The Supreme Council for Women (SCW) celebrates on August 22 two decades of achievements and accomplishments for and by Bahraini women based on assuming their national responsibilities and duties with efficiency and competence.
The outcome confirms the insightful and broad vision of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the leader of the nation’s comprehensive development and the lead supporter of women’s progress in Bahrain.
The First Lady of Bahrain, HRH Princess Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, Wife of HM the King, has had a great role in leading women’s progress and consolidating the pillars of the Supreme Council for Women with its extended orientations to include all aspects of Bahraini women’s life through its multiple specializations and numerous tasks.
The Council has become the national reference to all official entities with regard to women’s matters and issues and the body responsible for setting the general policy to follow up on the progress of Bahraini women.
Two decades of accomplishments and successes testify to the outstanding role of the Council.
Strategic thinking, competitiveness and justice, impact and sustainability
The Council operates under an institutional methodology based on effective community partnership with all institutions concerned with women. The foundation stages began with monitoring women’s needs and exploring reality by adopting many scientific tools and practical mechanisms.
They include consultative meetings, periodic work meetings, field visits, studies and research that contributed to determining work priorities and declaring the “National Plan for the Strategy for the Advancement of Bahraini Women,” fully supported by HM the King, as the first qualitative plan on women to be adopted by the Head of State in the Arab world.
The Council has worked on concretizing the principles in the National Action Charter and the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain with regard to women and setting appropriate mechanisms by activating partnerships with government agencies, official institutions, the private sector and civil society.
It also endeavored to achieve full integration of the National Plan into the Government Action Plan by as a document bearing the status of “National Ownership” that relies on methodologies for strategic thinking to sustain women’s progress by measuring the impact achieved as a final outcome on national development through women’s participation in their operations, with a statement on the advantages of this partnership that must be maximized.
The plan aims to achieve the necessary national and international harmonization by linking its indicators to the Bahrain Economic Vision 2030 and the 2030 sustainable development goals.
The National Plan for the Advancement of Bahraini Women seeks to ensure the achievement of family stability and to enable it to meet the requirements to contribute to competitiveness in development, based on the principle of equal opportunities, and the integration of women’s needs into development, in order to achieve opportunities for them to excel and improve their choices for the quality of their lives and their lifelong learning, through integration with partners and allies in institutional work, so that Bahrain becomes a regional center specialized in women’s issues.
Family stability, protection, reconciliation and social protection.
The first areas of the National Plan highlight the important priority to achieve comprehensive family stability by providing all options to secure the economic and social needs of women and enhance their health and psychological safety.
The Council, in cooperation with all partners and allies, sought to strengthen the legislative and legal system that guarantees stability, and to develop counseling and family reconciliation services and support infrastructure to provide psychological and social protection in a manner that preserves the privacy of women and children within the framework of codifying family laws, and developing decisions and executive regulations in this regard, alongside a commitment to implement continuous awareness programs in the legal and family culture.
The issuance of the royal order to allocate an independent building for the Sharia Courts “Family Courts”, and the issuance of the Family Law and its executive decisions are among the most important achievements of the Kingdom of Bahrain in this regard, in addition to developing the Alimony Fund, vision, guidance and family awareness through activating the role of the Family Reconciliation Office with the obligation to refer family cases to it, and the opening of branches of family reconciliation offices in social centers.
Other achievements include the continuous development of the counseling system provided by the Women’s Support Center of the Supreme Council for Women to meet the needs of Bahraini women and their families, which contributed to the adoption of means of reconciliation and amicable settlement between the spouses and avoiding judicial litigation.
Regarding prevention and social protection, the Supreme Council for Women launched the “National Strategy for the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence” as a national preventive strategy to follow up on the implementation of the Law on Protection from Domestic Violence, as it included qualitative themes, initiatives and organizational frameworks to activate proactive prevention, awareness and services available for protection from violence.
It also featured the follow-up of the concerned authorities to play their role and preserve the privacy of Bahraini society, most notably the “Unified Framework for Family Counseling and Awareness Services”, the creation of family protection offices in all police directorates across all governorates, and the activation of awareness and education programs, in addition to adopting a unified national database and statistics on domestic violence, “Takatuf”.
