On 4 November 2021, Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) participated in FAWCO’s Human Rights in Focus Virtual Conference. The conference is designed to raise awareness on global human rights issues, bringing together leading organizations in the field.
Asma Darwish, BCHR head of advocacy and FAWCO Refugees Network head of communication, moderated the session on the divers and challenges of women’s migration. Nedal al-Salman, BCHR President, IFEX Convenor, and Vice President of International Federation of Human Rights, and Anila Noor, a women’s rights activist and policy influencer for inclusion, diversity, and social justice, participated in the conversation.
Asma started the conversation by highlighting the difficulty of working in the human rights field, the systematic targeting of human rights defenders, and how bringing about the slightest change is a success in this field, asking about success and achievement. Nedal stressed that managing to shed light on the human rights scene in Bahrain on the international stage is a success, as Bahrain’s human rights situation has been facing a total blackout. The ability of Bahraini human rights defenders and activists to globally deliver their voices despite the travel bans, the repression, and the international media disregard is something to be proud of, as well as the ability to amplify the voices of human rights violations victims. Anila highlighted the realities of newcomers to Europe, especially women, where there is an underestimation of women’s ability to contribute to the system. She reflected on her experience as an immigrant in the Netherlands, where she was given a low-skilled job at a factory, then ended up speaking at the European Parliament that same year. Anila discussed how it is difficult to talk about success in an atmosphere where you have to constantly challenge the stereotypes and highlight the systematic barriers and racism.
In response to a question about significant issues concerning women, Nedal pointed to gender discrimination and gender-based violence. She pointed out that the underrepresentation of women in high-ranking and decision-making positions despite their high-level education in Bahrain is a manifestation of systematic gender discrimination. Nedal argued that women face a double burden in Bahrain: government policies and societal norms and attitudes. The government’s failure to provide shelters for abused women in Bahrain is an example of its lack of seriousness in addressing violence against women. Also, there are social attitudes that may encourage or condone violence against women, and here comes the role of women human rights defenders to raise awareness among women of their rights and push for change. Anila, on the other hand, highlighted the gender stereotyping problem. She explained the similarities in the way women are treated in her country of origin, Pakistan, and her host country, the Netherlands. While women are pushed by society into certain roles in Pakistan, where they have no power over their lives, this approach is similar in the Netherlands. Women are not asked about what they want to do but rather standard expectations are forced upon them. The common denominator here is that society constrains women with certain expectations, where they are not seen as capable of doing certain things; giving a refugee woman an inferior job in a factory, even if she thinks she can do more than that, exemplifies this stereotyping.
As what pushes women to immigrate, Anila maintained that it is difficult to pin down the reasons for migration, but there are main factors, such as poverty, seeking safe environments, and fleeing persecution. She argued that whatever is the reason for migration, we should bring a gender lens to it, especially forced migration, as the current legal and institutional system is very man and European- based. Anila thinks that more focus should be brought to people, especially women, seeking asylum for gender-based violence and sexual orientation. Nedal added that violence is a significant driver for women to leave their countries, whether political, social, or domestic violence. Women can face more challenges than men, which force them to emigrate, like what is happening now in Afghanistan and other countries with extremist governments. Asma remarked that cultural and social norms that restrict women’s freedoms and rights contribute to their decision to leave or even not go back to their countries.
Finally, Nedal, Anila, and Asma shared their views on how the FAWCO Foundation can help women, whether in their home countries or as migrants in host countries. Anila talked about the need to create more visibility to local and women-led initiatives. Women-led initiatives have been neglected and underfunded. Anila noted the world’s timid progress in achieving gender equality and protecting women’s rights, while many problems still need to be addressed. Creating linkages, exchanging knowledge and expertise, and having dialogue are important here. Nedal agreed that exchanging expertise and ideas is a necessity in light of the huge similarities in the challenges and difficulties facing women everywhere. Nedal believes that women are the change, and we should all act accordingly. Asma emphasized connecting, networking, and volunteering, and she pointed to the need for effective partnerships.