Laudatory comments on women’s empowerment fall short of reality

The chairman of Bahrain’s Institute for Political Development (BIPD) expressed Bahrain’s pride in the achievements of the Supreme Council for Women under the leadership of Princess Sabeeka al-Khalifa, the wife of Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. He “affirmed BIPD’s keen interest in women’s participation in all its programs,” and stated that women’s empowerment programs will prepare women for elections through training programs and consultations.

Despite the chairman of BIPD’s laudatory comments, women’s advancement in Bahraini society falls short of the government’s rhetoric. While Bahrain is a signatory to the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), it has expressed several reservations. Its reservations include an unwillingness to condemn “discrimination against women in all its forms, and to this end, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women,” (Article 2) insofar as the Article may clash with the provisions of Sharia. It has also expressed reservations regarding other articles in CEDAW as well.

In its follow-up report on Bahrain’s Second UPR Cycle released in February 2014, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) addressed issues of women’s empowerment and the promotion of gender equality. ADHRB found that while the government took steps to address women’s standing in Bahraini society, it ranks 123 out of 145 countries evaluated on the 2015 World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index. The 2013 World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index concluded that Bahrain’s standing declined for the third consecutive year. In regards to the promotion of gender equality, Bahraini judges “overwhelmingly favor men in their verdicts, and are ‘unapologetically adverse to women’s equality.’” While the Bahraini government declared initiatives to “promote greater integration of women on a national level,” the initiatives lacked both specificity and plans for implementation. Despite BIPD’s chairman’s rhetoric of inclusiveness and female empowerment, ADHRB found that “significant gender-based discrimination continues, with the government of Bahrain having failed to implement a national plan for the integration of women.”

Tyler Pry is an Advocacy Intern at Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain

Photo courtesy of Bahrain News Agency