Interview with a human rights activist, Bahrain: “I fear a civil war”

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The following interview was conducted with a woman human rights activist in Manama, Bahrain who wished to remain anonymous.

In what ways are women participating in the protests in Bahrain?

There are two demonstrations currently taking place in Manama, one is taking place in ’Luāluā Square’ and is composed of a majority of Shi’a, and the other is principally composed of Sunni, who have their own demands. Women are taking part in both protests.

But the real question is what role do women have there?

In Luāluā Square, for example, there are thousands of women participating in the demonstrations but they are kept aside. When they arrive at the square, they are asked to go to a corner where women are separated from the men or at the back of the demonstration. This has been the practice in any demonstration in Bahrain since 2001. That is why I personally do not participate in the demonstrations. I don’t believe that women should be put aside.

Among the people on the square, there is no leadership of the youth, leadership is being taken by the religious leaders.

Some women have been injured by tear gas, although not by bullets. As far as I know, there are no women among those taken to hospital and women have not been arrested.

What do you think of the media’s representation of women in the movement?

The media has shown images of women during the demonstrations or sitting down in the square. But nobody talks about women as women. Those who are interviewed about the protests on satellite television channels like Al Jazeera are virtually all men. Women are not considered to play an important role there, and they are certainly not the driving force behind the movement.

Are there any demands relating to women’s rights during the protests?

The political and social demands of the demonstrators do not include women’s rights. The question of women is not present. Nobody, not even the women, demand equality or respect for their civil rights!

It’s important to remember that a few years ago when a women’s movement in Bahrain demanded the enactment of a family law [aiming to protect women’s rights as called for by international conventions], there was another demonstration against it, in which thousands of women participated, opposing the law. Now, at the Luāluā square where protesters have been gathering, and in the demonstrations, the majority are those same women who opposed the family law.

The Bahrain Women’s Union has made some demands, for example that there should be women present at any negotiations between the government and the people. They are saying that any reform should make women and their needs a priority.

What are your views on the ongoing events elsewhere in the region? What do you think are the potential implications for women’s rights?

Even in Egypt and Tunisia women’s needs and demands were not a priority during the demonstrations, but the difference is that Tunisia and Egypt have strong women’s movements which can push for women’s rights. In the transitions women must have a role. Women’s needs and equality should be priorities for any government, any revolutionary government in this region.

Here in Bahrain, the movement for women’s rights, especially in terms of calling for equality, is still very weak. In Bahrain the revolution is different from Egypt and Tunisia because there everybody revolted together. In Bahrain, unfortunately, society is split, one part is calling for deep reforms, and the other, although calling for political changes, do not want the political regime and the government to end. I am afraid there may be a civil war. I hope that we do not reach that but the situation here in Bahrain is very serious and the division between the Sunni and Shi’a is becoming increasingly severe.

Interview conducted by Shawna Carroll - FIDH

Return to the dossier: Revolutions in the Arab World: what is at stake for women’s rights?

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