Post #10 – Human Trafficking in Bahrain

In many parts of the North African and Middle Eastern region, sex trafficking is a very serious problem that happens regularly. For example, as stated in Sarah E. Mendelson’s Born Free, in 2014, 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram and were purportedly sold into sex slavery, and it can be easily assumed that similar situations occur under the radar of the media with ease. However, a quick glance online into the sex trafficking of Bahrain doesn’t produce sources listing scenarios such as that of Nigeria, but instead focuses on another very serious human trafficking issue: forced labor.

As I discussed heavily in my second blog post, concerning Bahrain’s history and economy, the small island nation is considered the region’s financial center and economic powerhouse since the 1980s. With a population currently standing at just over 1.2 million and climbing, only 58.4% of these people are of Bahraini citizenship; the rest of the population is mostly comprised of migrant workers who provide cheap labor for Bahrain’s booming business, real estate, and social services. Luckily, in the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report created by the U.S. Department of State, an entire section is dedicated to human trafficking information in Bahrain, and will serve as a great resource for this blog post.

To begin, this report states that Bahrain is a destination country for the men and women of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and Eritrea seeking to become domestic workers in the construction and service industries. Unfortunately, some of these workers face conditions of forced labor through use of practices such as: unlawful withholding of passports (effectively trapping them within the country), restrictions on movement (confining them to particular areas within Bahrain or cities within Bahrain), contract substitution (forcing them to switch jobs which they did not intend to apply for), non-payment wages, threats, or physical/sexual abuse. According to this report, women from Thailand, the Philippines, Morocco, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Russia, China, Vietnam, and Eastern Europe states are subjected to prostitution in Bahrain.

These incidences are unsurprising, and are supported by the Bahrain Government’s Labor Market Regulatory Authority’s study, included in the Trafficking in Persons Report, which states that 65% of migrant workers in Bahrain do not see their employment contract, with an additional 89% arriving in Bahrain uncertain of their terms of employment. This withholding of information from these migrant workers is a large contributing factor in the successful trafficking of them into and within Bahrain. In addition to this, this same study also found that 70% of these foreign workers borrowed money or sold property in their home countries in order to secure their job in Bahrain, either forcing them to accept what little wage they are paid in order to pay off their debt, or forcing them to remain in Bahrain as they would be homeless in their country of origin.

As stated in my seventh blog post, Bahrain’s government has, in the past and present, dealt poorly with NGOs, both those founded domestically and internationally. Any time I search for NGOs regarding specific issues in Bahrain, I am routinely met with the same type of information: most NGOs in Bahrain are either closely related to the government while under the guise of a non-government organization, or they remain a true NGO, are opposed by the government, and eventually run out of funding our are too low in support to remain functional or influential. Unfortunately this has also remained true of NGOs fighting for an end to human trafficking in Bahrain, as many have been unsuccessful in promoting the creation of legislation seeking to end human trafficking or to improve the working conditions and rights of those being trafficked within Bahrain. For example, in 2011 several NGOs in Bahrain were ordered to close by the government, including the Bahrain Migrant Workers’ Protection Society.


Post #9 – Women’s Issues in Bahrain

This week’s topic is women’s issues in our country, particularly focusing on issues in equality (or the lack thereof), gender gaps, domestic violence, and sexual abuse towards women. Bahrain, like many other countries, does have a reputation for mistreating and misrepresenting girls and women in many forms and fashions; however, a quick glance through online sources will reveal that while the women of Bahrain are by no means privileged or equal to their male counterparts, when compared to other countries similar in demographic, religious practices, are region of the world, they are better off. To make this comparison more easily understood, referencing the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report of 2013, once can match many countries from around the world against one another in order to rank where they stand in terms of gender equality and treatment.

