Women's Empowerment in Bahrain

By Gharaibeh, Fakir Al | Journal of International Women's Studies, March 15, 2011 | Go to article overview

Women's Empowerment in Bahrain


Gharaibeh, Fakir Al, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

In Bahrain, the role of women can be determined by examining their activities in all sectors of society. Traditions and laws primarily hold women back from their full participation in the economy and politics of the nation. Discrimination that has carried forward into the constitution of the land was caused by adherence to historical remnants of a society that does not really exist anymore. This study presents the social, economic, and political reality of Bahraini women in light of applicable legislation, and the barriers women face in achieving equality. The objective is to examine these realities within the context of Bahraini traditions, cultural norms and expectations, legislation, and the political process. The outcomes include the identification of specific barriers and some possible ways forward in the social experiment that has begun in Bahrain of equality and empowerment for women.

Keywords. Bahrain, Women, Empowerment, Arab Society, Discrimination, Legislation, Political Process, Traditions.

Introduction

Bahrain is a small Arab gulf country made up of a series of islands adjacent and connected to Saudi Arabia by a causeway. It has a total population of 738,004 (growth rate: 1.2%; birth rate: 16.8/1000) and an area of 700 Sq. kms. Islam is the state religion, and 84% of the total population is Muslim. Even though the leadership of Bahrain is comprised of Sunnis who dominate it politically and economically, and live primarily in cities, the majority (60%) of the population is Shi'i. i For centuries, Bahrain has been a major entry point into Arab soil from the Persian Gulf. While Islamic Sharia is the law of the land, and the Qur'an dictates the rhythm of life and the relationships of men and women, Bahrain is also a mix of cultures and religious backgrounds, more so than other countries in the region.

Bahrain achieved its independence from Britain in August of 1971, and its constitution was promulgated on December 6, 1973. Since then, the Bahraini government has moved forward on the path towards a modern state, by planning to take full advantage of the capacities of women, according to the Constitution, in recognition of the role that can be played equally by all Bahraini citizens in the renaissance of the state. (2)

Discrimination against women is one key indicator of the failure of a political system in the democratic process, while participation is considered to be one of its most important elements. Women's freedom to enter the public sphere reflects to a large extent the nature of the political and social system of a country, and their equal access to political processes reflects the principles of social justice in a society. Women and political participation in Bahrain was one of the main demands in the pre-National Action Charter, which was essentially the recognition by Bahraini society of the role women played and are still playing in the social and economic life. At the same time, it was an expression of an enlightened mentality and a wide vision of both the leaders and the people of Bahrain. (3)

In Bahrain, there is a conflict between two views that concern women's roles: the 'religious-tribal perspective' and the 'modernizing perspective.' The first advocates keeping women at home and preserving the traditional arrangement of men dominating the public sphere, while female roles are limited to the private sphere. The second promotes a partnership between men and women in public life, with citizenship rights and duties for both. (4) In addition, there is a third element: a chasm between the principles expressed in the constitution that call for the empowerment of women, and the social, economic, and political realities of modern Bahrain.

The objective of this paper is to examine these three aspects of women's lives within the context of Bahraini traditions, cultural norms and expectations, legislation, and the political process.

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