Compared with most of its fellow GCC countries, Bahrain is quite liberal, with steady gains over the last few decades in the push for gender equality. In 2002, Bahrain granted women, along with men, the right to vote in and stand for elections. Although no woman was elected to parliament in those elections, it was seen as a step in the right direction, and six were appointed to the upper chamber, the Shura Council.
In 2004, Bahrain also appointed Dr Nada Haffadh, as Health Minister, the first female to hold such a high government position.
In 2006, when Bahrain was elected to chair the UN General Assembly, it appointed Shaikha Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa as chairwoman. This move, applauded the world over, showed the kingdom’s commitment to improving gender equality.
Although Bahrain ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2002, it added reservations. One of these was to Article 9, which is the right for women to transfer their citizenships to their children when they marry foreigners. This restriction institutionalised a form of discrimination, which was a step backwards for the kingdom. Bahrain’s constitution makes provisions for gender equality in Sections 1 and 5, so such laws are purely unconstitutional.
Although the above legal argument holds weight, it will hardly convince those responsible for the present situation. So, there is also the need for a non-legal case. A common reasoning for the status quo is allowing women to transfer the nationality will dilute Bahraini culture and identity. However, if this is to hold for women who marry foreigners, it should also hold for men who do the same. It doesn’t because of the subtle culture of discrimination against women here. This argument also fails because, for many of these children, the only country they have known is Bahrain. In essence, they are born and bred here and are quite conversant with the ways of the country. Since it is the only culture they know, they should have a right to the nationality.
Another benefit is that it encourages immigration, which, although having two sides to the coin, is on average quiet advantageous to a country. Granting this right to women encourages their foreign husbands to stay in Bahrain for a longer time.
How is immigration beneficial? Firstly, in addition to being workers, immigrants are also consumers, meaning that they spend the money they earn on goods and services. More the spending, more the profits for businesses to make. The positive ripple effects are quite beneficial to the economy as a whole. The increased profit leads to more revenue for the government and to the creation of more jobs for Bahrainis. In the end, immigrants boost the economy.
The US is the success it is today chiefly due to the work of immigrants. About 40 p[er cent of US Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Examples include Yahoo, Google, Goldman Sachs, Kraft Foods, Procter and Gamble and many others. Imagine the loss to America if these people weren’t encouraged to stay.
Allowing Bahraini women this right also prevents the creation of a permanent underclass. When children automatically become stateless at birth, they become second-class citizens. This also applies to their children, going down into infinity, who will be forced to a lower standard of living, meaning that employers can hire them at lower rates, and so they will out-compete Bahrainis for jobs.
This women’s right is already in practice in Arab countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, and Yemen. Granting it in Bahrain would signal that it seeks to end all forms of discrimination against women. Denying it is a clear injustice to children, who are made to pay for the perceived sins of their parents.
The journey towards gender equality is a slow and steady one. However, granting Bahraini mothers the right to transfer their citizenship is something that is long overdue, not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is to the benefit of all Bahrainis.