This year, it will be fourteen years since the initial launch of Bahraini Women’s Day, a national occasion aimed at celebrating the progress of women’s rights and increased freedom in Bahrain. Despite the whitewashing by government institutions concerned with women’s rights such as the Supreme Council for Women, in reality, legislation remains discriminatory and fails to address urgent reform. For instance, the Penal Code still permits the rapist to escape criminal charges if he marries the victim, and gender discrimination can also be observed within the same family and in nationality laws. Also, many Bahraini mothers are not able to grant citizenship to their children, rendering many children stateless, with none of them enjoying basic rights. Additionally, gendered wage inequality persists in the public and private sectors, and women’s rights are still restricted in terms of their political participation. This reality prevails despite the Kingdom of Bahrain’s ratification of a number of agreements to protect women’s rights, in particular the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Universal Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
In this report, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) will attempt to show the current reality of women’s rights in Bahrain, which contradicts Bahrain’s commitment to and ratification of international treaties and conventions, and we will highlight the gaps surrounding local legislation and laws, presenting the reality of violence against women in Bahrain.
The reality of violence against women in Bahrain
In 2015, the Bahraini government issued Law no.17 Concerning protection from Domestic Violence, this legislation was aimed at providing resources of reporting domestic violence. Then, in December 2017, the Kingdom of Bahrain launched a database and statistic program for domestic violence whose mission is to monitor and follow up on various cases of domestic violence through an electronic platform for a unified data record of violence and changes in the status of abused women. Furthermore, in September 2021, the Parliamentary Division announced Bahrain’s commitment to eliminating violence against women by implementing a national strategy for protection from domestic violence.
Despite this perceived progress, ADHRB have repeatedly tried to search for this electronic platform on the Internet and did not find it, and it has no trace on the official website of the Supreme Council for Women, which had initially announced its launch. There were no quick links to take us to the platform, and this indicates the absence of a realistic role for this strategy. There is also restricted access to sufficient official statistics and data on abused women.
In the third chapter of the law, which deals with protection measures against domestic violence that the ministry will work on, specifically Article VII, it is stated that the Ministry of Social Development will work to take measures, including, “publishing data related to domestic violence and protection from it to limit violence, in a way that does not affect personal freedom” and “encouraging and supporting scientific studies and research in the area of domestic violence.” However, despite our monitoring attempts, we did not find any official government data, studies, or research on domestic violence against women in Bahrain, so instead we surveyed some of the few studies published by two private centers concerned with women.
The Bahrain Girl Development Society published a study for the year 2021, after monitoring cases of violence against women and girls in the local community in all its forms. According to the study, the cases of violence were distributed between physical, psychological, economic, and legal violence. Legal violence is represented by discrimination between women based on social status, which deprives women of their rights without just cause, in addition to the unfairness of some laws and their gender inequality. This discrimination appears in the Bahraini Penal Code, the Family Law, the Law on Protection from Domestic Violence, and others. There were 114 recorded cases of psychological violence in 2019 compared to 57 cases in 2020, and 48 cases of physical violence recorded in 2019 compared to 23 cases in 2020, while 62 cases of economic violence were recorded in 2019 compared to 23 cases in 2020. Finally, there were 17 cases of legal violence in 2019 compared to 3 in 2020. This would suggest that although domestic violence is still prevalent on a certain level, the trend is going down.
