MANAMA // Mixed assessments about the extent of discrimination and violence against women in Bahrain were offered yesterday as the country marked the 10th anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
"I'm optimistic about the prospects of addressing this issue across the Gulf states," Dr Banna Bazaboun, the head of the Manama-based Batelco Care Centre for Family Violence Cases (BCCFVC) said following a graduation ceremony for a new police officers who had been trained with the United Nations' help to deal with such cases. "The efforts are no longer limited to the civil society, but they have expanded to encompass the government and official levels who are seeking to tackle this issue by improving their policing and court systems," Dr Bazaboun said.
She added that across the Gulf serious efforts were being made to combat violence against women by taking preventive steps and raising awareness. She mentioned Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar as places where significant progress has been made. Her optimism was not shared by the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), which released its annual report yesterday, painting a much less hopeful picture of the situation in the country because of unfulfilled legislative commitments and continued reports of human trafficking.
The report criticised the government for not fulfilling its international commitments to treaties protecting women's rights that it had ratified and for not allowing the human rights groups and civic organisations to play a bigger rule in drafting legislations and recommendations addressing women's rights. A study carried out by the Bahraini Supreme Council for Women (SCW) in 2006 found that violence against women was carried out mainly by their husbands (89.8 per cent), followed by their brothers (18.4 per cent fathers (16.2 per cent), strangers (6.8 per cent). Other relatives were responsible for the remaining violence perpetrated against Bahraini women, according to the study.
Women's rights in the region have received renewed attention during the past three years, after several Gulf and Middle East countries - including Bahrain - were identified by the US state department's annual human trafficking report as states that tolerate the practice. The Bahraini government had rejected the claims, but has since embarked on legislative reforms, carried out law enforcement operations and taken part in joint civic and international efforts to address the issue of women's rights.
The BHRS report welcomed the adoption of an anti-human trafficking law in Bahrain last year, but expressed reservations over the fact that the law did not call for compensation for the victims. It also said that trafficking in people was still taking place and that most of the victims were women from Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and some Arab countries that were either contracted or misled into working in nightclubs and bars.
The BCCFVC, which opened in 2007, claims to be the first of its kind, a specialised centre in the Arab world to offer preventive and therapy services for victims of family violence. According to the centre's figures, it has dealt with 6,016 cases in the past two years. Dr Bazaboun said 10,045 people had so far benefited from the centre's direct awareness seminars and services since they began operating at the centre, while it continues to carry out awareness campaigns in the media alongside its specialised training.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, on Tuesday pushed the UN drive to combat violence against women even further by introducing a new initiative. "Today I launched a Network of Men Leaders who will support the UNiTE [to End Violence Against Women] campaign and act as role models for men and boys everywhere. Members of the Network will work to raise public awareness, advocate for adequate laws, and meet with young men and boys," Mr Ban said in New York.
He said that up to 70 per cent of women, at some point in their lifetime, experienced physical or sexual violence by men. Most suffered at the hands of their husbands, partners or someone they know. "This means men have a crucial role to play in ending such violence as fathers, friends, decision makers, and community and opinion leaders," he said. Dr Bazaboun, who has carried out specialised training for police officers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, as well as in Bahrain, also emphasised the importance of men participating in the training and awareness seminars, as they represented the other part of the equation in the cycle of violence.
"It is important to have men play a role in combating violence against women. Three quarters of our board is made up of men at the BCCFVC, and at the centre we train policemen and policewomen side by side because they whole society should be involved in this effort," she said. firstname.lastname@example.org