BTW meets Dr Wajeeha Al-Baharna, a renowned social activist in the Middle East, in the fields of women empowerment and human development. She is the founder and President of Bahrain Women Association.
Where were you born? Tell us briefly about yourself.
I was born and raised in Bahrain. I have a PhD degree in Environmental Sciences and have chosen the cause of humanity for my calling. In the course of my career, I have surpassed the taboos and launched open discussions on cultural, political, social, economical, and judicial discriminations against women in the Arab and Islamic worlds. In 2001, I was appointed as the Peace Ambassador during the “Global Violence: Crisis and Hope conference held in New York.
Tell us about the history of the Bahrain Women Association—how it came into being, founder members, which year was it established, and so on.
The idea of establishing the association emerged from the desire to contribute in the community development and well-being. After a thorough study of the community needs, recognizing member’s potentials and capabilities, and the opportunities available to contribute positively in the community, we concluded that the Human Development will be our focus of attention. From that point, the idea was crystalized into the formation of Association in the 9th of July 2001. It started with a group of friends; working on various projects, distributing work on awareness and development and gradually wanting to work under one umbrella.
How has BWA developed over the years since its inception?
The members of BWA are 58. As for the diversification of programs, over the past years, BWA had several reviews to the entire organization strategy and structure. Earlier, BWA had 5 main programs, which were:
1- “Unbounded Women” “which empowers women to take a leading humanitarian role in the society,
2- “Be Free” aiming to boost children’s personality development and protect them from abuse and neglect;
3- “Environmental Citizenship” which fosters a broader sense of environmental citizenship and sustainable development
4- “Development Tributaries” targets grassroots women, which have been empowered and trained and enabled to overcome the constraints and the challenges they face and affect their role in society.
How does BWA empower women?
BWA strives to empower women to play a positive and active role in their community, as we believe that women have the potentials and capabilities to enable them to play a key role in community development, especially in view of the challenges and constraints the region is witnessing, which women and children are the first to be affected.
Examples of BWA projects supporting women are:
- “Women: A New Paradigm” which shed light on controversial topics that had direct negative impact on women, to bring up innovative concepts and solutions that promotes a new culture perspective to women and family issues. Some of these are, guardianship, early marriage, women testimony, polygamy , alimony ,custody, divorce..etc.
- “Women Embracing Peace”, aims to disseminate the “culture of peace”and “inner peace”; and empowering women’s capacity building and knowledge management to take their role as promoters in peace building and keeping, with special attention on Security Council Resolution 1325.
- There are specialized workshops such as gender equality and gender-mainstreaming, ethical leadership, women and climate change, and else.
What has been BWA’s major achievements since its inception?
One of the main achievements was attaining the consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations in 2007 to be the first and the only Bahraini NGO enjoying this excellence.
Another excellence feature is accrediting BWA Environmental Citizenship program the “Observer” status to United Nations Environment program (UNEP) in 2007.
Besides other achievements, BWA received various awards which reflect its success, these are some:
1- Corporate Social Responsibility- Leadership Award, February 2012.
2- Arabian Award for Social Responsibility for civil society institutions, 2011
3- UNICEF Regional Media Award on child rights, 2010
4- The “European Commission’s annual award (Chaillot Prize)” for “be Free” program, 2009.
5- The World Youth Award “Youth for Development” September 2005.
6- The “ Human” award from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Humanitarian Funds (OICHF), 2015.
What kind of support do you want from the Government and the people of Bahrain at large?
We as other NGOs in Bahrain face similar challenges like funding and restrictions of NGO’s laws which hinder NGOs from being more active and exercise freedom in undertaking projects and networking internationally. There needs to be a relook at work in the field of civil society welfare. The people who work in this field require more understanding and appreciation from the Government as well as society for the voluntary work they put in. We need to create an atmosphere of mutual support and cooperation amongst different NGOs and welfare organizations. We need to work in cooperation and not competition with each other towards the common goal of serving humanity.
What is your message to every Bahraini woman?
You have immense capabilities and strength to accomplish great things. Start to believe in yourself and in the fact that you have been created to serve a special purpose, not just to live. The purpose is to give our best for people, not only in Bahrain but also in the world.
All women activists should leave aside petty differences and work unitedly to achieve the common goals like human development, women’s empowerment