These efforts have contributed to achieving a concrete impact on the level of family stability and statistics indicate an increase in the number of cases pending before Sharia Courts by 17% in 2012-2019, and a decrease in the average time to settle cases in Sharia Courts to less than 2.6 months for 87% of the cases in 2020. The percentage of settling cases in Sharia courts increased from 64% during 2012-2013 to 100% in 2020, while in terms of benefiting from family reconciliation services, the percentage of beneficiaries increased by 44% during 2016-2020.
Women’s participation in the national economy and boosting the GDP
Bahraini women have a remarkable presence and active participation in the national economy, as they occupy an influential percentage in the composition of the national workforce, which has contributed to increasing the volume of women’s participation in the labor market.
The percentage of women among Bahrainis in the government sector has increased by 17% to reach about 55%, and in the private sector by 11% to reach about 35% during 2001-2020.
The Supreme Council for Women, in cooperation with partners in implementing the National Plan, has a continuous role in enhancing such a presence, by building the necessary partnerships to complete the economic work system to provide all the services required by economic participation initiatives.
This role included issuing and developing the legal system supporting women, launching initiatives and encouragement projects and stimulating entry into the labor market by providing economic environments that provide all administrative, advisory, training and technical services, and presenting appropriate options for soft financing services that women need to enter the field of work or entrepreneurship.
The percentage of female business owners shot up from 15% in 2001 to 47% in 2020, an increase of 32%, which indicates the ease of procedures for engaging in entrepreneurship and the availability of numerous programs and activities for the growth and progression of entrepreneurs. The percentage of their participation in entrepreneurship increased by 6% to reach about 43% of the total number of Bahrainis during 2010-2020, while the number of owners of virtual records increased by 12% in 2016-2020 to reach 50%.
The Bahraini Women’s Development Center “Riyadat” is a commercial center that provides a host of services, administrative services, training and quality consultancy. It is a forum for attracting innovative projects and creative ideas for female entrepreneurs and it has contributed to opening promising prospects for female entrepreneurs and expanding their projects in the local and international markets.
At the “Riyadat” center, 111 women benefited in 2013-2021, and the rate of the success of the hosted projects and the transition to the labor market reached 75%.
In addition, other national initiatives were launched to support women-owned enterprises towards exporting, enhance their participation in the global economy, and boost opportunities to support their access to the global market thanks to permanent platforms for displaying innovative products. Bahraini businesswomen constituted 39% of the beneficiaries of the “Export Bahrain” program, and their products and services reached 51 countries around the world.
The number of women beneficiaries of the opportunity to participate in the “Qaisariya Market” at the new Bahrain International Airport was 14 in 2021.
The soft financing services and financial portfolios suggested by the Council have contributed to the support and expansion of Bahraini women’s projects, as the number of beneficiaries from the portfolio of Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa to support women’s commercial activity (to support micro-enterprises) reached nearly 6,000 in 2010-2021. The number of women beneficiaries of the “Riyadat” portfolio for financing women’s commercial activity (to support small and medium enterprises) reached approximately 270 in 2016-2021.
Equal opportunities and gender balance
In implementation of the terms of reference of the Supreme Council for Women to empower women to play their role in public life and integrate their efforts into comprehensive development programs, the Council has taken upon itself the concretization of constitutional texts into reality, especially since Article V, paragraph (b) that states “The state guarantees reconciliation of women’s duties towards the family and their work in society, and their equality with men in the political, social, cultural and economic spheres without prejudice to the provisions of Islamic Sharia.
Competitiveness of Bahraini women in political life and public affairs
The Political Empowerment Program is one of the most important programs adopted by the Council to support women’s participation in public affairs since the beginning of its establishment, with the aim of preparing competent candidates capable of competing in the parliamentary and municipal elections, and reaching decision-making positions through capacity building and electoral skills development.
