Bahrain pursues reforms to empower women and attract foreign workers

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National Institution for Human Rights Vice-Chairperson Mr. Abdulla Alderazi in a past meeting with Bahrain Women Union

Middle East archipelago Bahrain remains a regional leader in human development indices. The percentage of those living below the poverty line by international standards is zero while basic education remains free and compulsory with primary school enrollment rate hitting the 100 per cent mark.

On the other hand, more women have enrolled in schools compared to men a development that has contributed to more women accessing jobs and bridging the gender wage gap positioning Bahrain as a model in the gulf region and the world.

Healthcare is free and universal with the public expenditure on health, education and social protection exceeding 35 per cent of the budget. Participation of the private sector in job creation has seen unemployment levels drop to 4 per cent at a time when the world is struggling with unprecedented job scarcity.

But behind the tremendous gains, is elaborate and sustained investment by a country with a population of 1.6 million people, in areas that guarantees rights of women, children, the disabled and foreign workers.

Advancing some of the most proactive policies in the Middle East geared towards guaranteeing the rights of women, children, the disabled and foreign workers, the archipelago that is home to some 1.6 million people has anchored its pursuit for human rights on the tenets of its economic blueprint Vision 2030 which aims to double the incomes of Bahrain households guided by the principles of sustainability, fairness and competitiveness.

The country’s independent oversight institutions including the General Secretariat of Complaints, The Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission (PDRC) and the Special Investigation have been strengthened to guarantee and foster respect for rights and freedoms of all groups while providing checks and balances.

The National Institute for Human Rights, NIHR, for example, a corporate entity that is financially and administratively independent, is aggressive in receiving, examining and researching complaints related to human rights in the country.

It carries out announced and unannounced field visits to monitor human rights situations in correction institutions, detention centers and any other public places where human rights violations are suspected to take place. It has received and acted on over 700 cases since it was established 8 years ago. It has conducted human rights trainings with media, youth, people with disabilities, judiciary and law enforcement officials with 55 per cent of all beneficiaries being women.

To allow citizens to anonymously submit suggestions or complaints on any aspect of human rights violations the government has also invested in an electronic suggestions and complaints system dubbed Tawasul. All reported cases are then picked and determined by a select committee that must deliver within set timelines.  

But beyond these institutions, the country has aggressively pursued legislation and projects that are meant to safeguard its citizen’s civil liberties.

Betting on foreign workforce, a key asset for the archipelago, Bahrain has invested in initiatives that guarantee their rights while creating a conducive working environment for them.

Its flagship project, The Flexible Work Permit, a one-of-a-kind in the Middle East, grants these set of workers the right to work in numerous non-professional jobs, both full-time and part-time, and with one or more employer.

The workers also benefit from healthcare provided by government centers and are allowed to leave Bahrain and return on a regular basis during the period of validity of the work visa.

The initiative that has rubberstamped the government’s commitment to protect workers’ rights in line with national laws and legislation has been hailed by the United Nations as a model in international labour market best practices.

This has seen Bahrain voted the second best place in the world for expatriate careers behind Germany by HSBC Expat, the offshore banking arm of HSBC Group.

The study released earlier this year relied on the views of over 22,000 global professionals and was based on such parameters as job security, employee benefits, work-life balance and career progression among others. 

The country, which was the only one in the Middle East and North Africa, MENA, region in the top three positions had moved ten slots since last year in what points to government’s increased focus on improving the working conditions of its workers irrespective of their nationality.

Since ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2002, Bahrain has stepped up efforts to protect women from harassment while ensuring they enjoy equal education and job opportunities as their male counterparts.

The family Law enacted in 2017 has offered the greatest haven for victims of domestic violence by giving them easier and faster access to justice regardless of their religion or background. The legislation has led to the establishment of family courts to resolve family disputes and a specialized family and child prosecution office headed by a woman with the rank of a judge in the Supreme Court of Appeal.

This office provides mechanisms that protect women from all forms of violence while preventing further violence, by providing psychological, social, and legal support to the victims even as it prosecutes perpetrators.

Appreciating the role of women in nation building, Bahrain has introduced the National Strategy for the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence and the National Plan for the Advancement of Bahraini Women which have also been pivotal in addressing violence against women while providing them with requisite training to run businesses.

The government has also rolled out mandatory training to members of the judiciary, executive departments, and civil society organizations involved in dealing with violence against women or in supporting female victims.

To safeguard the rights of children that the country places high premium on, it has introduced legislations and policies hinged on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which it is a signatory to.

The National Committee for Childhood has been chaperoning the mandate of ensuring safe environment for all Bahrain children from registration at birth, access to basic, medical and education services.

The Child Protection Centre that has been in existence for over ten years protects children from all forms of violence and provides affected ones with counselling, legal services and rehabilitation.

The government has also prioritized the dignity and rights of people with disabilities by heavily investing in infrastructure, legislation and incentives for them and their dependents.

Over 10,000 disabled people currently have access to financial benefits that ease their burden and that of their dependents. The government has also introduced specialized comprehensive disability complexes and care centers for people with autism and cerebral palsy. The centers provide learning, training and skills development programs to empower them to integrate into the labour market.

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