As the Kingdom of Bahrain celebrates Bahraini Women’s Day this month, it is fitting to look back on some of the most notable advances made by Bahraini women in history
2007 was a landmark year in Gulf Air and the Kingdom of Bahrain’s history, as the airline’s first female Bahraini pilot, Maysa Hazeem, took to the skies. Today, Bahraini women hold critical posts across a broad spectrum of the national carrier’s divisions – in airline – specific functions as captains, first officers, engineers, technicians and across a range of administrative and business-focused departments. At Gulf Air, Captain Yasmeen Fraidoon navigates the skies and serves as a role model for Bahraini women hoping to enter the field of aviation.
Bahraini women are now not only prominent members of Gulf Air’s workforce, they have also been recognised and employed – within a variety of fields – in Bahrain and across the region. This is all evident today, thanks to the Kingdom of Bahrain’s groundbreaking history which took strides, early on, to empower women through education and employment.
The Kingdom of Bahrain institutionalised women’s work in the 1920’s while, in 1928, Bahrain became the first Gulf state to have education for women. That’s not all. Bahraini women were the first in the GCC region to drive a car – an event marked in 1945 when Ms. Fatima AlZayani became the first Bahraini woman to obtain a driving licence. Moreover, Bahraini women took the lead 12 years ago when they became the first certified female driving instructors in the GCC region.
Building on this history, the establishment of the Supreme Council for Women in 2001 was one more distinctive step forward. Headed by Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa the Wife of the King of Bahrain and directly reporting to the King of Bahrain, the Supreme Council for Women plays a significant role in supporting women, directing and channeling their needs into the Kingdom’s national development programmes. In fact, the Supreme Council for Women helped develop a national strategy for the advancement of Bahraini women in 2005 as the first strategy of its kind to be approved by the head of state.
This strategy succeeded in achieving the desired effect on several levels, including raising the rate of participation of women in the government sector to 53%, in the private sector to about 33%, and the proportion of female heads of departments in government posts to approximately 54%. As for occupations that require special skills, there are now around 58% and 33% in supervisory professions. Bahraini women constitute around 14% of the Boards of Directors of public and private companies.
As a result of the success of the Supreme Council for Women’s plans, projects and programmes, the official institution for women’s affairs in Bahrain, including the Princess Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa Award for the Empowerment of Women in Public and Private sectors at the Local Level for over 15 years; the United Nations officially adopted this award at a global level last year (2016) and announced it in New York to the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN headquarters.
The contributions of Bahrain’s women are immeasurable and a source of great pride to the Kingdom. It is fitting then, that, since 2008, Bahraini Women’s Day has been celebrated annually on December 1 as part of an initiative by Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa through the Supreme Council for Women to honour the achievements and valuable insights and contribution made by Bahraini women towards the development and progress of the Kingdom of Bahrain.