- About Bahrain
An ancient land rich in culture and history, the Kingdom of Bahrain is also characterized by a cosmopolitan outlook and modernization. An archipelago of 33 islands, Bahrain lies in the Arabian Gulf with Saudi Arabia to its west and Qatar to the south east. Bahrain, with a causeway connecting it to Saudi Arabia holds a strategic location in the Middle East and provides convenient access to all areas of the world.
The landscape of modern skyscraper buildings and highways is mixed with mosques old and new, and lively traditional markets, or souqs.
Bahrain is a hereditary constitutional monarchy led by the King His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the Prime Minister, Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, and the Crown Prince, Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, as well as a Cabinet of Ministers.
Bahrain literally means “two seas” in Arabic and refers to the existence of dual sources of water, naturally occurring sweet water springs and the surrounding Gulf of Bahrain. From the latter, Bahrain gained much of its economic power until the early 1930s when the production of oil replaced the pearl industry and maritime commerce. The revenues have financed wide modernization projects, most importantly in health and education. Education in Bahrain is compulsory, and all school age children attend either public or private schools. Bahrain provides free education for all Bahraini and non-Bahraini students through the public school system.
Often labeled as the “Gateway to the Gulf”, this can be seen in a diverse and tolerance among population. Arabic is the official language, but English is widely used in business and is compulsory in schools. Due to the high number of expatriates living in Bahrain, other languages such as Persian and Urdu are spoken and understood in both traditional and contemporary market places. While Islam is the official religion of the Kingdom of Bahrain, followers of other religions enjoy freedom of worship.
Since 1999, the Kingdom of Bahrain has undertaken a major reform programme, focusing on political and economic development, and the protection and promotion of human rights, which are protected by its Constitution.
Around 5000 years ago Bahrain was home to the Bronze Age civilization of Dilmun, which lasted some two millenia. Dilmun was an important trade and commerce center, connecting business between Arabia and India, a tradition Bahrain still holds as a financial hub of the Middle East.
Since then, Bahrain has been occupied alternately by Babylonians, Sumerians, Greeks, Persians, Portuguese, and Turks, among others. The Greeks knew the island as Tylos and in the early Islamic era, the island was known as Awal. Qal’at al Bahrain (Bahrain Fort), an ancient harbor and capital of Dilmun, is featured on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Numerous other sites such as A’ali Tumuli Mound field, Barbar Temple, Saar Heritage Park, Arad Fort and Hawar Islands reserve are also being considered for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
In 1861, Bahrain became a British protectorate from which it gained independence on August 15, 1971. A period of nation building and consolidation followed independence. Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa , who had ruled Bahrain since 1961, passed away in 1999. He was succeeded by his son, His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
The new ruler adopted a reform agenda and established a national committee to draft a new national charter. In February 2001, Bahraini voters overwhelmingly voted in a referendum on the National Action Charter, which was a framework for democratic transformation. In 2002, an amended constitution was issued by HM the King. The new Constitution assures individual rights and freedoms including the participation and rights of women in elections and voting.
The National Action Charter also outlines an independent judiciary and the creation of a bicameral national legislature. This is comprised of the elected house (Chamber of Deputies, Nuwab) and the appointed house (Consultative, or Shura, Council) of 40 members who each serve a four-year term.
In 1932 oil was found in Bahrain, the first discovery of oil on the Arab side of the Gulf. The reserve, however, is relatively small and Bahrain is expected to be the first Gulf country to run out of oil. Accordingly, the country is taking some steps to diversify its economy and further develop international business relationships.
According to the Bahrain Economic Vision 2030, the country is facing a shortage of both quality employment and appropriate skills. Over the next ten years, the size of Bahrain’s workforce is expected to double. Presently, about 4,000 Bahrainis a year enter the job market with at least a college degree. If this continues, there will not be enough jobs to meet this demand. The private sector does not currently accommodate these numbers and Bahrain has addressed these issues by redistributing oil revenues and offering citizens jobs in the public sector. This oversized public sector, however, cannot be sustained in the future, considering the gradual decline of oil reserves. The most sustainable way of raising youth employment is a planned transformation to an economy that is driven by a strong private sector that will also offer attractive career opportunities to suitably skilled Bahrainis.
Adequate national capacities for effective trade policy administration will need to be enhanced through strengthening institutional and technical capacities in order to improve the efficiency of the economic governance system.
The Kingdom of Bahrain has made noticeable strides towards gender equality, yet there remain some areas to be addressed., which included ensuring women the same training opportunities as men at work, that women's needs are taken into consideration when evaluating the budget of organisations within the private and public sector, and that women are fairly represented in senior and decision-making roles. Gender-based statistics are required in the organizational structures of ministries and institutions, in budget allocation and in planning.
