BAHRAIN’s business community has waded into a row sparked by an activist, who claimed Bahrain was among war-torn Arab countries suffering a rising number of disabilities from armed conflicts.
Arab Organisation for People with Disability general manager Jehda Abu Khaleel made the comment during an event in Lebanon.
The GDN reported yesterday that the Bahrain Free Labour Unions Federation (Al Hurr) had strongly criticised her statement and demanded an apology.
Now a Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) board member, Sonya Janahi, has also entered the fray.
Ms Janahi was present at the Arab Labour Union (ALO) event where the comments were made, but said she was denied a chance to refute them.
“I was the first person to raise my hand in objection to the statement by Ms Abu Khalil at the seminar, but I was not given a chance to speak,” Ms Janahi told the GDN.
“At the closing of the seminar Bahrain was allocated five minutes and to my surprise none of our views were taken seriously or acknowledged.
“Soon after the presentation I approached Ms Abu Khaleel in person and asked about the sources of her facts, but her answer shocked me – she said she had friends in Bahrain who ‘keep her posted’ on developments.
“I don’t have any comments to make on the ‘friends’ she was referring to, but I am surprised that an official could present a paper at a serious regional forum based on input from ‘friends’.”
Ms Abu Khaleel in a presentation claimed the percentage of injuries leading to disabilities was increasing in Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Iraq and Syria because of armed conflicts.
The BCCI has raised the issue officially with ALO chief Fayez Al Mutairi and Bahrain’s Labour and Social Development Minister Jameel Humaidan. “I immediately contacted BCCI chairman Sameer Nass from Beirut, who consulted the matter legally and a letter was sent to the ALO chief Mr Al Mutairi,” added Ms Janahi.
“We have demanded an explanation and asked for Bahrain’s name to be removed from the paper immediately.
“We have also communicated the matter to the Labour Minister and we hope to hear from the ALO soon. I am confident that it will be positive for us.”
She said in reality only two per cent of Bahrain’s population was disabled, adding the country was among the first to sign the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2011.
“A number of legislations exist in the country to ensure the rehabilitation of the disabled and to help them engage fully and effectively in the community on an equal footing with others,” said Ms Janahi.
“The current political situation in some Arab countries has not affected the strategies of Bahrain, its development plans for the society and its resources.
“According to official statistics (from 2015 to 2016), 1,223 students with disabilities were enrolled in public schools, which include those with autism, mental impairment, Down syndrome and students with hearing, visual and other physical disability.”
She also pointed to programmes for the disabled, including those provided by the Supreme Council for Women, and recruitment of disabled employees in the workforce.
“Bahrain cannot be placed on the list of Arab countries facing crises that limit these countries’ progress in development,” said Ms Janahi.