The President of Bahrain Women’s Union, Mariam Al- Rowaie:
We Support the Quota System to Help Women Win Seats in Parliament
The Bahrain Human Rights Monitor met the human rights activist
and President of Bahrain Women’s Union, Mariam Al Rowaie. During
this lengthy interview many human rights issues were discussed,
especially the political role of women in Parliament and the Executive
Authority. Rowaie called for half of the Shura members to be women.
She also demanded that the Beijing Recommendations be implemented
which would increase the percentage of female representation involved
in decision-making to 30%. She also called for the Government to
implement more of the recommendations of the CEDAW Committee and
to remove all social barriers and cultural discrimination against
women so that they can become a true partner in public life and
equal to men.
There is continual talk regarding the possibility
of a Bahraini woman reaching the House of Representatives in the
next parliamentary elections. There are also some calls to adopt
the quota system. Do you think women are going to succeed in the
next election? And what is your opinion regarding the quota system?
Women will never succeed in the next election unless all parties
within the Parliament are convinced that their participation in
the legislative institution would be beneficial. Al Asala parliamentary
bloc has already announced that this is impossible, claiming that
Parliament is part of (presidency) and that women are not permitted
to take on such responsibility. On the other hand, Al Menbar Al
Islami bloc has kept quiet, and the Alwifaq bloc has been discussing
the possibility of giving the opportunity to two women to stand
as candidates. The Government, from its part, may continue supporting
its previous position in this election also.
With regards to the quota system, the Union relies on the principles
stated in the Bahraini Constitution, which guarantees equal rights
to all citizens, men and women alike, as well as the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights and the Beijing Recommendation No. 182 which demands
that the governments of the world increase the participation of
women in decision-making to a minimum of 30%. This is in addition
to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
(CEDAW) and especially Article 4 as this calls for state parties
to adopt the principle of positive discrimination towards women.
After discussing the official and unofficial Bahraini reports in
Geneva in October 2008, two articles were allocated to this subject
in the final recommendations issued by the International Committee
on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. According to
the two articles:
- The Committee notes that the State party’s understanding of
the purpose of temporary special measures, necessary in accordance
with paragraph 1 of Article 4 of the Convention, is insufficient
and expresses concern about such measures as unconstitutional and
discriminatory. It is also concerned at the lack of any temporary
special measures to accelerate de facto equality or substantive
equality between men and women, in particular with regard to the
participation of women in politics and in the workplace.
- The Committee urges the State party to adopt and implement
paragraph 1 of Article 4 of the Convention and general recommendation
No. 25, of temporary special measures, issued by the Commitee in
particular in the field of women’s participation in public life
and in the employment of women. The Committee recommends that the
State party to disseminate awareness among the general public of
the importance of temporary special measures to accelerate the process
of achieving equality between men and women.
We in the Bahraini Women’s Union believe that the application
of the quota system must coincide with modifying the current voting
system to the list system and modifying the system of distribution
of geographic constituencies. We also demand the State to increase
the percentage of women to half in the Shura Council in order to
adjust the low representation of women in the elected council (House
What are the main obstacles facing women in acquiring
high positions in the State especially as members of the House of
The main obstacle which Bahraini women encounter is the weak
political will, which sometimes does not conform to the standards
of society. The State could adopt a quota system in the Executive
Authority in order to demonstrate their commitments to the Beijing
work plan. Today, it is necessary to look into dividing the numbers
of ministers and under-secretaries, ambassadors as well as memberships
within the Shura Council equally between men and women. By doing
this the State is able to enforce the constitutional right of women
as citizens who contribute in the building and development of the
country alongside their male counterparts. As for membership in
the House of Representatives the main obstacles are:
- The historic legacy of marginalization and exclusion of
women. This has created a stereotyped image that politics and
leadership are exclusive to men.
- Confusion between traditions and true Islamic values and
the use of this as an excuse for maintaining the status quo
with regards to women’s position in society
- Women’s inability to move freely, spontaneously and on a
regular basis amongst the electorate due to social circumstances
and cultural legacy.
- The lack of independence of female voters as they usually
follow their fathers, husbands and brothers.
