Women hold half of senior government jobs in Bahrain

Bahrain's constitution was amended in 2002, giving women equal rights to men and allowing them to vote among other rights.

 A Bahraini woman uses her mobile phone to take pictures during a demonstration in Manama, Bahrain. (photo credit: REUTERS/AHMED JADALLAH)
A Bahraini woman uses her mobile phone to take pictures during a demonstration in Manama, Bahrain.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AHMED JADALLAH)

Bahraini women have made major strides ever since the Gulf state’s constitution was amended in 2002 to give them equal rights, including the right to vote. As a result of a drive by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, today 47% of government leadership positions are held by women.

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Four cabinet ministers are women, as are 11 undersecretaries, 30 assistant undersecretaries and 12 judges.

Bahraini women comprise 56% of employees in the government sector and 35% in the private sector. They own 42% of the commercial operations operating in the country. The unemployment rate among Bahrain’s nearly 700,000 citizens is 5.7%. There are about 15,000 job seekers, of whom 76% are women.

According to official statistics, published exclusively by The Media Line, the average age of Bahraini women for a first marriage is 24. Bahrain is the only Arab country in which the proportion of births under medical supervision reaches 99.7%, while 100% of women enroll in primary, preparatory and secondary education, and 63% of postgraduate degrees are held by women.

The quasi-governmental Supreme Council for Women was established in 2001. As of 2020, it had contributed to amending and issuing 93 laws in favor of equality between men and women, while women receive many additional benefits related to vacations and the ban on working at night.

Young social media influencers from the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco traveled to Israel in a visit organized by the Israel-Is organization and met with their Israeli counterparts. (credit: ITAMAR EYAL/THE MEDIA LINE)Young social media influencers from the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco traveled to Israel in a visit organized by the Israel-Is organization and met with their Israeli counterparts. (credit: ITAMAR EYAL/THE MEDIA LINE)

Where does inequality remain?

However, a major area of inequality remains when it comes to obtaining citizenship for children of Bahrainis married to foreigners. Children of Bahraini men are granted citizenship directly at birth, while women married to foreigners must submit an application for their children to obtain citizenship.

Under Bahraini law, children of a Bahraini woman from a non-Bahraini father are treated as citizens in every respect, but they cannot obtain unemployment benefits, and they need to renew their residency permits, for free.

The Supreme Council for Women has mandated that all government agencies establish Equal Opportunity Committees to promote equality between the genders, and large companies must form similar panels as well, to ensure that their internal regulations are amended so that women have equal opportunities in employment.

The Supreme Council for Women in a statement told The Media Line: “Women’s indicators in Bahrain are witnessing remarkable progress, documented by a number of international institutions such as UN Women, the World Bank and the World Economic Forum. We have moved from the stage of women’s empowerment to the stage of women’s advancement, and we have also moved from the stage of women’s advancement to the fact that women are responsible for advancing their own reality through orientations to expand areas of fair and equal opportunities with men.”

“The World Bank’s ‘Women, Business and Law 2022’ report monitored the Kingdom of Bahrain’s record of the highest progress on the ‘Women, Business and Law’ indicator for the year 2022, compared to a number of Arab countries during the period 2021-2022, where the kingdom reached 65% on this indicator. By doing so, it advanced 18 places at once within a year. Bahrain is among the countries that have witnessed a significant improvement in the final score, due to the legislative changes related to wages, as it achieved a full score [100%] after it was 25% in 2021. Bahrain achieved the largest improvement in the wage index among countries, and raised its score in this area from 0 to 100 during the past two years,” according to the Supreme Council.

“It is no longer the same as it was before in Bahrain. Now the situation is much better for women after the establishment of the council.”

Fatima Salman

“Now even Bahraini society no longer has a woman complex. Everyone is equal. There is no societal objection in the event of a female parliamentarian, director or minister. No one objects to the appointment of a woman just because she is a woman in Bahrain. This is a fact,” Salman said. “We have a woman speaker of the House of Representatives, and we also have association leaders and women ministers. It was not like this before 21 years ago,” she added.

“All we are waiting for here is to ensure that the children of a Bahraini woman from a non-Bahraini father obtain citizenship directly, and not after submitting an application,” Salman said.

Zahra Al Hamrani, a tour guide, told The Media Line, “The field of tourist guidance is modern in Bahrain, and it has opened up the opportunity for us as women to work in it from the beginning.”

“I am divorced, and I have two children, and because of the Supreme Council for Women I was able to stand on my own feet. There is no longer an inferior view of divorced women in Bahraini society,” she said. “The Supreme Council for Women has a special committee that supports battered women and those who seek divorce. The council appoints a lawyer, and it also follows up all procedures, there is a grant given to divorced women, and divorced or widowed women are given a home and are given priority on housing waiting lists. It also provides psychological support, social guidance and everything needed for women to stand up again and be free and independent.” Member of Parliament Fatima Al Qatari told The Media Line: “The Supreme Council for Women has provided what no other party in Bahrain has provided, with great efforts by HRH Princess Sabeeka, wife of the king of Bahrain.”

“There are no legislations in Bahrain that pass without consulting the Supreme Council for Women, in addition to their amendments that are in the interest of women,” the lawmaker said.

Aqila Mahdi, a Bahraini aviation engineer working in the United Arab Emirates, told The Media Line, “I was one of the first women to graduate in aviation engineering, and as a female, the field was very strange, but it became a reality, and it was easy.”

“I am working now to gain experience, and I will return to Bahrain soon. In Bahrain, there is no difference between the salary of a woman and a man if they work in the same job, to the same degree and with the same qualifications, and there are many vacancies for women,” she said.