The Council also supported the civil society institutions (political, professional, women’s, youth and cultural clubs) to play their awareness and training role, and as effective pressure groups that support the presence of women’s participation in political life and public affairs. The outcomes of implementing the Political Empowerment Program show positive results.
In 2002, eight women participated in the parliamentary elections, facing 183 men, but they were not lucky to win any seat, despite the fact that women constituted 47.7% of the voting bloc. The percentage at that time was one of the highest in the Arab region. The percentage of women’s participation in the parliamentary elections in 2018 increased to 14%, with the participation of 40 women and 252 men after six women won, bringing the percentage of women’s representation in the Council of Representatives to 15%.
In the municipal elections in 2002, the percentage of women candidates was 10.4%, compared to 89.6% for men, with 33 women running against 284 men. The women did not carry any seat. In 2000, women’s representation in the Shura Council increased from four seats (10% of the total members of the Council) to nice seats in 2018 (23% of the total members), an increase of 8%.
Positive outcomes of the empowerment program showed an increase in the percentage of women in leadership and advanced positions in various sectors from 18% to 25% in 2012-2020. In particular, the percentage of women in executive positions in the government sector increased from 13% to 46% in 2001-2020, and the percentage of female employees in specialized jobs in the government sector increased from 55% to 62% in 2009-2020.
The percentage of Bahraini women working in administrative and supervisory positions in the private sector increased from 23% to 34% in 2007-2020.
Measuring Impact… Women’s Advancement Award
One of the most important initiatives in support of women’s competitiveness is the launch of Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa Award for Bahraini Women Advancement.
The award achieved a significant impact in gender balance and integrating women’s needs, which resulted in several distinct practices for governmental, private and civil institutions in adopting methodologies for integrating women’s needs in development. The rate of participation of public sector institutions increased by 120% while the rate of participation of institutions in the private sector shot up by 300%.
There was also a remarkable turnout for participation in the award in the categories created in the last edition, with 51 civil institutions and 73 participants in the individual category, and a total of 205 participations within its four categories.
There was also an increase in the number of qualitative policies and practices directed towards boosting family stability and linking it to increasing efficiency and productivity in the work environment, dealing in an orderly manner with the aspect of gender balance within the workforce and integrating women’s needs in the services of these institutions.
They include the application by 44% of the private sector institutions participating in the award (whose number of employees exceeds 100 employees) of the policies and regulations of flexible and remote work for employees of “both sexes”. Around 89% of the private sector institutions participating in the award included all health and treatment services for the employees and their spouses in health insurance programs they provided.
The National Gender Balance Model
The Council followed up the application of policies, the consolidation of practices and options and provision of equal opportunities to directly achieve equality in some developmental matters and gender balance in national development and social affairs, through the activation of initiatives and support services.
The National Gender Balance Model is one of the pioneering initiatives in this regard, and since the issuance of the Royal Decree in 2011, the establishment of the National Committee to follow up the implementation of the national model for the integration of women’s needs, work began to spread a culture of inclusion and the adoption of scientific methodologies that include policies and procedures for the applications of equal opportunities and the adoption of budgets that respond to the needs of women, and thus gradually achieve the real integration of women’s needs in the Government Action Plan.
The Kingdom of Bahrain has a distinguished experience in the implementation of equal opportunities policies, with the issuance of several supporting decisions, such as the decision of the Civil Service Council in 2014, obligating the establishment of equal opportunity committees in ministries and official institutions and the issuance of circulars and directives necessary to activate their functions.
There are also the annual circulars of the Ministry of Finance and National Economy regarding the appropriations, regulations, and instructions for implementing the state’s general budget in terms of implementing budgets that respond to women’s needs.
The number of equal opportunity committees reached 50 in 2021, and the private sector and civil society institutions voluntarily adopted methodologies for gender balance and integrating women’s needs. The number of these committees in the private sector increased from two in 2014 to 20 in 2021 The number of committees for integrating women’s needs into civil society institutions increased to reach 17 in 2021.
The National Gender Balance Report a tool for assessment and measurement
A national report on gender balance is issued by the Kingdom of Bahrain. It is prepared and published every two years in partnership between the Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Supreme Council for Women.