In April 2021, Tafawuq Consulting Center to Support Women’s Issues published a study on domestic violence against women in Bahrain. Although the sample size is considered small, the study was divided into 3 types of violence against women: physical, psychological, and economic. The study found that 150 women out of 294 were subjected to physical violence, 49% of the total sample. Based on that study, the types of physical violence against women were distributed as follows:
- 92% have been beaten
- 65% have been pushed
- 28% have been strangled
- 49% have been thrown and hit with hard objects
- 1% have had a forced abortion
- 1% have been forced to use drugs
Regarding psychological violence, according to a study by the Consultative Excellence Center, 249 out of 294 women revealed that they had been subjected to psychological violence. The methods of psychological violence against women were distributed as follows:
- 91% have been insulted
- 76% have been degraded
- 54% have been threatened
- 37% have been abandoned
- 77% have experienced constant criticism
- 51% have experienced pressure and duress
- 36% have experienced infidelity
In terms of economic violence, 131 out of 294 women were subjected to economic violence. The methods of economic violence against women were distributed as follows:
- 75% have been denied alimony
- 27% have experienced salary deprivation
- 31% have been prevented from education and work
- 25% have been subjected to squandering and destruction of family property
- 24% have been exposed to theft of money and property
- 25% have been scammed
Despite various studies being conducted by private organizations, the appropriate authorities still have not conducted, or at least released a comprehensive official survey that identifies the percentage of women subjected to violence of all kinds. The only data that has been released is with regards to cases of family violence that has been officially reported, registered, and documented by the State. The Legal Fatwa and Research Department of the Legislation and Legal Opinion Authority in the Kingdom of Bahrain recently stated that the official statistics of domestic violence cases in the Kingdom of Bahrain in 2015 amounted to 1,655 cases, 75% of which were practiced against women. In the first half of 2016 they recorded, 859 cases, more than half of the total cases in the previous year and 73% of these were against women.
The Center also indicated in its study that the Women’s Legal Support Office of the Women’s Union annually received 114 cases of women who experienced violence before it was closed in January 2016 due to the suspension of financial support by the Ministry of Labor for Social Development.
In this context, the US State Department’s 2021 report on human rights violations in Bahrain mentioned violence against women in Bahrain and noted that despite the fact that Bahraini law criminalizes violence against women, domestic violence against women was still very common. Even though the government and some members of the Parliament engaged in awareness activities during the year, including discussions on additional legislation, the authorities did not pay enough attention to supporting public campaigns aimed at resolving the issue.
The report indicated that the law stipulates the necessity of contacting local police officials in cases of domestic violence and that the public prosecutor can investigate once a complaint has been conveyed; however, it was reported that there is a difficulty in knowing who to contact or how to act when filing a complaint.
Bahrain’s level of commitment to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
Bahrain joined the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2002 but had the following reservations:
- Article 2, in which the States Parties condemn all forms of discrimination against women and agree to pursue a policy aimed at eliminating discrimination against women
- Article 9, paragraph (2), which calls for equal rights between men and women regarding women granting their nationality to their children
- Article 15, paragraph (4), that calls for freedom of choice of residence and domicile
- Article 16, that calls for equality in marriage and family life
- Article 29, paragraph (1), regarding the arbitration in case a dispute occurs between two or more States concerning the interpretation and application of the Convention
These reservations come even though Article 18 of the Bahraini Constitution states that people are equal in human dignity, citizens are equal before the law in public rights and duties, and there shall be no discrimination between them because of their gender, origin, language, religion, or belief. The Kingdom of Bahrain has reformulated some reservations to commit Bahrain to implementing them without breaching the provisions of Islamic Sharia. The reformulations were made in Article 2, Article 16, and Article 15, paragraph (4). Until now, Bahrain has kept its reservations regarding Article 9, paragraph (2), which calls for equal rights between men and women regarding women granting their nationality to their children, and on Article 29, paragraph (1), regarding the arbitration in case a dispute occurs between two or more States concerning the interpretation and application of the Convention.
A study by the United Nations Development Program- in cooperation with UN women, the UN Population Fund, and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) regarding gender justice and the law, concluded that the law in Bahrain does not guarantee gender equality or provide the minimum standard of protection from gender-based violence. Even though some aspects of social justice are addressed in the law, there are still vast forms of inequality. Here, we will review the forms of discrimination against women according to the existing Bahraini legislation:
Law of Nationality 1963
Women do not have the same rights as men to pass citizenship to their children and spouse. Men can pass citizenship to their children automatically, but the king may grant or revoke it. Bahraini mothers can only pass their citizenship to their children if the child is born from an unknown father or born from a father whose legal status has not been proven. This means that Bahraini nationality is generally not granted to children born to non-Bahraini fathers, even if they were born in the country to a Bahraini mother.
