Dr. Lolwa Al Awadi Praises the Role of Bahraini Women:

The Quota System Violates the Constitution
and has Many Disadvantages

In an interview with Bahrain Human Rights Monitor, the General Secretary of the Supreme Council for Women Dr. Al Awadi said that women’s success in the next parliamentary election depends on many factors, most importantly the support of official and civil society institutions. She believes that the quota system commits the voters to a specific candidate, and that there is no harm that some or all the members of parliament are women or men as long as they reflect the public will.

The interview revolved around several important issues with regards to women’s activism in Bahrain and the role of the Supreme Council for Women (SCW). Following is the text of the interview:

There is a constantly repeated question about why women don’t elect their female counterparts? And what is your role in persuading women of their abilities and that they are fit to reach high governmental positions?

I’d like to point here to the findings of the research conducted by the SCW in cooperation with UNDP, which is the main partner in implementing the program of empowerment of Bahraini women in 2006. This scientific research was aiming at assessing the previous experience and coming up with a vision to what is required in the next phase specifically the participation in the 2010 elections. The results showed that 62% of the polled men and women affirmed that they will not vote for women, whilst 30.7% supported voting for women. This reveals an obvious gap between the values, attitudes and perception towards women from a theoretical point of view and the willingness to practically support her in the ballot boxes.

The same attitude was also expressed by 29% of youths aged (20-30), which reveals negative indications with regards to the attitudes of an important social segment towards the nomination of women.

The results of the survey showed that 34.3% of women will not vote for women in the next elections compared to 21.9% of men. Whilst, 14.5% will vote for women in the next elections compared to 13.9% of men. We would like to stress that the SCW proposals with regards to the empowerment of women program will take into consideration the results of this study, hence the success of women during the forthcoming elections will depend on many factors, most importantly is the support from all the concerned institutions including official, civil society, political, religious and professional institutions with special emphasis on social awareness programes. It is noteworthy that the Bahraini society, men and women alike, tends to take positions in line with the positions of the societies that they are affiliated with, whether they are religious or political; the first is more influential than the latter. Therefore, these societies bare a greater responsibility and they should coordinate more with the other civil or official societies concerning women (particularly women’s societies).

With regards to the issue of the political empowerment of women, why do you propose the quota system?

Forgive me for saying that you have not been following what has been discussed in the media about the issue of political empowerment of women. The SCW has never supported the issue of female quota. The SCW was, and still is, opposing the ratification of such system and we believe in the need for women to win parliamentary seats through the electoral system already in place in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The SCW has a clear and final opinion, which is reaffirmed by the Constitution, which calls for equality. The quota system will commit the voters to specific candidates, and this will have a negative effect on the participation of women in the elections.

Bahraini women are considered as role models because of their active and positive contribution in all fields. Bahraini women were and still are self-made and the official support that they gained is a token of appreciation highlighting their efforts and accomplishments. Thus the adoption of the quota system contradicts the nature of constitutional rules, which are stable and relatively static. In addition to what has already been said, the survey included a question to assess the experience of countries that adopted the quota system as a transitional phase but they dropped it. This is in order to show the effect of this system on the progress of women in the elected councils and the result was negative, therefore, in line with the essence of the democratic system we believe in leaving the door open so that the voters can choose whatever they see fit according to the proposed manifestos regardless of gender as long as this represents the will of the public which has the final say. We hope that women win parliamentary seats based on their strong will and efforts and the will of the Bahraini society, which we hope it will join forces with the Government for electing women for municipal councils and Parliament.

Dr. Al Awadi

How do you assess the activities of civil societies concerned with Women and Children in Bahrain?

Historically speaking the civil activism of Bahraini women cannot be ignored and must be praised since its beginning in the fifties of the last century. Women’s activities in the past were solely charitable in nature, but thanks to the reform project of his Royal Highness, which expanded and transformed the process into diverse women’s institutions that deal with many crucial issues in relation to Bahraini women and societal needs. We in the SCW strive to achieve more coordination and cooperation in order to support these institutions through the relevant official channels. Also a memorandum of understanding was signed with the Bahraini Women’s Union which aims at cooperating in the planning programs that serve Bahraini women.

We were also able to setup a cooperative committee between the SCW and other women’s societies and committees in order activate the role of these societies and committees, the board of trustees of Islamic societies and women’s committees in various societies.

We hope that through coordination and cooperation we will be able to remove any misunderstanding that appears in the media from time to time regarding this issue. The SCW and through its specific and clear program has proven its strong desire to cooperate with all official and civil institutions and that the SCW was not established to replace any party but to compliment the work according to its speciality and mutual benefit of all parties considering that civil society institutions possess the mechanisms to act fast.

To what extent have you succeeded in putting in place legislation that serves women, and what are the obstacles that you face?

