By REBECCA TORR
BAHRAIN could be forced to pass a family law and other new regulations if the country lifts reservations it has to a UN convention on discrimination against women, say campaigners.
Bahrain joined the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2002, but submitted several reservations due to conflict with Sharia law, traditions and Islamic principles.
Since then women’s activists and human rights groups have been campaigning for Bahrain to lift these reservations, saying women were still getting
a raw deal.
“The implementation of CEDAW in Bahrain is not at the level it should be,” Awal Women’s Society and Bahrain Human Rights Society member and former president Dr Sabika Al Najjar told the GDN.
“If CEDAW is implemented in the correct way it means the state should review all the laws and regulations regarding women’s rights to see which points are discriminatory and then they should implement new regulations for women.
“It should reform justice in education, health, at work and in issuing the family law.
“It should also make sure people and society are aware and convinced of the treaties and any social discrimination should be removed.
“I believe any development of women and any change in their status will develop the whole of the society because women are vital – they are the centre of the family.”
Bahrain has five reservations on the optional protocol of the CEDAW, which refer to articles two, nine, 15, 16 and 29.
l Article two, paragraph two, states that a country should condemn all types of discrimination against women
l Article nine, paragraph two, states that women should enjoy the same rights as men in terms of giving citizenship to their children
l Article 15, paragraph four, states that women should be given the same rights as men in choosing their homes
l Article 16 states the need to provide equal marital rights for females and males, particularly in marriage contracts, raising children and custody
l Article 29, paragraph one, relates to disputes between two state parties.
Lifting these reservations could mean Bahrain would have to finally introduce a family law, which would stipulate in writing how family issues such as divorces and child custody cases should be resolved.
Such cases are currently handled by the Sharia Court, in which Sharia judges reach decisions based on their own interpretation of Islam – with critics saying they often favour men over women.
A draft family law was supposed to be drawn up by parliament in 2006, but it never saw light after Islamic clergymen voiced their objections.
Dr Al Najjar said Bahrain Human Rights Society was part of an Arab coalition of Equality Without Reservation, which aimed to push governments to accept the CEDAW protocol and lift all reservations.
The coalition is based in Morocco and the Bahrain Human Rights Society is involved in co-ordinating with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the Gulf and Yemen to eliminate discrimination against women.
“All of CEDAW’s optional protocol should be implemented,” said Dr Al Najjar, who is also Awal Women’s Society information technology committee head.
“I hope Arab states will accept it and that NGOs will understand and use it to pressure the government.”
The GDN reported earlier this month that Bahrain failed to make it onto an international UN body that monitors women’s rights around the globe. Eleven countries including Afghanistan beat Bahrain to a seat on the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
A country report on Bahrain’s implementation of CEDAW will be presented to the committee in October.
Women’s groups and human rights societies will also submit shadow reports.