The US State Department’s 2021 report on human rights violations in Bahrain highlighted the issue of statelessness in Bahrain, stating that human rights organizations reported that these laws have resulted in the birth of children with no nationality, particularly when the foreign father is unable or unwilling to obtain nationality from his country of origin, or when that father is deceased or unknown. Stateless persons have limited access to social services, education, and employment immediately disadvantaging these children. Some reported that authorities denied birth certificate and passport applications for children whose Bahraini fathers were in prison because the fathers were unable to submit the applications in person. The government also accused the individuals whose nationality had been revoked of violating the immigration law. In response to this, ADHRB issued a report in February 2021 which highlighted the suffering of four children from Bahraini families who were targeted by the Bahraini government by arbitrarily depriving them of nationality to indirectly punish their fathers for their peaceful protests and activities against the government. Thus, Bahrain has violated the international conventions and laws that it has ratified:
International law guarantees the right of children to nationality and protection from statelessness in accordance with Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since the victims in these cases are children, Bahrain is obligated to grant them nationality according to Article 24 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to Article 7(1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 7 also imposes obligations on state parties to implement this right “particularly when a child is stateless.” ADHRB denounced the unlawful and inhumane treatment of these children through their deprivation of nationality and consequent deprivation of the most basic human rights such as the right to a nationality, the right to medical care, the right to education, and the right to movement, which are considered sacred rights under Bahraini and international laws and treaties.
Article 244 of the Penal Code Decree-Law No. 15 of 1976 stipulates the penalty of life imprisonment for any person who sexually assaults a woman without her consent. The penalty is death or life imprisonment if the victim’s age is under 16 years. However, Article 353 of the Penal Code exempts the offender from punishment for crimes of rape, sexual assault, or immoral acts if the victim marries the offender, and that is why, in most cases, the victim ends up being married off to the offender.
In this context, the US State Department’s 2021 report on human rights violations in Bahrain stated that the government continued to document and prosecute cases of physical or sexual abuse against women, as the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Waqf documented 327 cases of physical or sexual abuse until September, including 36 cases involving children.
Nationality Act 1963
Women do not have the same rights as men to pass on citizenship to their children and husbands. Men could transmit citizenship to their children automatically, but the king could grant or revoke it. Bahraini mothers can transmit their nationality to their children only if the child is born to an unknown father or if the child is born to a father whose legal status has not been proven, meaning that citizenship is generally not granted to children born to non-Bahraini, even if they are born in the country to a mother who is a citizen.
The U.S. Department of State’s 2021 report on human rights abuses in Bahrain highlighted stateless people in Bahrain, saying that human rights organizations have reported that these laws have led to stateless children, particularly when a foreign father is unable or unwilling to obtain citizenship from his or her native country, or when a stateless father is deceased or unknown, and stateless persons have limited access to social services, education, and employment. It was reported that the authorities refused birth applications certificates and passports to children whose parents were Bahraini in prison because the parents could not apply personally. In February 2021, ADHRB issued a report highlighting the suffering of four children from Bahraini families targeted by the Bahraini government for arbitrary deprivation of citizenship to indirectly punish their parents for peaceful activities in opposition to the ruling, and many other cases, thus violating international conventions and laws that Bahrain has ratified:
In accordance with article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as the victims in such cases are children, international law guarantees the right of children to nationality and protection from statelessness, Bahrain is obliged to grant them nationality in accordance with article 24 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and with article 7 (1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 7 also imposes obligations on states parties to implement this right “especially when the child is stateless.”
ADHRB denounced the illegal and inhumane exposure of these children by depriving them of their citizenship, thereby depriving them of the most basic human rights, such as the right to nationality, the right to medical care, the right to education, and the right to movement, which are enshrined under Bahraini and international laws and treaties.
The Penal Code
In the US State Department’s 2021 report on human rights violations in Bahrain, they state that the government continued to document and prosecute physical or sexual abuse of women, as the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Awqaf documented 327 cases of physical or sexual abuse as of September, including 36 cases involving children.
Article 244 of the Penal Code No. 15 of 1976 stipulates a life sentence for any person who sexually assaults a woman without her consent. The penalty is death or life imprisonment if the victim is less than 16 years old. However, Article 353 of the Penal Code exempts the offender from punishment for crimes of rape, sexual assault, or immoral acts if the offender marries the victim. This means that offenders can easily get away with these heinous crimes and not face any repercussions.
