Women in Bahrain Listen to this page using ReadSpeaker

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1. Introduction

Bahraini women are key players in the Kingdom of Bahrain’s development process whose contributions span the full spectrum of public life, including politics, social development, and business. However, despite these achievements, there is still room to create a more inclusive environment that fosters greater balance between genders.

The Supreme Council for Women (SCW) is committed to addressing women’s needs so that they can unlock their full potential and contribute more fully to society. As part of a national initiative aimed at promoting gender equality and inclusion of women, the government and the SCW have undertaken a range of initiatives to empower Bahraini women, turning them into role models for the Arab World.

2. Supreme Council for Women (SCW)

The Supreme Council for Women was established on 22 August 2001 through Amiri Decree No. 44  which was amended by the Amiri Decrees No. 55 in 2001  and No. 2 in 2002 , and Royal Decree No. 36 in 2004. It is considered a main reference point for all official organizations related to women’s affairs and has jurisdiction to express its opinion and address all matters impacting the position of women in society.

The Council is chaired by Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa and comprises at least 16 members at any given time who are female public figures considered to be leaders in women's affairs and related activities.

The SCW empowers Bahraini women and guarantees their inclusion in development programs, while also ensuring they maintain cohesive family bonds and lives. Underpinned by equal opportunity principles, it helps foster competitiveness among Bahraini women and secures their lifelong learning. The Council promotes legislation and policies aimed at providing diverse opportunities for Bahraini women to enhance the quality of their lives. As an expert-led organization specialized in supporting women’s affairs in line with global standards, it partners with relevant institutions to elevate the status of women.

3. Bahraini Women’s Day

Launched by HRH Princess Sabeeka in 2008, the first Bahraini Women’s Day was held under the theme, “She read… She learned… She contributed”, which, in turn, was coined to celebrate 80 years since the start of formal education for women in the Kingdom. Marked on 1 December every year, the occasion celebrates Bahraini women and their contributions to shaping the identity of a modern, forward-thinking society that seeks to preserve the principles of equality in the national development process.

The theme aptly expresses the crucial role women play in building the Bahrain of today and speaks to the tangible benefits of their contributions as partners in national development. It also tells the story of how Bahraini women’s roles have evolved, beginning with the first generation of female pioneers who read and learned, and how the women of today continue to help build their society with the same enthusiasm and determination.

Bahraini Women’s Day , an important national event that celebrates the achievements of Bahraini women, has had several themes over the years:

  • 2008 Women in Education
  • 2009 Women in Health Security
  • 2010 Women in Volunteer Work
  • 2011 Women in Economic Development
  • 2012 Women in Sports
  • 2013 Women in Media
  • 2014 Women in Military
  • 2015 Women in Banking and Finance
  • 2016 Women in Legal and Justice Fields
  • 2017 Women in Engineering
  • 2018 Women in Legislative and Municipal Work
  • 2019 Women in Higher Education and Future Sciences
  • 2020 Women in the Diplomatic Field

4. Statistics

The SCW has developed an app dedicated to Gender Balance Indicators  across sectors, including health, education, family, and economic and political participation. The app is available for download for iOS  devices. The SCW also released the National Gender Balance Report  (2017-2018) which showed an increase in the Kingdom’s gender balance indicators, from 60% in 2016 to 64% in 2017-2018. The report shows an increase in gender balance indicators for qualitative areas, from 64% in 2016 to 68% in 2017-2018. Organizational performance indicators increased from 56% to 59% for the same period.

5. Women in Education

According to SCW statistics, women form a significant portion of the education sector. The number of female teachers in elementary education institutions averaged 75% between 2011 and 2017. Statistics also showed a rise in the percentage of females completing various educational levels: in 2018, 49% of students in elementary and intermediary schools, and 56% in secondary schools, were female. This is in addition to the female graduates of higher education institutions, which stood at 65%.

6. Women in Economic Development

Bahraini women formed an average of 32% of the total workforce in 2010, 2016, and 2018. A total of 18% of public sector employees during these years were Bahraini women, compared to 16% of Bahraini men.

In the same years, Bahraini women made up 53% of the total in governmental entities and 35% in the private sector.

Bahraini women made notable contributions to business, with an average of 43% of all active individuals’ Commercial Registers (CRs) between 2010 and 2018 being owned by Bahraini women.

A testament to their ambition and far-reaching capabilities, Bahraini women received regional recognition when the Forbes Middle East 2020 ‘The Middle East’s 100 Power Businesswomen ’ included three Bahraini women among their ranks: Mona Almoayyed, Najla Al Shirawi, and Narjes Jamal.

For more details on gender balance indicators, please download the Gender Balance Indicators app, available for iOS .

7. Women in Sports

Bahraini women enjoy equal access to professional sports opportunities as their male counterparts, with women’s sports receiving growing attention in the Kingdom. The SCW supports the participation of women in all types of sports and encourages them to show up in force at all local, regional and international games and competitions, as a patriotic act that enhances the Kingdom’s profile. Practicing sports regularly can also have a positive impact on the quality of women’s lives and their physical and mental wellbeing.

