Gulf Daily News (Bahrain)
By geoffrey bew
BAHRAIN may be a leading Arab country in terms of women's rights, but companies are still snubbing female workers because they expect them to take more time off than men to look after families, an activist said yesterday.
President of the Contemporary Women's Association, Faezah Al Zayani, told the GDN that many female jobseekers qualified and capable of filling important roles were being ignored as a result of continuing prejudice.
She was speaking after a Press conference at the UN House, in Manama, yesterday where the Arab Human Development Report 2005 was officially launched.
Her Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), which was set up in 2004, has more than 30 active members and works to promote women's rights and improve awareness of the importance of women's role in society.
"They (companies) are employing less women because they are thinking about how much time they will have off for maternity leave and to look after her children," said Ms Al Zayani.
"This is unfair because this is the right they have to raise their children.
"There are a lot of women experts here in Bahrain who can do a lot of work, but nobody encourages them."
She pointed to figures the NGO had collected from the Labour Ministry's employment bureau, showing no more than 15 per cent of women registered as unemployed had obtained jobs.
The statistics were from 2002, but Ms Al Zayani is adamant the situation has not changed significantly since.
"We have to go to the roots of society because there are still people who are not aware of how important women's roles are in Bahrain," she said.
"We have to go not only to the women, but the men to get them to believe in what we are doing.
"We have to educate children in schools to change their attitude.
"Bahraini women's impact would be so much better if they were involved in social development and men encouraged us more."
She added it was important for government officials not only to read the UN report, but analyse its findings and act on issues highlighted.
The GDN reported yesterday that Bahrain is one of the top countries in the Arab world when it comes to providing educational opportunities for women.
Based on life expectancy levels at birth, adult literacy rates, primary and secondary school enrolment and GDP per capita, it was classed as a country of high human development and ranked 43rd in the Human Development Index (HDI), behind Qatar (40th) and the UAE (41st).
The 313-page report, which is the final in a four-part series, examines the situation of women in the region, with a special emphasis on health, education, and political participation.
But despite the advancement of women in the Arab world, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) resident representative Sayed Aqa said more needed to be done.
"This report has highlighted that there are many obstacles to the equal development of men and women," he said.
"One of the issues is economic reform, which generally does not favour women.
"The report argues that these are more cosmetic rather than dealing with real issues.
"We believe that human rights cannot be achieved if the rights of women, who make up half of society here, are not fully addressed.
"Women play a very critical and important part in the development of a country and development cannot be effective without the full participation of women in politics, education and all aspects of society."
According to the report, Bahrain - unlike some Arab countries such as Iraq, Kuwait, Libya and Syria - has no legal provisions for equal pay between men and women and Mr Aqa is hopeful that may change soon.
"There are no laws in force at the moment clearly stating that there should be equal pay for men and women," he said.
"However, I am aware that early next year the government will introduce a major labour reform law and we hope that the government will address this issue. "It is very important to have legislation about equal pay because employers in the private sector would have to abide by the law."
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