Bahraini women eerily silent about by-elections plans

August 6, 2011

Bahrain’s potential women candidates in next month’s parliamentary by-elections have remained eerily silent about their plans.

“I have the intention to run, but it is still too soon to make a formal announcement,” Zahra Al Haram, a candidate in the October 2010 elections, said. “I do stress that I stand ready to serve my country even though I did not win in the previous elections,” she said. Zahra is, thus far, the only woman to express her intent to run.

Overwhelming failure to make progress in a society largely biased against women holding seats in the lower chamber of the bicameral parliament seemed to be the main reason for Bahraini women not to announce their candidacies.

However, activists fear that the lack of enthusiasm among women could reinforce a tendency to shun political involvement amid formidable challenges.

The number of women candidates dramatically fell from 15 in the 2006 parliamentary elections to nine last year. Scores achieved by women candidates in both 2006 and 2010 have slightly improved despite better preparations, more visibility and higher profiles.

Mariam Al Ruwaie, a well-known women’s rights activist, achieved 13.7 per cent of the votes in her constituency in 2006 and was able only to reach 14.8 per cent in October, well beyond Jasem Al Saeedi who carried the seat with 62.7 per cent.

Hoda Al Mutawa, a media expert, improved her lot from 1.5 per cent in 2006 to 2.55 per cent in 2010.

Bahrain will elect 18 new lawmakers on September 24 to replace the former MPs from Al Wefaq Islamic Society who resigned in February to protest against the way the authorities dealt with demonstrators at the epicentre of protests.

The mass resignations were initially rejected by the other 22 MPs in the 40-member lower chamber, but were eventually accepted under tremendous street pressure in an increasingly socially divided country.

Al Wefaq has not yet announced whether it would field candidates in the by-elections.

Liberal societies said that they would announce their decision later this month amid expectations that they would field women candidates in case they take part.

The Islamic Menbar, the offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, said that it was not planning to field any candidates and that it was focusing on improving its status.

The society suffered a humiliating defeat in the October elections that dramatically reduced its power in the lower chamber.



About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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