Initially, it must be clarified that the SCW does not specialize in putting in place legislations. The SCW was established by a Royal Decree which restricted its role to giving recommendations and proposals concerning amendments to current legislations regarding women, giving opinions on bills before they’re being presented to the concerned authority, to recommend the proposal of draft laws and decisions necessary for the advancement of women. Despite the fact that the first article of the Royal Decree defined the jurisdiction of the SCW, which is giving opinions on women’s issues directly or indirectly and that all official parties should take into consideration the opinion of the SCW before taking any decision, but there are some legislations and proposals that are not presented to the SCW despite the existence of formal mechanisms that govern the relation between the SCW and the concerned parties, this represented in cooperation agreements which are adopted by the SCW as a practical means to execute national strategies in order to elevate the stature of Bahraini Women.

Through the guidance of Her Royal Highness, the President of the SCW and with the determination of the SCW members and the executive committee, the SCW was able to fill some of the gaps by proposing bills or activating existing ones. For example: the executive order No. (12) for 2004 on women’s rights to use housing services, and Act No. 35 for 2009 on the equal treatment of children of Bahraini women who are married to foreigners in government transactions, as well as, Alimony Fund Act; amendments to the Sharia court procedures; amendments to the Code of Civil Procedure and Trade. Some of the main recommendations made by the SCW include: the swift determination of Islamic related cases; and increase the number of Islamic courts; amending the marriage document;, as well as the joint effort between the SCW and civil society institutions concerned with women’s issues with regards pushing towards the issuing of the first section of Family Law.

There are some rumours about disagreements between the Women’s Union and the SCW, is it true?

What’s between the SCW and Women’s Union cannot be called a disagreement but a difference in points of view in determining the priorities of women’s action in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The SCW is an official institution concerned with women’s issues in Bahrain and the Women’s Union is an umbrella for civil organizations for several women’s organizations. I would like to stress here that there are common grounds between the SCW and the Union with regards to many important women’s issues. For example the nationality laws, family law and the reservations on the CEDAW. However, differences exist on how to deal with these issues, their details and priorities. For this reason the SCW strives to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Women’s Union on the 30th of August 2007, which aims at cooperation between the two sides in drawing plans and programs that would serve Bahraini women.

Your previous study regarding the 2006 elections blamed religious parties and the big political societies for preventing women from winning seats in Parliament. Has the SCW made an effort to convince the political societies to nominate women? And why instead of this you suggested in the study the idea of equality between the Governmental support to political societies and between the latter efforts to achieve political empowerment for women?

First, we must read the result of the study correctly and objectively, the final recommendations of the study were directed to all official and civil parties. The study did not blame any particular party, but stressed that the participation of women in the elections is a joint responsibility. The study shows that 77.8% see an increase in the chances of success of independent female candidates if supported by political societies. This indicates that it is necessary to include women in the political societies; hence the study recommendations were directed to all parties. It is noteworthy that in the last elections the Bahraini women proved to be strong competitors and close to winning in some constituencies. Also, the SCW is in the process of studying the literature of political empowerment programme in light of the previous experiences and the possibility to introduce a new concept to this programme.

There are many women organizations, but not all of them are active, what are the reasons for this? And what is the SCW role in activating the political societies?

Women’s action in Bahrain has long history, and women’s societies adopted and introduced many important issues concerning women, for example the role of the Committee of Personal Status in the 1980s. The SCW looks forward to achieve integration between the SCW and women’s societies and committees through the implementation of programs and projects of the national strategy to promote Bahraini women. From this comes the importance of the memorandum which was signed by the SCW and Bahraini Women’s Union. As well as the establishment of a cooperation committee between the SCW and women’s societies as a suitable tool to achieve the ambitions of Bahraini women. This committee specializes in monitoring the programs directed to women and the compatibility of such programs with the Bahraini women’s needs and with the national plan to implement the strategy in order to elevate women’s status. The committee should propose an annual work plan according to its terms of reference, as well as suggesting areas and the appropriate means to cooperate with other civil society institutions in order to provide the necessary support for the advancement of Bahraini women and enhance their role in public life as well to exchange experiences, and the optimum utilization of resources provided by international and regional organizations to serve the implementation of programs adopted in the annual plan.

What is the role of the SCW in supporting the second section of the law?

The efforts and demands to issuing family law started since the 1980s from local initiatives through Personal Status Committee established at that time and carried out some activities and programs to spread awareness in society regarding the importance of this law. The Committee was run by successive figures amid increased demands emphasizing the importance of issuing this law. The demands are still continuing from the civil society institutions concerned with women’s issues (particularly women’s societies) and from officials through the SCW, which conducted a survey resulted in the need to codify the personal status as a necessity for the society. The SCW organized awareness campaigns to introduce and explain the concept of ‘personal status’ legislation, this is in addition to the official support, which ended in issuing the first part of Family Law through the constitutional channels. We hope that the second section of the law will be issued in the near future and that official and non-official forces will meet in achieving this important demand which can lead to security and stability for Bahraini families.