x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Men on a mission to promote women

In a region where giving women equal rights is still viewed as a threat to the male-dominant society, a group of Bahraini men has gathered to help change that view.

MANAMA // In a region where giving women expanded and equal rights is still viewed as a threat to the male-dominant society, a group of Bahraini men has gathered to call for advancing women's rights in the hope of changing that view. Empowering women, according to the group of 13 men who have come together as part of a global UN effort to help bring a stop to violence against women, is the key to helping eliminate the violence women face on the domestic and social levels.

The newly established Network of Bahraini Men, which includes present and former cabinet ministers, members of parliament, businessmen, religious figures and media leaders, met for the first time at the UN House in Manama yesterday to put in place the framework to achieve the ambitious goal of ending violence against women. Sayed Aqa, the resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said the network, the first of its kind in the Gulf, is part of a broader multiyear "UNite to End Violence against Women" initiative.

The programme was introduced in February 2008 by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, to raise public awareness and increase political will and resources to prevent and respond to all forms of violence against women and girls around the world by the year 2015. "The UNDP is working in all 22 Arab countries to develop a comprehensive gender strategy. A number of countries like Bahrain, Morocco and Lebanon have already started working on that strategy while others are still working on it and will have it in place in the next few months," Mr Aqa said in an interview.

He said that at the heart of that gender strategy was female empowerment. "If you have female access to decision-making roles both in the public and private sectors, that will help address most of the issues," he said. "Based on our studies globally and in the region, women are not just suffering from violence but also from other forms of deprivation because of the imbalance of power." Nezar al Bahrana, the minister of state for foreign affairs, who is the founding member of the network, stressed that empowering men and women meant empowering society as a whole."Women contribute greatly to the development of Bahrain and by empowering women we empower Bahrain as a whole," he said in an interview.

Mr al Bahrana, who has a key role in advancing Bahrain's human rights record, which has come under the spotlight in recent years from the United States and a number of human rights groups, pointed out that the new initiative adds to what is being done to improve human rights on the Gulf island. He also stressed that the new initiative also complements the country's four-year plan, which is being carried out with UN help to improve human rights.

"Empowering women and ending all forms of violence against them is one of the key fundamentals of advancing human rights because, by ensuring that, women can reach their full potential helps the advancement of the society as a whole," he said. Mr Aqa and Mr al Bahrana said violence against women was a global phenomenon and not limited to a single country, society or culture. Mr Aqa, in his opening remarks at yesterday's meeting, said the problem was a global one that needed to be addressed head on, pointing out that a number of studies carried out by the UN had revealed that violence against women was not only taking place on a domestic level but also occurring during conflict, at peace time, at workplaces and in political and social spheres.

According to UN figures, one in five women worldwide will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime, while many women - in some countries as many as one in three - are beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their lifetimes. The UN study also found that more than 80 per cent of trafficking victims are women, and that on the basis of data collected from 24,000 women in 10 countries, between 55 per cent and 95 per cent of women who have been physically abused by their partners have never contacted NGOs, shelters or the police for help.

The UN figures also suggest that half of the women who are homicide victims were killed by current or former husbands or partners and that for women 15 to 44 years, violence is a major cause of death and disability. Mr Aqa also said that although some countries might not develop similar networks and might elect to adopt a different approach, the ultimate aim is to have mechanisms in place suitable to those countries' needs that would help end violence against women and advance their rights. "In developed countries where there are laws geared towards preventing physical violence against women, that violence could come in a veiled manner where physiological pressure could be exerted in the workplace or at home," Mr al Bahrana said.

"The goal of this network is to work with other groups in different countries to benefit from their experiences and based on that in our future meetings we will develop a working plan to achieve our goals." Mr al Bahrana said that one of the key obstacles facing women in Bahrain has been violence. "Violence has various facets not necessarily physical violence but it also encompass psychological and workplace violence and we have to work hard to combat and eliminate it," he said.

Recent figures from semi-official Bahraini bodies, including that of the Batelco Care Centre for Domestic Violence, revealed that most of the violence against women had been carried out by men and that the numbers were on the increase. The centre's director, Banna Buzaboon, said it dealt with 760 cases in the first six months of 2009. The centre had received 1,317 cases in 2006, a year after it opened. In 2007, the figure was 1,426, and 2,201 in 2008.

Lulwa al Awadhi, secretary general of the Supreme Council for Women, who addressed the network's opening meeting, welcomed the move. "The SCW is also working to carry out a number of workshops for men focusing on ending the violence against women because in studies we carried out revealed that men were primarily the ones who exercise violence against women," she said afterwards. "That is why we are gearing our efforts to help men deal with such circumstances that lead to violence within the family because if we do not do that we will not be able to curb that trend."

Ms al Awadhi added that the council was also working on a regional level through its membership in the Arab Women Organisation to help curb all sorts of violence being faced by women in the region. mmahdi@thenational.ae