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Bahrain women looking for more poll successes.

Manama: With parliamentary and municipal elections now clearly in sight, speculation in Bahrain is rife about the number of women who will be ready to confront challenges and present candidacies.

The constitution heralded wide changes in the country in 2002 and allowed women to both vote and run in parliamentary and municipal elections.

In 2002, none of the women who ran in the elections, the first to be held after a three-decade constitutional hiatus, were able to secure a seat despite heavy campaigning and full support from the official Supreme Council for Women that trained and motivated women candidates.

However, in 2006, Lateefa Al Gaood, a financial expert, made history when she became the first woman in Bahrain and the Arabian Gulf to be elected to the parliament. The lawmaker ran again in 2010 and was re-elected.

The independent MP has not yet announced whether she would run again in November 2014.

In the 2011 by-elections, Sawsan Taqawi, a sports specialist, made history when she became the first Shiite woman lawmaker to make it to the lower chamber of the bicameral parliament.

The upper chamber -- whose members are nominated by King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa -- has had women members from Shiite, Sunni, Christian and Jewish backgrounds. However, the lower chamber whose 40 members are elected in quadrennial general elections had never seen a Shiite woman until Taqawi won her seat.

Ebtisam Hijris, an engineer and Somayya Al Jowder, a doctor, completed the golden quartet that took the voices, and aspirations, of women into the lower chamber of the bicameral parliament. The upper chamber has 11 women who come various religious and social backgrounds.

At the municipal level, Fatima Salman led the breakthrough in the elections by winning a seat in Muharraq in 2010.

Bahrain, often cited as a pioneer in the region in championing women's rights, has been pressing for a greater political, economic and social empowerment of women across all areas.

This month, the three women cabinet ministers were among the top 16 on the Forbes list of the most powerful Arab women holding public positions.

Sameera Ebrahim Bin Rajab, the state minister for information affairs, Fatima Al Beloushi, the Minister of Social Development, and Shaikha Mai Bint Mohammad Al Khalifa, the Minister of Culture, were highlighted for their influence and power.

The ranking was the latest indication of the success of the national drive to empower women in the kingdom.

Bahiya Al Jishi, the Second Deputy Chairperson of the Shura Council, the appointed chamber of the bicameral parliament, was also on the special list.

Alongside the Supreme Council for Women, the official body actively promoting women's rights and seeking to elevate their status, several groups have been working to help ensure better deals for women in society.

The rising profile of Arab women was internationally acknowledged when Shaikha Haya Bint Rashid Al Khalifa was elected president of the 61st United Nations General Assembly in June 2006.

Bahrain has several women who hold high positions as ministers, ambassadors, diplomats, and judges.

"When we mention Bahrain, we are talking about a country that has, thanks to the reforms launched by His Majesty King Hamad, been witnessing high levels of women's empowerment," Maysa Al Thawadi, the acting director of Media Follow-up at the Information Affairs Authority (IAA), said at a GCC Forum last year.

Maysa added: "Bahraini women have been essential partners in drawing up and implementing plans and programmes for a comprehensive development of the country. They have had a pivotal role in the nation-building process, thanks to their full political and economic rights enshrined in the constitution and in laws that promote and defend equality and equal opportunities in line with international standards and criteria. We value highly the efforts of the Supreme Council for Women to elevate the status of Bahraini women and to empower them politically, economically and socially."

Bahraini women have had wonderful success stories that could inspire and guide generations, she added. "We have three women ministers, one undersecretary, 12 assistant undersecretaries, 17 judges, three ambassadors, and scores of teachers, bankers, journalists and doctors. Women make up more than 35 per cent of the country's employment force and more than 47 per cent of the public sector. Bahrain has 24 women's societies. Constitutionally, women have the right to run and vote in parliamentary and municipal elections and their latest achievement in the area is the 15 women who are members of parliament, in both chambers, representing 19 per cent of the total members."

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7BAHR
Date:Oct 5, 2014
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