 2000. Women have made substantial gains in education, with female illiteracy falling to 17.4% in 2000. Women are now the majority of the nation’s students in higher education. The role of Bahraini women in government has increased in recent years. However, most women employed in government offices work as support staff, very few of whom occupy senior positions. No woman has served in the Chamber of Deputies. However, in mid 2004 a Bahraini woman -Dr. Nada Haffaz- was appointed as Minister of Health. Women organizations welcomed that appointment. A second woman was appointed as minister of social affairs in Bahrain in January 2005 during a cabinet reshuffle. Dr. Fatema Al-Blushi, dean of the college of Education at the University of Bahrain, was the chosen new female minister.
In the private sector, women have been encouraged to reach decision-making positions, mainly in banking, where one woman became the General Manager of the National Bank of Commerce, three others filled the position of a bank-branch manager, and one became the director of a foreign-owned insurance company, in addition to a number of other women occupying managerial positions in divisions in banking and investment institutions.
Law of Personal Status
Bahraini women’s personal status is defined by Islamic law. Differences exist in the personal status code for Sunni and Shi’a women. Shi’a women are treated more equitably in divorce and inheritance proceedings than their Sunni counterparts. Both groups are allowed to own property, have the right to represent themselves in public and in court, enjoy freedom of travel, may work in public employment, and have open choice in their public attire. The Bahraini parliament approved a draft law for establishing a women's university on July 19, 2005. The approval met the demand of Islamic deputies to implement segregation of the two sexes.
In May 2000, Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa announced that the Consultative Council, the upper house of Bahrain’s bicameral legislature, would be open to women. Subsequently the King appointed 6 women to the 40-member council. He also appointed 10 women to the new consultative council established in December 2006 following legislative elections. Because of the political changes in 2000, women have the right to run for office and vote. Thirty-four women registered among 320 candidates in the 2002 municipal elections, and eight women ran among the 174 candidates in the parliamentary elections later that year. No women won seats in either election. Moreover, 19 women candidates out of 206 candidates contested parliamentary elections held on November 25, 2006. One female candidate, Mrs. Latifa Al-Quood, won uncontested parliamentary seat to be the first elected Bahraini female deputy. In mid 2004 a Bahraini woman -Dr. Nada Haffaz- was appointed as Minister of Health. Women organizations welcomed that appointment. A second woman was appointed as minister of social affairs in Bahrain in January 2005 during a cabinet reshuffle. Dr. Fatema Al-Blushi, dean of the college of Education at the University of Bahrain, was the chosen new female minister. King Hamad ben Issa Al-Khalifa issued a decree on April 26, 2007, appointing Doha Al-Zayyani as a judge in the constitutional court. Doha is the first woman to join the constitutional court since its formation in 2002. She holds a Ph.D. in private law (civil law) from Cairo University. She had assumed several positions at the Ministry of Justice. Bahrain had appointed its first female judge on June 6, 2006.
The Supreme Council for Women in Bahrain announced a "national strategy for advancement of Bahraini women" on March 8, 2005. The work plan of the Supreme Council aims at achieving full participation of women in the work force, enabling them to occupy leadership and decision-making positions both in the public and private sectors, as well as changing the stereotype picture of women and eliminating all forms of discrimination against them. Earlier, the ministries of Education, Health, Labor and Social Affairs and the Women's Association had designed one and five-year plans for the advancement of women. These efforts have placed Bahrain among the most advanced Arab countries in terms of gender issues. The Supreme Council, founded by Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa on 22 August 2001, consists of 14 experts chaired by Sheikha Sabika bint Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, the wife of the Emir.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
Bahrain became a signatory member of the Status of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2002 but made several reservations with regard to conflicts with Islamic Law. These reservations did not prevent Bahrain from accession. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Supreme Council for Women in Bahrain signed on April 20, 2005 a protocol for enhancing joint cooperation, especially with regard to empowering women to participate in political decision making. The king's wife heads the Supreme Council for Women in Bahrain.
Four new women's organizations, including the Union of Bahraini Women and the Bahrain Women's Society, were founded in 2001 in addition to a few others that had already existed. They also participate in political societies and other associations. Women's associations help illiterate mothers by providing day care facilities for their children, and by contributing to educational activity at literacy centers throughout the country.