What’s new about the Shia section of Family Law?
Has the road been paved for its ratification? And what is the role
and opinion of the Women’s Union in this matter?
The Shia section of Family Law has been ignored indefinitely
due to the agreement between the Government and the Al Wifaq parliamentary
block. The Law was withdrawn from the House of Representatives last
year and the main problem is that this law has become part of the
political game and is used as a bargaining chip between the Government
and the opposing party.
The Women’s Union has continued its demands with regards to this
law and has strived to create a societal consensus around the law.
Some Sheikhs and Sunni religious figures have revised and commented
on the draft, which later led to the ratification of the Sunni section;
however the Shia parties have refused to do so with their section.
The Union is trying to meet and discuss the issue, as well as open
dialogue with some Shia figures.
To what extent women have benefited from the political
reforms that took place in the country?
Women have benefited from the political reforms in the country
in many ways:
1- Obtaining the full and equal right to participate in elections
as candidates and voters in accordance to the Constitution. And
also the right to the same employment opportunities, as well as
representing the country in international arenas. What’s left is
for the constitutional articles to be implemented.
2- The appointment of two female ministers, a number of public
prosecutors and three Judges, one of which is a member of the Constitutional
Court. Such positions were never available to women before the reform.
Is there any practical co-operation between the
Women’s Union, Women’s societies and the Supreme Council for Women?
The Women’s Union represents 12 societies and aims to include
more. As for the issue of co- operation with the Supreme Council
for Women, both parties have signed a memorandum for cooperation.
There also exists a coordinating committee between the Union and
the Supreme Council.
To what extent has the Union succeeded in achieving
its objectives and what are the obstacles that it faces?
The Union was newly established in September 2006. During its
short life span, it has succeeded in realizing its goals through
the implementation of many programs.
The obstacles which the Union faces include: the lack of funding,
lack of owned headquarters and lack of full-time devoted board members.
To what extent does the Government implement international
agreements relating to women, children and especially CEDAW?
Of course, there has been some progress in the position of women
since Bahrain’s ratification of the CEDAW which includes:
- Increasing women’s participation in decision-making positions.
- Presenting periodic reports regarding the Government’s performance
in relation to the implementation of international conventions.
- Giving women some privileges in civil service law such as maternity
leave, breast-feeding hours and bereavement leave.
- The issuing of the Sunni Section of the Family Law.
However, numerous articles have yet to be implemented, such as:
- Bahrain’s reservations to CEDAW and its negative impact on
the use of the substance of the Convention.
- Not amending discriminatory laws against women including the
nationality law (the right of Bahraini women married to foreigners
to transfer their nationality to their children just like men).
- The absence of essential legislations which help develop women’s
position in society e.g. Family Law/Shia section, an anti-violence
law, anti-discriminatory law and sexual harassment law.
- Bahrain, by not signing the Optional Protocols of CEDAW, deprives
women of an important international mechanism. This is in addition
to not exerting enough effort to introduce the mentioned Convention
and publicize it in society.
- The absence of a legal framework in the Labour Bill regarding
those who work in the private sector to cover new categories of
workers, such as nursery teachers (3000 teachers) and household
There are some who criticize the Women’s Union
saying that its role is unclear and its social activities are insufficient,
what do you think?
We accept any criticism with an open heart as we see it as a
means for progress as long as it is objective. Despite its new establishment,
and the unhelpful circumstances surrounding our work, we have nonetheless
achieved a great deal. For example, we have pushed towards the issuing
of the Family law, and currently we are striving towards opening
channels for dialogue regarding the Shia section. We have also adopted
a committee which provides legal support for women who were subjected
to domestic violence. The Union has also set up essential projects
such as eradicating of computer illiteracy and co-operating with
both the House of Representatives and Shura Council in the revision
of all laws relating to women. This is in addition to its role in
the preparation of the unofficial report and its participation in
the discussion session in Geneva on October 2008 for Bahrain’s official
and non-official reports. It is also following up Bahrain’s adherence
to the CEDAW recommendations and its membership in regional and
international institutions, among others.