Manama, Asharq Al-Awsat- Shaikha Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, Bahrain”s First Lady and head of the Higher Council for Women, has hinted that there is a possibility of changing the laws that prevent the adoption of a quota system to give Bahrain women a place in parliament. While stressing that the current constitution does not allow for such quota, she noted that the laws are not set in stone and can be amended to suit the status of the Bahraini society.
Speaking to Asharq al-Awsat during a surprise visit to the political empowerment program, in which more than 60 Bahraini women candidates in the coming municipal and parliamentary councils are participating in a seminar at the Bahraini parliament building, the Bahraini King”s wife said that the Higher Council for Women”s next step is to enlighten the Bahrainis to vote for women in the coming parliamentary and municipal elections, scheduled in mid-2006.
Shaikha Sabeeka underlined the important role played by the media to get the necessary message across to the society about the need for women to be side by side with men in the coming elected parliament.
In the 2002 elections for the Bahraini House of Representatives, Bahraini women candidates could not get elected to parliament. Not a single woman candidate managed to penetrate the barriers of the Bahraini society, which refused to choose women as representatives. This was viewed at the time as an unexpected surprise, particularly since the participation of Bahraini women in parliamentary elections was a unique event in the Gulf and marked the first participation by Gulf women (in terms of nomination and voting) in parliamentary elections. In 1919 the Bahraini women gained their right to vote in municipal elections.
While refusing to provide financial support for the women candidates and confining the limits of support to training and orientation, the Bahraini First Lady stressed that the real objective behind the participation of the Higher Council for Women in supporting these programs is to adopt the slogan "let us build the homeland together." She noted that the most important thing is to contribute toward building a cooperative and integrated society that aims primarily to build Bahrain.
More than 50 women candidates in the coming elections took part in the political empowerment seminar entitled "the role and responsibilities or men and women candidates." The seminar is organized by the Higher Council for Women in conjunction with the UN Development Program and the International Parliamentary Union. The seminar focuses on seven major themes, including the parliamentary system, the nature of the system, the parliamentarian”s social status, and parliamentary immunity. The discussion also focuses on the legislative role of the House of Representatives, including the legislative process and parliamentary committees. The seminar will examine the oversight functions and the relationship between the executive and legislative branches, the role, rights, and duties of the opposition, the budget-related aspects, the duties of parliamentarians in terms of interaction with the voters, and the relationship with the media and the society.
Despite the failure of the Bahraini women to reach the House of Representatives and the municipal councils, observers believe that they have gained a considerable experience that will certainly pave the ground for women presence in future elections, particularly if they are backed by political associations that enjoy popular support, an element that was not available to women in the past. This development is attributed to the efforts exerted by Shaikha Sabeeka, the king”s wife, to urge voters to vote for women during her repeated meetings with women in various parts of the country and her emphasis on the women”s political right and the importance of expressing this right.
The decision to make room for the Bahraini women to enter the parliamentary election is one of the most prominent clauses in the amended constitution. Article five of the constitution stipulates that the state must ensure balance between the women”s duties toward the family and her work in the society and guarantee equality with men in all political, social, cultural, and economic aspects of life without violating the principles of Islamic Shari”ah.