Women in Bahrain: Living and Working in this Part of the Middle East

BAHRAIN - It has always been believed that Bahrain is different from its other Gulf counterparts. It is true especially when it comes to women and their participation towards the economic growth of the country. According to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Bahrain is counted amongst the fastest growing economies of the Middle East. This is due to the country’s emphasis on offering more opportunities for education and providing more rights to women.

The best example to support this statement is the Bahrain Economic Development Board that was established in the year 2000. Since its inception, the board has made significant strides in building capabilities of women including Bahrain’s increased investment in education, skills as well as labor market development that was introduced with an aim to increase the participation of the readily available domestic labor. Thus, the contribution of women to Bahrain’s economy can best be explained by the fact that 15% of Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry membership is represented by business women. Moreover, out of total Bahrainis employed with various financial institutions, 37% are women.

Outline of the Bahraini Society

Bahrain takes pride in being a progressive and open society of refined people who give due importance to education and employment for playing a significant role in the personal development of its people. The island kingdom has been considered a leader in the entire Gulf region in the education sector for being the first to form a public education system in 1919. Education is mandatory for children between the age group of 6 to 14 years. To further promote education, the Ministry of Education encourages improvements in the education system from time to time and offers free textbooks to the Bahraini citizens in the public schools.

The island country of Bahrain can be best explained as a satisfactory blend of modern infrastructure and typical Gulf nation. Even though Islam is the widely followed religion in the country, people show respect towards different religions also. The country expects the women to wear traditional clothes such as ‘hijab’ but is still very liberal as compared to other Gulf nations.

The Role of Women in the Bahraini Economy

Here are some interesting facts concerning the role women play in the development of the country’s economy:

  • According to the Economic Development Board, the contribution of women in the Bahraini economy is expected to increase by 5% annually until 2020. This means that by 2020, the percentage of women’s contribution to Bahrain’s GDP will comprise almost 45.6%.
  • It was also observed that the number of Bahraini women employed in the private sector in the year 2010 had gone up to more than 25,000 women as compared to what it was in the year 2002. The percentage increase is 73.5% in this particular area.
  • The increase in the women’s contribution in the private sector was much higher than their contribution in the public sector which was 45% in the same year.

Things are looking good in terms of wages for Bahraini women. The average wages increased to BD 457 in 2011 from BD 317 in 2006. They still have a long way to go as the difference between the average wages of men and women in the private sector was 30%. The gap must have improved slightly in 2016.

By the contrary, women’s wages are 10% more than the wages given to men in the public sector. The figures also suggest a positive increase in the number of women going in for academic certification after high school which is 17.1%. The percentage of men going in for higher education was 14.4%.

Unemployment rates among women also dropped drastically from 12% in 2002 to 3% in 2012.  If we talk about the share of Bahraini women employed in the financial sector, the same increased to 38.2% in 2016 from 37.4% in 2015. The total Bahraini workforce employed in the financial sector constitutes 70%.

These figures suggest a rise in the employment opportunities in Bahrain for women and will continue to rise even beyond the country’s vision towards 2020. The strides that the country has been making in the employment sector are instilling a feeling of immense confidence among the people, especially women and they are all hopeful of a better future.