The SCW, in cooperation with the University of Bahrain (UoB), conducted a study on women’s sports in the Kingdom  (PDF, 1.46MB, 73 pages, Arabic only), which highlighted the challenges they face and future aspirations.

8. Equal Opportunities

Bahrain began addressing the low level of Bahraini women’s participation in the Kingdom’s development in 1975. Several international conferences followed focusing on the issue, with several initiatives launched to make women’s participation more common and accepted by society. There was growing interest in the adoption of new ideas about the roles of both men and women, moving beyond merely looking at women playing a part in development into considering them an essential force, capable of change, progress, and improvement.

9. Equal Opportunities Committees in the Public Sector

Government entities formed 45 Equal Opportunity Committees in the government sector following the issuance of Civil Service Bureau Decision No. (4) of 2014  . These committees incorporate women’s needs as a natural part of equal opportunities in all areas of labor, and work towards realizing equal opportunity principles among all employees, beneficiaries, and services in coordination with the SCW. The committees express their opinions on issues related to the mainstreaming of women’s needs and instituting them as a natural part of the principle of equal opportunity.

Equal Opportunity Committees set controls, standards, and aimed at mainstreaming women’s needs. They follow up on their implementation and provide consultation, in coordination with the SCW and the Civil Service Bureau (CSB), if required, and in accordance with CSB specializations as outlined in its rules and regulations for the following areas:

  • Promoting equal opportunities between employees in terms of recruitment, training, scholarship, and career advancement, while ensuring the mainstreaming of working women’s needs.
  • Mainstreaming of women's needs and creating equal opportunities when it comes to the policies, plans and budgets of government agencies.
  • Building the capacities of employees while mainstreaming women’s needs and instituting them as a natural part of the principle of equal opportunity.
  • Improving the status of women and their working environments within government organizations and overcoming the obstacles they face.
  • Supporting the efforts of the SCW in promoting equal opportunity principles and the integration of women's needs into government entities’ programs according to the National Plan for the Advancement of Bahraini Women.
  • Achieving equal opportunities for all beneficiaries of services provided by government entities.

10. Equal Opportunity Committees in the Private Sector

The private sector employs a high number of Bahraini women and plays an important role in the activation of the National Model for the mainstreaming of women’s needs. Several businesses have undertaken initiatives to mainstream women’s needs, as evident by their high levels of participation in the Award of Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa for the Advancement of Bahraini Women, which includes a category for the private sector.

Many private companies have incorporated equal opportunity principles within their policies, offering support services to their female employees. The SWC’s successful efforts to mainstream women’s needs are evident by initiatives announced by certain private companies, and the positive effect they have had on their performance. The SCW also works to reduce unemployment among Bahraini women by encouraging self-employment and initiatives that promote their participation in the private sector.

The SCW is working on a plan aimed at enhancing equal opportunities even further, thereby strengthening the Kingdom’s global rankings in this area. It will also enable the private sector to support women’s causes through civil society institutions, stemming from social responsibility and taking the interests of business owners into consideration.

Mainstreaming women’s needs in the private sector helps to raise awareness and win the confidence of decision-makers and employees in the sector. It promotes the principles of equal opportunity and has resulted in many success stories. It also helps to identify the issues and concerns of working women and create solutions.

For more information on equal opportunities for women  in the Kingdom’s legislative fields and civil society.

11. Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa Award

In line with the objectives of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, King of Bahrain to ensure that Bahraini women play prominent roles in society, Royal Decree No. (5) for 2004 was issued to create Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa Award for Bahraini Women Empowerment . The award is given every two years to ministries and public and private entities that excel in supporting and empowering working Bahraini women. In 2019, Royal Decree No. (17) for 2019  (PDF, 104kB, 2 pages, Arabic only) was issued, adjusting some of the decisions of Royal Decree No. (5) for 2004  (PDF, 47.2kB, 2 pages, Arabic only) and changing the name of the award to the Award of Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa for the Advancement of Bahraini Women. New categories were added for Civil Society Institutions, Individuals, and Ministries, and Official and Private entities to encourage gender balance programs and help women achieve decision making positions; make mainstreaming women's needs and gender balance an essential part of policy within public institutions, the private sector and civil society; and highlight individual initiatives. The award highlights the Kingdom’s progress, showcasing how its focus evolved from being about women’s empowerment to the partnership balance between Bahraini women and men.

The award is one of the SCW’s main tools through which it translates HM the King’s vision for the development of women into programs and practices that are essential to the Kingdom’s public and private sectors. By preparing the Kingdom for the adoption of new ideas and concepts, it enhances the mainstreaming of women’s needs and helps achieve greater gender balance. This approach has had a positive effect, as reflected in the rising levels of women’s participation in national development and prosperity.

Over the course of its five editions, the award has developed criteria aimed at enhancing the presence of women in public and private sector institutions. Its positive impact is evident by how these standards have been implemented by organizations competing for the award. These tangible results have had a positive effect on their performance and productivity, on women themselves, and society as a whole.