The report is one of the most prominent tools of governance of equal opportunities applications and follow-up to assess the achievement of gender balance policies and programs at the national level. The report monitors a set of indicators that measure Bahraini women’s participation and competitiveness in public sector institutions and includes a set of qualitative indicators for women in the areas of economy, decision-making, health, civil society and education.
In implementation of the impact measurement methodology adopted by the Council to evaluate and follow up on the programs and initiatives of the National Plan, the National Observatory for Gender Balance was launched to establish and activate a unified data and statistical system to enhance the knowledge economy, learning and publishing resources, and to measure local, regional and international competitiveness rates.
The aim is to help bridge the gaps and invest in partnerships and alliances to sustain the progress of Bahraini women and achieve maximum effectiveness of the policies and programs. Through the observatory, indicators are monitored closely in all development fields, classified by sex, in addition to electronic feeding to all parties, so that this knowledge platform is the official source for all indicators related to women.
The National Plan in this field focuses on lifelong learning opportunities for women, by working on creating practices that guarantee self and professional development and raise women’s ability to continue education and learning at all stages of life to build generations capable of innovation and industry, and to develop women’s self-knowledge in a manner that enhances their ability to expand their options, apply best practices, and enhance their competitiveness in the transfer and management of knowledge and the value-added industry, thus sustaining women’s participation in economic and social development programs through the establishment of knowledge transfer and management mechanisms.
The Council, in cooperation with its partners, is implementing educational initiatives and programs that aim to develop the institutional efficiency of technical and vocational schools using new specializations, enhance students’ professional capabilities, and follow up on the implementation and development of the school program in the preparatory stage in public and private schools to enhance awareness about the concepts supporting the role of women.
In addition, the national guidance programs for Bahraini women aim to support financial balance initiatives and to encourage Bahraini women to innovate, excel, engage in entrepreneurship and in the private sector effectively and efficiently, and develop the education system by introducing new methods and transforming the online education process in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
National Initiative for Gender Balance in Future Sciences
The Supreme Council for Women also launched the “National Gender Balance in Future Sciences Initiative as an organizational tool to accelerate the achievement of gender balance in the fields of future sciences through participatory efforts between public institutions and various relevant sectors and the participation of citizens in developing proposals for their implementation. The remarkable interest in developing skills in future sciences by partners contributed to achieving important results.
They included the performance of eighth-grade students in mathematics and science that exceeded the global average. The eighth-grade students in science scored 512, exceeding the global average of female students’ performance in science of 459. The eighth-grade students in Mathematics achieved 492, exceeding the global average of female students’ performance in Mathematics of 491 (TIMSS 2019 report).
The percentage of women benefiting from scholarships in the post-secondary education stage increased to 68% in 2020, and the percentage of female graduates of higher education institutions increased to 62% in 2020, an increase of 4% in 2012-2020.
Women’s quality of life and the promotion of best health practices
Within “quality of life”, the Supreme Council for Women is particularly keen to improve all aspects of the living style of women and their families in the health, psychological, social and environmental fields, which will have a positive impact on the family, ensure safe living, and promote styles of best practices through the availability of appropriate options and enabling women to enjoy decent and safe lives at all stages.
The national efforts to promote women’s health are in line with keeping pace with the progress achieved by the Kingdom of Bahrain in terms of health and medical services of the highest international standards for various components of the population, with a focus on health care services provided to women at various stages of their lives, such as blood testing, early detection of breast cancer, follow-up treatment of chronic diseases and related vaccinations.
Through all national efforts to sustain health initiatives and raise awareness of preventive health patterns and practices, the percentage of women who enjoy the basics and requirements of health and psychological safety has increased to 60% in 2019. The average Overall Quality of Life for women was 82% in 2018, according to the results of the 2018 National Health Survey.
In addition, the average life expectancy of women at birth increased from 76 years to 79 years during in 2001-2020, which indicates the development of health services in the Kingdom, the ease of access and the rise in the standard of living and health awareness of the community.