Civil Associations Law
Article 18 of the Civil Associations Law prohibits civil society organizations from working in politics, meaning that groups who are working to increase women’s participation in the political process have been sidelined. While Article 7 of the Convention stipulates “the elimination of discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country” in terms of the right to vote, eligibility to vote, participation in the formulation of government policy, and “participation in any non-governmental organizations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country,” the Bahraini government prohibits forming these associations in general, thus preventing women from expressing their political position.
Article 39 of the Bahraini Private Sector Labor Law of 2012 prohibits “discrimination in wages based on differences in sex, origin, language, religion or creed.” On 27 August 2020, the Bahraini government issued Resolution No. 52 of 2020, which stipulates an explicit prohibition on wage discrimination between male and female workers holding the same job when their work conditions are the same. However, according to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the government has not revealed how it intends to implement this legislation, such as the procedures in place to impose transparency regarding wages, diagnostic tools adopted to help close the gender wage gap, penalties for violators, and procedures for litigation against employers regarding equal pay.
The Public Social Insurance Authority’s statistical report for the second quarter of the year 2021 shows a clear gender wage disparity: men earn 876 Bahraini Dinars on average per month in the public sector, while women earn 774 Bahraini Dinars. In the private sector, the discrepancy is higher, with the average salary being 855 Bahraini Dinars for men and 603 Bahraini Dinars for women.
The Supreme Council for Women as a platform for whitewashing violations
The Supreme Council for Women is closely linked to the Bahraini government, which has always committed systematic violations of human rights, including violations of women’s rights. The structure of the Council relies heavily on royal support. The president of the Supreme Council for Women is the king’s first wife, Princess Sabeeka, and all senior positions in the council are appointed by royal order. By the Council’s own admission, the King is the founder, is directly linked to it, and it works according to a national strategy based on his vision. Accordingly, the Council’s structure does not encourage the objectivity necessary for the effective advocacy for women’s rights in the country.
Sometimes, the Council is used as a mechanism for the government to whitewash its human rights violations. The mere existence of the Council legitimizes the government on gender issues. In the past, it has been cited as evidence of Bahraini women’s empowerment. For example, although Bahrain has many reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Supreme Council for Women claimed that the Convention “became effective” in July 2016.
Furthermore, in public, the Council focuses on promoting Bahrain and highlighting the development of women’s rights in Bahrain, ignoring the many human rights violations taking place in the country. On 20 March 2021, at a meeting held on the sidelines of the 65th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, the Secretary-General of the Council “shone light on the strides that the Kingdom has made in the area of women’s empowerment”, while ignoring systematic gender discrimination in Bahraini nationality legislation and the reservations that the government continues to maintain on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The Council also participated in the “Generation of Equality” forum organized by UN Women in Paris between 30 June and 2 July 2021. The Forum works alongside civil society and national bodies to discuss promoting gender equality worldwide. It promotes the engagement of all actors in a global dialogue on the need for urgent action and accountability for gender equality, and it highlights the empowerment of women’s actions and activities. The focus of the Generation of Equality forum encourages action by civil society to take the necessary steps in youth leadership and recognition of women’s rights and gender equality around the world. Bahrain has consistently failed to provide real evidence of increased gender equality or meaningful reforms. The presence and participation of the Supreme Council at this forum demonstrates the government’s ambition to present a rounded image of Bahrain on the international stage by promoting achievements that do not demonstrate real progress in the area of women’s rights.
Demands and Recommendations
Based on this report on the reality of violations of women’s rights in Bahrain and Bahrain’s violation of international conventions and laws that it has ratified in this regard, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain recommends the government of Bahrain to:
- Cancel Article 353 of the Penal Code related to dropping the penalty of a rapist if he marries the victim
- Cancel reservations to the articles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, especially with regard to Bahraini women granting nationality to their children
- Form a specialized team to follow up the implementation of the Law on Protection from Domestic Violence and the stipulations of the national strategy to protect women from domestic violence, publish all results, statistics and studies electronically, and not block them
- End the gender wage gap in the public and private sectors
- Repeal what was stated in Article 18 of the NGOs Law, which stipulates preventing civil society institutions from working in politics, in order to allow women to play active roles in the political process