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Analysis: Bahraini views on the new Unified Family Law

Almost a decade after the issuance of the Sunni Family Law in Bahrain, the King ratified a Unified Family Law for both the Sunni and Shia sect early last month. The decision came following the vote by Parliament in which majority of the MPs voted in favour of a Unified Family Law.

This is an important step in ensuring that all women and family members have equal access to effective justice. Below are the views of a wide range of Bahrainis on what the Unified Family Law means to them:

“What we've waited for”

“This is one of the most important steps taken by the country. Having a Unified Family Law is what we've waited for and today we can say that we enjoy equal rights in family rights despite the differences in our sects;” said Samar, aged 38, from Isa Town.

“Shia women suffered for a long time after the Shia family law was previously disapproved by the Shia religious bloc in Parliament. There have been hundreds of pending cases of divorce and alimony in the Jaafari [Shia] courts for years and the unified family law will bring an end to this corruption… Can I say that the next thing is for more action to be taken to help female graduates get serious jobs which reflect our skills and abilities,” said Aminah, aged 22, from Saar.

“A unified family law reflects the nature of equality in Bahrain. This is something to be proud of. Both Sunni and Shia women and families are now protected equally under a law that cannot be exploited by religious clerics and judges in Sharia courts;” said Khalid, aged 36, from Muharraq.

Loopholes?

“We need to see what the law will look like in practice. I hope that this will be implemented in a rightful manner and the cleric judges will not find loopholes to impose their judgement of family cases in court;” said Fatima, aged 31, from Saar.

“My aunt spent several years trying to divorce her violent husband who always failed to make money available for the needs of the family. This is just one of several examples I’ve seen where traditional sources of justice ignore the aspirations of the woman. Decisions don’t get made on the basis of a code of law, but based on the biases of an elderly cleric, who often won’t even listen to what the woman has to say. The Unified Law is good, but the Shia community should have had proper access to justice years ago; Fatima, aged 24 from Saar.

“Although the Unified Family Law is a step in the right direction, some of us feel that a civil law is what’s required in a country that is undergoing many reform and transitioning into a more democratic nation;” said Abdullah, aged 32, from Manama. 

“This is new to Bahrain, judges in Jaffari courts are not used to following rules by the book. There should be a certain level of monitoring by the concerned authorities to ensure that the law is being implemented in the right way;” said Manal, aged 28, from Muharraq.

“A great accomplishment”

“I can honestly say that I don’t understand what difference this will make. Everybody in the newspapers and TV says that this is important, so fine. But I’d like to see better information about what changes as a result of this law;” said Khaled, aged 23, from Riffa.

“I could finally say that the Parliament has made a great accomplishment by proposing the law and passing it for the King’s ratification. This is one of the Parliament’s greatest successes since 2014 – although they have also passed several new laws which protect women’s rights and prevent domestic violence. Hence, it has been proven that have a Parliament with a majority of independents with no religious agendas has served our society;” from Mohammed, aged 24, from Isa Town.

“My country is heading in the right direction”

“The law limits the control of religious clerics and further compliments the recent steps to separate religion from politics in Bahrain. This is certainly where we should be heading as a developing nation, our laws should be inclusive and in line with international norms;” said Fawaz, aged 31, from Muharraq.

“It is a great progress for women rights in Bahrain. We have always been ahead of other countries in the region in the field of women’s rights. The unified family law takes us a step further not only in promoting women’s right but also in showing the world how progressive and just our society is becoming at a time when extremist ideologies are on the rise... I follow these issues quite closely. I also want to mention the changes in the law to protect victims of rape. Last year Bahrain’s Parliament was leading the way on a law preventing the rapist marrying his victim. In recent months, Jordan and Tunisia and other states have overtaken us in addressing this issue; so I don’t understand why in Bahrain this issue is being disregarded… In 2017 do we even need to be having a discussion about whether or not a woman wants to marry the man who attacked her?” said Mariam, aged 32, from Riffa. 

“As a young Bahraini girl, the news about the ratification of the Unified Family Law has given me hope that my country is heading in the right direction, following a period of frustration and fear that my rights might be limited if the power of the Islamists grows in my country;” said Amna, aged 27, from  Manama.

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