Supportive policies will continue for the integration of more women into the workforce. Women must receive the same training opportunities as men so that they may have an equal chance of progressing in their careers. This will enable them to acquire the skills needed for contributing to national development competitively. Diversifying and enriching the economic, social, educational and training options for women will give them the opportunity to advance their performance, upgrade the quality of their life and engage in life-long learning.
Efforts are to be sustained to produce wider national impact, making sure women's needs are integrated into the strategies of the country in different ways, from the laws that are introduced to the policies that are implemented.
In May 2009, Bahrain adopted its first personal status law which regulates family matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. This law, however, is only applicable to one of the two main Islamic sects of the population. Work and discussions within the parliament to draft the second part of the law is still ongoing.
Bahrain has been a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) since 2002, but has placed reservations on certain provisions mainly on the grounds that they may contravene Islamic Sharia precepts or violate Bahrain's national sovereignty. Efforts, led by the Supreme Council for Women, are ongoing to remove or redraft the reservations of the Kingdom.
Reliable and disaggregated statistics are a key part of development and national policymakers and the international development community have become increasingly aware of the need to strengthen statistical capacity to support the design, monitoring and evaluation of national development plans and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Bahrain will need to devote considerable effort to ensure that development data is available, including monitoring and reporting of global indicators.
Further improvement in the productivity and service delivery of civil service employees is required. The changes introduced in 2002 and more recently in 2012 have vested the Chamber of Deputies, the lower Parliament’s chamber that is elected directly by the people, with more powers and additional support must be provided to the MPs, as well as the Secretariat, to exercise their roles and responsibilities. Staff development needs are to be identified and efficient processes developed to allow the body to achieve maximum impact. Strengthening the institution of parliament and fostering citizen participation will be further areas of work. Technical assistance will be provided to Bahrainis as they review legislations, with particular attention to adopting human rights based approach to development and the democratic process that incorporates all members of society, including the most vulnerable.
The Kingdom of Bahrain's development as a major financial center is a main result of its diversification effort. High levels of trade and investment supported by a competitive and efficient regulatory environment and developed communication and transport facilities make Bahrain home to numerous multinational firms with business in the Gulf. Bahrain implemented a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the US in August 2006, becoming the first Gulf state to sign such a bilateral trade agreement with the United States.
According to the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, Bahrain’s economic freedom score is 75.5, making its economy the 12th freest in the world. Bahrain is ranked 1st out of 15 countries in the Middle East/North Africa region, which points to its efforts in creating an economic climate that supports development efforts.
The Kingdom of Bahrain's economy is competitive in several respects, including low taxation, openness to global trade, and financial market development. The government has continued to implement measures to realize the country’s Economic Vision 2030; a long-term economic development plan designed to improve living standards by building a competitive, diversified economy. Focused has been on diversification in non-oil sectors, and the country is currently leading trade negotiations in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to increase levels of freedom in business, monetary and financial areas.
Bahrain has held parliamentary and municipal elections in 2010 that attracted a 67 percent voter turnout. A total of 127 candidates, including seven women, ran for the Parliament’s 40 available seats, and 171 contested the 39 available municipal council seats. Political leaders continue to review and adapt legislation according to the Constitution as well as international conventions to which Bahrain is committed, aiming to create an inclusive society where all citizens contribute towards it development.
Bahrain has made remarkable progress in implementing equal rights for women. The constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain affirms the equality of men and women and guarantees access to job opportunities for all citizens and enjoyment of the right to participate in public affairs. Principles of justice and equal opportunity are realised through the adoption of laws and regulations and mainstreamed into national strategies.
The Supreme Council for Women was established in 2001 as the authorized official body responsible for all women’s affairs and has developed the National Strategy for the Advancement of the Bahraini Women which aims to close the gender gap. Executive steps have been taken to transform the Strategic Plan to Implementing the National Strategy for the Advancement of the Bahraini Women (2013-2022).
Since 2010 when a national model for equal opportunities was put in place, 18 government ministries have opened equal opportunity units which aim to ensure the integration of women’s needs in development as part of the National Plan for the Advancement of Bahraini Women. Women currently occupy 47.8 per cent of the total workforce in ministries and government institutions.
Bahraini women occupy posts in the three legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. They also hold leading positions as ministers, ambassadors, university chancellor, and directors. Women have been active in the labour market and have entered new sectors and positions previously monopolized by men. The State has taken care to promote gender equality in all laws promulgated on the economy and labour market.