Bahraini women stand up to be counted: participation in democratic elections heralded a new era for Bahraini women in all sectors of society.

Author:Fenn, John William

Women's rights in Bahrain received a major boost last year when they were allowed to vote and run for office for the first time in the municipal (May 2002) and national elections (October 2002). The new rights are now laid down in Article 1 (Paragraph E) of Bahrain's new constitution, which came into effect in February 2002. The progress of women on the political front is being matched by an increasing influence in the business sector as well.

The official line on voter turnout during the national elections, the first for nearly 30 years, was just over 50%. Some Islamic parties electioneered against the right of women to run for office. Nevertheless, eight female candidates (out of 177 in total) stood for election in October--a milestone in itself despite the fact that none were elected. The female representation was slightly higher (around 10%) in the May municipal elections, but again the outcome was unsuccessful in terms of gaining office.

Under the new constitution, an elected 40-member chamber is matched by a non-elected 40-member consultative, or Shura, council appointed by the King, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa--a Sunni Muslim. The sharing of legislative power with an appointed chamber proved very divisive and Islamic parties, representing the majority Shi'a population, called for an election boycott on this issue. The boycott was spearheaded by the Islamic National Accord Association (INAA), which consists of four political parties--Al Wifaq National Islamic Society, National Democratic Society; the National Democratic Action Association and the Islamic Action Society. The new format--an amendment to the 1973 constitution--is designed to provide a check on any fundamentalist majority in the elected chamber. As it turned out, Islamic candidates gained 19 seats in the elected chamber alongside 21 Independents.

There was tangible progress on the female political representation front in November when four women--or 10% of the non-elected chamber--were appointed to the Shura Council.

Female influence in the business sector is also on the rise; an increasing number of women in Bahrain are making their presence felt in this male-dominated domain. One such woman is Mona Al Moayyed, Managing Director of the family trading business YK Al Moayyed & Sons. In November 2001, Al Moayyed became the first woman to be elected to the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry--a non-governmental body that represents all businesses in Bahrain with the...

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