by Suad Hamada
Working women in Bahrain are facing many challenges and female activists predict they will encounter even more hardships after the full implementation of the newly ratified Free Trade Agreement between Bahrain and the United States.
A recent study reveals that only 9.9% of the top managerial posts in Bahrain’s private sector are held by women. Besides accepting the second best when it comes to promotion and work privileges, females have to find ways to cope with the tough competition the FTA will bring with its open market policies.
Put into effect last year, the FTA is expected to contribute to the economic growth of Bahrain and increase revenues of businesses. But according to the Supreme Council for Women (SCW) that is dedicated to safeguarding the interests of Bahrain’s female citizens by empowering them in all walks in life, the FTA’s effects on women are still uncertain.
In reaction, the SCW, as a government organization, has assigned the Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies to conduct a study of the FTA and working women in an effort to find the mechanisms necessary to eliminate the challenges of the agreement. The study will try to highlight the immediate, short, and long-term influences of the FTA and its open market policies.
The study is part of the SCW’s endless efforts to promote women as powerful members of the labor force and is a response to a research conducted last year that analyzed 313 women working in industrial, textile, construction, financial services, insurance and tourism sectors. The women represented 2.5% of total women working in private companies.
The study revealed that most women are working in service occupations and are denied the right to be promoted to top positions in their companies. The SCW’s General Secretary, Lulwa Al Awadhi, said in a statement that the findings were unexpected.
Besides neglecting their rights to career advancement, working women are facing many problems related to inconvenient or late working hours, harsh treatment, poor work atmospheres and low salaries.
The SCW feels that reconsidering the amount of salaries given to women and giving them wages suitable to their skills and educational degrees could help them cope with the financial obligations to their families.
The SCW is concerned by the lack of knowledge about the FTA and the labour market reform project among female employees, despite their effects on them.
To overcome the findings of the study, the SCW recommended informing working women about their labour rights, especially addressing issues through different media resources and women websites.
However, journalist and business expert Hana Bohaji feels that the agreement could bring many benefits to women, especially removing discriminations against them.
“The FTA stresses the importance of gender equality, so discriminations against working women could be reduced after the full implementation of the agreement,” she said.
“Readymade garment industry, [of which] 90 percent of its manpower is women, would benefit the most out of the agreement as factories would be forced to improve the harsh working conditions and long and tiring work hours,” she explained.
Hana said that greedy businessmen in many sectors would also be forced to offer more work privileges to their workers regardless of their gender.
The effects of FTA on working women aren’t clear, but female employees could benefit from the advantages and cope with the disadvantages by enhancing their skills, through dedications and their competitive spirit.