In their 2013 report, the World Economic Forum ranked Bahrain 112th, out of 136 countries total, overall. In terms of women and economic participation and opportunity, Bahrain placed 117th; in educational attainment, Bahrain placed 71st; in health and survival, Bahrain placed 112th; and in political empowerment, Bahrain placed 113th. Countries of the same and surrounding regions of the world falling below Bahrain in overall score includes Kuwait, Ethiopia, Oman, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.

Despite Bahrain’s ranking in comparison to other countries surrounding it, its stance on women’s rights has not always been positive or even existent. Women’s right was pushed into the spotlight of political reform during the 2002 constitutional amendments, which, under King Hamad, also established the country’s first democratically elected parliament. During this time of change, women gained the right to vote and run for political office, two rights which had not existed previous to these reformations for the women of Bahrain.

Although these changes were a step in the right direction, none of the many women who stood as candidates in the 2002 elections won their campaigns, and it was even reported in 2001, prior to the reformations, that 60% of Bahraini women opposed extending the right to vote to themselves. However, in the past decade women in Bahrain have made great strides towards gaining equal opportunity in the field of politics, including many women assuming the position of minister within the federal Bahraini government, in addition to the election of Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa as the United Nations General Assembly’s President in June 2006.

When discussing women of Bahrain in the workplace, this article does a great job of delving into the challenges faced and those already overcome in the past. In 1971, women’s employment rates within the public sector were slightly over 5%, but have since jumped to 46% in 2011. While this jump in employment for women is incredible, it does not come without limitations. Job opportunities for women in Bahrain are still relatively narrow, with most women working in health, education, and social services. However, according to this article, this lack of opportunity for women is not due to faults in education (considering that more women complete secondary and tertiary education Bahrain than men do), but is simply caused by a societal structure that favors working men instead. In addition to these shortcomings for women in the working world, according to the same study performed by the World Economic Forum referenced earlier, women in Bahrain earn only 71 cents for every dollar earned by a Bahraini man for similar work performed.

The World Economic Forum’s study also provides a section specifically dedicated to social institutions. The ratio of women sexually harassed to men sexually harassed is 0, while the ratio of legislation existing to punish violent acts against women to the same legislations punishing similar acts against men is 1, indicating that Bahrain takes sexual abuse very seriously and in this regard treats women as equals amongst men. Regardless of these equalities, this study also reports that legislations prohibiting gender-based discrimination do not exist.

After exploring these resources and learning about women’s rights and issues within Bahrain, it is easy to tell that while more steps must be made towards equality, Bahrain has certainly not neglected to at least attempt to foster positive social, political, and economic change for the benefit of women. In the last two decades, the women of Bahrain have gained a much greater foothold within the political and working realms of Bahraini society, and while there is still work to be done to create true equality, the women of Bahrain are certainly much better off now than they were only 20 years ago. In order to best confront these issues, Bahrain should work towards criminalizing discrimination against women by potential employers, and should also establish a legal standard to uphold equal wages for men and women who are performing the same or equivalent tasks to one another.

Post #9 Women’s Issues in Libya

Kate Burke

Libya has been struggling with human rights violations ever since Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011.   Women’s rights have taken a major hit amidst the civil unrest. There are various reports of harassment of women by militias with the increased violence, including death threats, attacks, and murders of women in public positions. In less extreme cases, women deal with the restriction of even the most basic of freedoms.

Libyan Women Protest Militia Violence

Libyan Women Protest Militia Violence

Source: Deutsche Welle (DW)

There are many issues that women face in the area of home and family life. Women are not allowed to get married until they are 20 years of age, unless they get special permission from a court, which is pretty rare. Once married, a woman is then legally obligated to “ensure the comfort, physical and psychological well-being of their husbands, and to assume all domestic and childcare responsibilities”. In return, she receives financial support from her husband. It is obvious that this is not exactly a fair trade, or a fair share of responsibilities. (Social Institutions and Gender Index)

