Women in Bahrain: A Dynamic Workforce

“Women account for 39 percent of (Bahrain’s)  overall national workforce. And women represent more than 50pc in the public sector”.

When Bahrain’s Labour and Social Development Minister Jameel Humaidan said these words and stressed about the major strides this country has made in increasing the rate of women’s participation in the labour market, I am sure, it must have come as a surprise and shock to many.

The minister was speaking at the 107th Session of the International Labour Conference being held by ILO (International Labour Organization) in Geneva, Switzerland from 28 May – 8 June 2018.

And many global leaders who still view the Arabian Gulf region with disdain, saying that women are not given enough opportunities here,  should now realize that the time has come for them to change their minds, on this matter.

The fact that, in Bahrain, women are also now in charge of 45pc of senior private sector leadership, and of 59pc of middle administrative positions, should erase all apprehensions related to women’s empowerment in the Arabian Gulf; and in the country of Bahrain, in particular.

As a consequence of wise governance, the incentives provided for women’s integration into business, like programmes to finance small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and productive families, have motivated many females to start their own enterprises.  And that is an excellent feature Bahrain must be proud of.

Bahrain has been a pioneer in the region when it comes to women’s empowerment, and it continues to spearhead policy decisions worthy of emulation by other countries in the region.

Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, Wife of His Majesty  the King of Bahrain, President of the Supreme Council for Women, Kingdom of Bahrain has, with her able leadership, facilitated an entire movement on this;  a movement dedicated to uplifting women and bestowing on them the honour and dignity the women of this country deserve.

In February this year, when announcing the theme of the Bahraini Women’s Day 2018 which was devoted towards honouring women in the legislative field and municipal work, HRH Princess Sabeeka gave us the rationale.

She had said that the theme was chosen to celebrate 20 years since Bahraini women entered the appointed Shura Council, and 15 years after their access to the elected Representatives Council and municipal councils. Is this not an achievement of women’s empowerment, what else is?

Bahraini women’s involvement in municipal work can be traced back even into the 1920s, when they took part in the first municipal elections held by Bahrain then.

I find it relevant to mention here the names of some women, among the many, who make Bahrain proud today.

Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa was elected President of the sixty-first session of the United Nations General Assembly on 8 June 2006. 

She was the first woman from Bahrain and the Arab world to serve in this prestigious position, and only the third woman in the world to preside over the General Assembly. The other two were Vijaya Lakshmi Pundit of India and Angie Brooks of Liberia.

Bahraini women were also ambassadors to influential nations. Houda Nonoo served as the Bahraini Ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2013. And Alees Samaan was the former ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Interestingly, Alees Samaan made history by becoming the first woman to chair a parliament in the Middle East when in April 2005 she chaired Bahrain’s upper house of parliament, the Consultative Council.

In 2017, five Bahraini women have also made it to Forbes Middle East’s Top 100 Most Powerful Arab Businesswomen in 2017 – are Mona Almoayyed , Muna Al Hashemi , Suha Karzoon, Shaikha Hessa Al Khalifa and Najla Al Shirawi.

Shaikha Hessa Al Khalifa spares time to empower many Bahraini young men and women through her leadership of ‘Injaz Bahrain’, a non-profit organization that was established in 2005 as a part of Junior Achievement Worldwide.

These are but a few minor examples of how women in Bahrain are making forays into areas not thought possible earlier. There are many more. And the number will keep growing.

As the minister had said at this ILO conference, Bahrain’s efforts are continuing “to ensure that women always enjoy the right status and social protection, in tribute for the key role they are playing in building the family and society”.