A DISPARITY in the law which denies nationality to children born to Bahraini women if their fathers are foreigners is hindering women empowerment in the country, according to prominent Bahraini women.
Calling for an equality in the nationality law for Bahraini women, they also highlighted the dependence of the family legal system on religious ideologies.
Speaking to the GDN on the eve of the International Women’s Day today they also called for laws to ensure “zero violence” against women in the country.
Children of Bahraini women are currently denied citizenship if their fathers are foreign, but children of Bahraini men are automatically granted a passport – even if their mothers are from overseas.
An amendment to the law which would grant equal citizenship rights is currently under review in parliament.
However, campaigners fear it could be shot down after the foreign affairs, defence and national security committee last July expressed concerns that it could encourage more Bahraini women to marry foreigners.
“We (Bahraini women) are already empowered, thanks to the leadership,” said Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) board member Deema Al Haddad.
“We need to help them (women) further by removing the gaps in the legislations – mainly the right to pass on the nationality to children.
“We are equal – men and women – as per the Constitution, so the right to pass on nationality should be equal too.
“Similarly, we have everything in place to ensure women empowerment such as gender equality, pay parity, etc, but we need to ensure the legislations that bind the dependence of women on men are also eased.
“Women need legal support especially on family-related matters like divorce; though it has got much better over the years in terms of time, it still has some limitations due to religious and legal reasons.
“This doesn’t properly back the empowerment and equality that we are talking about.
“I urge the Supreme Council for Women to address these issues.”
In October last year, the GDN launched a campaign calling for a change in the law so Bahraini women can pass on their nationality to their children.
This was backed by UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka who described the current legislation denying women that right as “discrimination”.
“I am proud to say that Bahraini women are indeed a privileged lot, when compared to many others who face suppression and oppression,” said Bahrain Women’s Union president Badriya Al Marzooq.
“But on this occasion, I would want to highlight two things which I believe is important for women in Bahrain to further empower and better ourselves.
“First, we need a more civilised nationality law.
“Secondly, we need a family law which is equal for all women and not restricted to one sect.
“We need these to help women live a life of dignity.”
Bahrain adopted the new unified Family Law in July giving Bahraini women more rights in divorce and custody battles.
The law which sets out procedures for the handling of domestic issues in both Sunni and Jaffari (Shi’ite) Sharia courts, including divorce, child custody, marriages and inheritance disputes, however, faces delays in implementation.
Activist and Dar Al Aman shelter for Women head Dr Huda Al Mahmood called for “zero violence” against women.
“There should be no abuse or violence against women and laws should be further strengthened to put an end to any kind of violence against women.
“This is important to make sure the gender equality that we talk about is implemented on the ground.
“Bahrain has the laws needed to protect women from abuse or violence but we need to implement them. We should aim at zero violence against women,” said Dr Al Mahmood, who is also a member of the Bahrain Sociologist Society and the Gulf Society for Sociologists.