In the beginning of 2011 massive protests took place in Bahrain. Women and men participated for the first time in public protests without gender segregation. Women took the opportunity to not only demand for democratic reform but also to voice their demands on issues such as discrimination against women, women’s political participation and the personal status law. The protests were used to empower other women by raising their awareness about gender equality and women’s rights.
Bahrain was seen as one of the more progressive Gulf States. Women came a long way in their fight for freedom, justice and equality, but still face great barriers in public and private life. The Constitution provides equality between women and men in “political, social, cultural and economic spheres” with the connotation “without breaching provisions of Islamic canon law”. Family law is discriminative on grounds such as divorce, custody and nationality. On top of that it is only partly codified for Sunni law. For Shi’a, family law issues are decided by Shi’a religious courts based on their interpretation of sharia law, leaving women to the whims of the court. Domestic violence is not criminalized and due to high risk of reprisal and stigma, most women do not talk about it. Political participation of women is low. Women face stigma in the patriarchal society when running for office, politicians are reluctant to promote female candidates and there is religious opposition against women in politics.
In spite of it all, women continue to fight for gender equality and women’s rights. They are working on women’s rights violations documentation, support to victims of violence and lobby for political inclusion of women, amongst others. They continue to build a brighter future for themselves, their children and children’s children.