The effective contribution of the Supreme Council for Women to the national efforts to address the Covid-19 pandemic was another proof of the important role played by the Council in this regard.
The Council launched several initiatives to address the pandemic, including the “Remote Advisor” program to continue providing all its consultations, addressing women and meeting urgent needs in light of the pandemic. Under the umbrella of the “Stand together .. for the safety of Bahrain” campaign endeavored to support Bahraini women, especially the breadwinners of their families, including the families of medical and nursing staff and those working in the front lines.
A house of expertise and a regional center for women’s issues
In implementation of its mandate to represent Bahraini women in national, Arab and international forums and organizations concerned with women’s affairs, to enter into cooperation agreements and joint programs with them, and to follow up on the application of laws, regulations, decisions and international agreements related to women to ensure their implementation in a manner that secures non-discrimination against women, the Council worked to invest effective partnerships and alliances on the national level.
It also endeavored to ensure the advancement of national expertise and knowledge exchange to achieve competitiveness locally, regionally and internationally. It has contributed to building a national knowledge database that enhances the knowledge economy, diversifies gender balance policies and methodologies, and monitors and evaluates local and regional competitive rates for women.
In view of the remarkable efforts made by the Supreme Council for Women to follow up on the commitments of the Kingdom of Bahrain at the international level, the most important of which are the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action, and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, whose initiatives and indicators have been implicitly absorbed with the initiatives of Indicators of the National Plan for the Advancement of Bahraini Women, the Kingdom of Bahrain has achieved a success story for initiatives and projects to empower and advance women to bridge the gaps and achieve gender balance.
The success story has been lauded by many countries that expressed their desire to activate agreements and memoranda of cooperation to exchange expertise and successful experiences in the area of women’s advancement.
Today, the Kingdom of Bahrain is justifiably proud to be today an international center of expertise on women. It is one of the first countries that was able to transfer its national experience in the advancement of Bahraini women to the world through the adoption of the UN Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa Global Award for Women’s Empowerment launched in 2017. The second edition was launched in July 2021.
The award is a message from Bahrain to the world about the importance of the role of women in development. It provides opportunities for international appreciation of the achievements of institutions and individuals in achieving a sustainable impact in empowering women to perform their humanitarian and development roles. The award is a global tribute to the progress of the Kingdom of Bahrain in its national efforts to empower women and achieve gender balance.
Regarding the performance of the Kingdom of Bahrain in some international reports, Bahrain ranked 137th in the annual report on the gender gap issued by the World Economic Forum (Davos) in 2021, with the ratio of closing the gap stable at 63%.
The results of the same report also indicate that the percentage of closing the gap in the field of economic participation and opportunities has reached about 51.8%, which gave it the first place in the Gulf in this field. At the level of political participation, the percentage of closing the gap is about 7%, and in health 95.9%. In the field of education, the rate reached 98.5%, making Bahrain first in the world in bridging the gap in enrollment in secondary and higher education.
Among the positive results in the field of the House of Expertise, the National Report for Measuring Gender Balance in the Kingdom of Bahrain showed an increase in the gender balance index in the Kingdom of Bahrain from 0.65 in 2017-2018 to 0.69 in 2019-2020. The gender balance index in qualitative areas increased from 0.70 in 2017-2018 to 0.73) in 2019-2020, while institutional performance indicators increased from 0.59 in 2017-2018 to 0.65 in 2019-2020.
Such achievements constitute brief and prominent excerpts from the endeavors of the Supreme Council for Women over two decades.
Throughout the two decades of its existence, the Council has spectacularly risen to its responsibilities and goals. Yet, its successes have boosted its determination to do more for Bahraini women and for the nation.
On this auspicious occasion marking two decades since its establishment, the Council is looking forward to a renewed launch for the next stage, during which it will focus on global transformations and national priorities, to build on its qualitative experiences to consolidate its status as a towering edifice dedicated to empowering Bahraini women whose history and present testify that they are truly worthy and highly dependable partners in building the nation and shaping its revitalization based on equal opportunities for both men and women.