Bahraini Women Participate in Parliamentary Elections for First Time
Bahrainis are electing their Parliament today for the first time in almost 30 years. But this is set to be a landmark election not only for Bahrain, but the entire Gulf region, where women are denied suffrage. For the first time Bahrain’s history, women are being allowed to run for national office and vote in a parliamentary race. More than 30 women ran for seats in the civic election in May, but not a single woman won despite representing over 50% of voters. There are eight female candidates this time around, and women are hopeful that the king will select a few women for appointed seats in Parliament, the New York Times reports.
The election is one of several major reforms set by Bahraini king, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa-al Khalifa, who also allowed women to run and vote in civic elections held earlier this year, according to the Times. The Sunni Muslim king came to power three years ago and promised dramatic political changes, according to the BBC. Bahrain has been ruled by the Khalifa family for over 200 years and is the only Gulf country to allow women the option to vote and run for office. However, not everyone is happy with Bahrain’s recent reforms – the country’s largest Shiite Muslim groups are officially boycotting the election, according to the Times. The groups have labeled the new Parliament a sham since it will have no authority to legislate without the sanction of the other house of Parliament, which the king himself will appoint. The election is being closely monitored by Bahrain’s Gulf neighbors. The current elections are also very important to the US, which has naval bases stationed in the country. Bahrain has been an important ally in the past, but as possible military action against Iraq looms, strong relations between the US and Bahrain are seen as vital by the US government, according to the Times.
Being granted the right to vote is an important step for Bahraini women. Bahraini women state that their rights are constantly undermined by the country’s judicial process based on Islamic sharia law, the Associated Press reports. Earlier this month, a women’s rights rally protesting the country’s judicial system turned rowdy when they were faced with a counter-rally from Shiite Muslim groups who labeled the women’s demands “un-Islamic,” AP reports.
Media Resources: Associated Press 10/14/02; New York Times 10/24/02; BBC 10/24/02