The first of its kind in terms, the award is a scientific endeavor that aims to increase competitiveness and productivity among Bahraini women. It promotes the culture of gender balance and encourages participants in the labor market to continue to progress, leading to women playing a greater role in the national economy.

The launch of the Award of Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa for the Advancement of Bahraini Women is a national initiative, a success story, and a proven model for achieving gender balance and the mainstreaming women's needs.

The award also encourages United Nations (UN) member states to dedicate more effort to women’s empowerment, which provides an opportunity for the Kingdom to be recognized internationally and for its institutions and individuals to be celebrated for their achievements in the field.
In addition, the award embodies the results of methodologies aimed at mainstreaming women’s needs and achieving equal opportunity. It reaffirms the important role women play in development, and their contributions towards the stability of society.

Among the objectives of the award is to highlight efforts by ministries, official and private entities, civil society institutions, and individuals to support the advancement of Bahraini women, and to ensure that a balance is struck between their working lives and family obligations. It encourages ministries, official and private entities, and civil society institutions to increase Bahraini women’s presence at and contributions to their respective organizations.

Other objectives include encouraging organizations to include women when considering candidates for official representation, and the preparation of surveys, studies, and research in support of the advancement of Bahraini women and gender balance; monitoring national efforts towards the advancement of Bahraini women and integrating their needs into development; encouraging ministries, public and private entities, and civil society institutions to build the capabilities and experiences of Bahraini women and to benefit from them in community development; and highlighting and appreciating individual efforts, initiatives, projects and accomplishments aimed at integrating women's needs and empowering them in a way that contributes to bringing about positive change in society and achieving sustainable community development.

12. Bahraini Women Hackathon

In cooperation with Polytechnic Bahrain and BRINC-Batelco, the SCW launched the Bahraini Women Hackathon , the first contest of its kind. Adopting the slogan ‘Challenge and Innovation’, the hackathon was among a range of activities celebrating Bahraini Women’s Day, which, in 2019, was dedicated to women in higher education and future sciences.

The contest aims to uncover and enhance the talents of Bahraini women, empower them to become professionals in technical fields, motivate them to join the field of software development and program design, and develop their abilities to create smart solutions in accordance with the latest global trends. This supports the priorities of the National Model for the Advancement of Bahraini Women, such as investment and entrepreneurial opportunities, life-long learning, family services, quality of life, career progression and supporting work services, knowledge management, and Sustainable Development Goals.

Further information about Bahraini Women Hackathon  can be viewed on their website.

13. History of Bahraini Women in Legislative Fields and Municipal Work

The participation of women in public life has increased over the years. They have been participating alongside men in municipal elections since the early 1930s, as indicated by historical documents that show the voting eligibility of any woman who owns property registered in her name. They also participated in the first elections for the Central Municipal Authority in 1951. Women were active participants at the time, having left a clear effect in many areas.

In the early seventies, eight women from the Children and Mothers Welfare Society, and Al Nahda Society participated in a referendum to prove the Arab identity of Bahrain, with the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations in attendance.

With His Majesty the King’s ascension to the throne in 1999, four women were appointed as legislators to the first Shura Council in 2000.

Bahraini women also had a prominent and active presence in the committee that prepared the National Action Charter, which consisted of 46 members, including six women. On 24 February 2001, His Majesty the King issued Decree No. (6) for the year 2001 establishing the Committee to Draft the National Action Charter , which included 16 members, including two women.

The year 2001 marked a milestone for Bahraini women, as the legislative amendments introduced by the National Action Charter ensured that they received their full political rights. These rights, protected by the 2002 Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain, include the right of women to run in Parliamentary and Municipal elections.

Bahrain’s Parliament  elected Fawzia Zainal as speaker for the year 2018, the first woman to occupy this position. The 40 Members of Parliament  active during that year included five women.

14. Women in Technology

With the world increasingly moving towards digitalization, there is greater demand than ever before for IT expertise. Women in the Kingdom of Bahrain now occupy important positions in this field, for example, accounting for 42% of the employees of the Information and eGovernment Authority (iGA) in 2020, including 31% of its administrative positions. Stemming from its commitment to enforcing the principles of gender equality at work, the iGA formed an Equal Opportunities Committee, which includes members of both genders from various departments.

15. The National Plan for the Advancement of Bahraini Women

The National Plan for the Advancement of Bahraini Women  (2013-2022) includes five pillars that seek to ensure women’s family stability and cohesion, and enable them to contribute to development, forming an equal partnership in building a sustainable competitive community.

Women receive attention from the government of Bahrain in all fields, including housing, where women have the right to apply for housing services as the heads of households. This is in addition to taking significant steps to develop an action plan to protect women from violence and discrimination, and to encourage their economic empowerment. The Kingdom of Bahrain has issued legislation in support of women's rights, including Family Law No. (19) of 2017 , which regulates family provisions (inheritance) for all without discrimination. In 2018, family courts specialized in resolving family disputes were established to achieve the 5th UN Sustainable Development Goal (gender equality).

Page Last Updated: 19 Oct, 2020