Bahraini Women Hope to Make It to Parliament

With parliamentary as well as municipal council elections due in Bahrain next year, the Supreme Council for Women has once again decided to help and educate women to come to the fore and be part of the nation-building process by getting involved in the decision-making process.

This move to empower women has royal blessings since the Council is headed by Her Highness Shaikha Sabika bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, wife of HH the King of Bahrain.

Thirty women have come forward to attend a five-day conference organised by the council. The nationwide drive is meant to build a team of women who would either take part in the elections or be involved in election-related work to promote the cause – and eventual victory – of as many women as possible.

In the previous elections, held in 2006, one woman, Lateefa Al Gaoud, managed to get elected as a Member of Parliament but not by really fighting for it. She managed to get elected unopposed from the remote constituency of Hawar Island and Al Dur. This time round, the women have set themselves a modest target of two parliamentary seats and a total of ten seats in the five municipal councils.

As if not satisfied with the token unopposed election, one participant in the conference was quoted by a local daily as saying: “We want to gain trust and win seats in tough areas like Isa Town, Hamad town and Manama, and then we can say we have done something.” The areas mentioned are the most thickly-populated in Bahrain.

Apart from providing election tips, the conference will also help women get acquainted with the election process. “It is a good education to know what women should do in elections, considering that it would be difficult to win seats next year,” Jalila Al Salman, vice-president of the Teachers Society, was quoted as saying. “This conference will make us capable of handling campaigns as a first step and then give us a chance of winning seats in the future.”

Women in Bahrain do realise that the elections are run by political societies which are reluctant, if not outright averse, to giving tickets to female candidates. And if they stand independently they have a very slim chance of winning like independent candidates anywhere in the world.

They also realise it is a long road for them and one 23-year-old has set herself the target of seven years to win a parliamentary seat. Even so, women in Bahrain are lucky compared with their sisters in some of the other Arabian Gulf states. While in Bahrain voting rights or contesting elections were never issues for women, in Kuwait they had to constantly struggle to win these ‘favours’ and eventually the Kuwait Amir had to intercede in their behalf in the face of parliamentary opposition. In other Gulf States to the position of women in terms of their ability to contest elections is far less enviable.

At the conference workshops women hope to learn about the election process, how candidates can hope to win over the media, community awareness, how to run an election campaign and networking for the purpose.