Speaking of unfair, men are considered the natural guardians of their children under Islamic law, even though women are considered the caretakers. Custody is often granted to mothers in the event of a divorce only until the daughters marry or the sons reach puberty, where they will move in with the father. Libyan men are allowed to divorce their wives even if it is not mutual, but women do not have this right and are only allowed to divorce their husbands under very specific and rare circumstances. Sometimes, women are forced to give up custody of their children in exchange for a divorce. Even if they are granted a divorce, women then have to face social stigma and financial difficulties. (Social Institutions and Gender Index)

Libyan women also struggle with domestic violence. There is no legislation to protect women from this, and it is thought to be fairly common and acceptable in Libyan society. One survey showed that 52% of men and 41% of women justified a man beating his wife if she went out without telling him. This is alarming not only because the numbers are so high, but also because women think it is almost as acceptable as men do, even though they are the victims. Clearly, the views on this subject in Libya have a long way to come to catch up to the United States’ standards. (European Country of Origin Information Network)

On a similar topic, sexual abuse towards women is prevalent in Libya as well. Rape is a criminal offense, but so is sexual relations outside of marriage. Therefore, women often don’t report a rape because of they fear being prosecuted of extramarital sex. It is also not uncommon that women who are raped are pressured by their family and by society to marry the man who raped them. Between this option and imprisonment, most women choose to keep silent. Abortion is only legal when the woman’s life is in danger, but they are also limited on their access to contraceptives. It is difficult to find information on reproductive health for women due to the social stigma surrounding discussion of sexuality. Women also need their husband’s approval to obtain contraceptives, or even be accompanied by someone when they visit a doctor. (The Guardian)

There are still other constraints on women’s freedoms in Libya. Most women do not travel alone, or without the permission of their husband. Even further, 57% of women say they feel completely or somewhat restricted in leaving their houses without permission. 96% of men and 82% of women believe that “a good wife should obey her husband even if she disagrees”, according to the 2013 IFES survey. Women also felt restricted in associating with people of their own choosing, being in public places without fear, and expressing their views on critical issues to family and friends. Women are banned by law from working “strenuous or hazardous” jobs, working at night, or working over 48 hours a week. As expected, there is a significant disparity in the income of men and women. The majority of women do not even have paying jobs, as their role is to stay at home and tend to children and housework. (International Foundation for Electoral Systems)

However, not all aspects of women’s rights in Libya are negative. Libya is ranked as one of the best countries for political representation. During the Libyan Revolution, women were actively involved in both protests and government. In 2012, 33 women were elected to the 200-member General National Congress in Libya. Relatively high numbers of women (66%) voted in the 2012 election as well. (Reuters)

The bottom line is that women in Libya, although not completely repressed, are living with a lot of restrictions on their actions. It can be agreed upon that women should have the autonomy to control their own life, instead of their husbands or family members. But we are far from taking action on these issues. With political instability in full swing, Libyan officials do not have the time or resources to put towards a problem that is not utterly critical. Both Libyan government and society are inhibiting women in the country, and unfortunately women’s rights are not the top priority for a country in peril.

Post #9: Women in Morocco


Women protestors in Morocco / Courtesy of Morocco World News

Being a woman in Morocco is different than being a woman in the U.S. In Morocco, abortions are illegal, even in cases of rape and incest. Abortions are only allowed when the mother’s physical health is in danger. Women in Morocco could not own property or get a divorce until January 2004 (Morocco). In 2014, the Moroccan government finally changed a law that originally allowed rapists to avoid prosecution if they married their victims (The Guardian). The change in law was caused by the suicide of 16-year-old Amina Filali, who committed the act after being forced to marry her rapist (The Guardian).

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Post #9 – Women’s Issues in Tunisia

Today, even in America, women still fight for equality. For example, in 2013, female full-time workers earned only 78 cents to every dollar earned by men: a 22% gender wage gap. Yet this is not just an issue within the U.S. Worldwide, women’s equality (or rather inequality) issues are prevalent and should be a pressing concern to all global citizens.

Although Tunisia is known as perhaps the most liberal Arab nation when it comes to progressive gender legislation, the country still has progress to make. Starting in 1957, with leaders Bourguiba and Ben Ali, reforms outlawed polygamy, specified women’s rights to abortion, divorce, and establishment of business, and allowed women to open bank accounts without spousal consent. Wearing headscarves in public was even banned in the hopes of curbing extremism (and thus terrorism) associated with Islam. As Tunisia works to elevate itself, it has embraced many of the traits of Western cultures, attempting to equalize gender disparities. However, as of 2009, only 38% of Tunisian women were employed, whereas 51% of Tunisian men held jobs.

After Arab Spring and the Tunisian revolution, the Ennahda Party took over: “a moderate brand of Islam” that supports women’s freedoms and has many female members. Yet women are by no means equals in society. They continue to fight sexual harassment and domestic violence and an article to the Tunisian constitution proposed in 2012 defined the role of women as “complementary” instead of “equal” to the role of a man.

Still, Tunisia is making strides. The constitutional charter adopted in 2014 now reads, “All male and female citizens have the same rights and duties. They are equal before the law without discrimination.”

As of 2014, the World Economic Forum ranks Tunisia 123 out of 142 countries in their Gender Gap Ranking Index. Although they have an even male/female population ration, the statistics are shocking. In 2014, the estimated earned income for females is $4,690 and $17,003 for men. There were 15 women in the field of legislators, senior officials and managers for every 85 men. 28 women held positions in parliament to 72 men, 4 women held ministerial positions to 96 men, and there has never been a female head of state.

As previously mentioned, the workplace is not the only context in which women experience inequality. A 2012 survey reported that 1 in 5 Tunisian women are victims of domestic violence. It cited physical violence as the most frequent type of violence and said that the private sphere was the place in which women were most likely to be exposed to violence. It is not surprising that discrimination is not necessarily public, but nevertheless present, in a society that is attempting to reform.

Especially since the revolution, labor and sex trafficking are issues in Tunisia. According to a 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report released by the U.S. Department of State, women, primarily between the ages of 15 and 18, have been forced into prostitution under false promises of work. A 2013 NSNBC International article explores the trafficking of young Tunisian girls through Turkey for “Sex Jihad” in Syria – forced prostitution to terrorists. In addition to the psychological trauma, many who return bring back sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

Sarah Mendelson’s 2014 publication Born Free addresses the issue of human trafficking and calls for global attention to one of the largest, but least-discussed problems in today’s world. Mendelson urges readers to support organizations like Walk Free, a global movement to end slavery that focuses on making it a priority for governments and businesses to invest in the solutions of prevention, protection and prosecution. The goal starts as simply as raising awareness of the widely overlooked problem of slavery through social media and technology and online campaigns. It can be as simple as an everyday conversation about the issue with friends and family, a conversation that, one-day, with the work of citizens all over the planet, I hope there will be no need for.

(REWRITE) Post #6 – The UN in the Middle East

The United Nations (UN) is heavily involved in the Middle East, with the center of all activity located in Beirut, Lebanon, which is home to the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). The ESCWA coordinates many activities in the region, including raising “the level of economic activity in member countries, [strengthening] cooperation among them, and [promoting] economic and social development in the region,” according to the ESCWA’s webpage. The ESCWA includes 17 countries in what the UN refers to as Western Asia: Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. This region is also home to three UN Peacekeeping Operations, including the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), and the United Nations Truce Supervision Organizations (UNTSO).

The UN also has many System Offices in the Middle East, 22 in total. These offices include many well-known organizations, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The United Nation’s webpage also lists the issues and campaigns that these bodies confront or support, including: Rule of Law, which focuses on promoting the respect of national and international law as a means of sustaining peace; Victims of Terrorism, which broadcasts messages from UN victims of terrorism to help create solidarity and support for others; and Children and Armed Conflict, which informs others on the affects of armed conflict on children of the Middle East, in addition to promoting legislation to promote greater protection for them. All of these campaigns support the greater protection of human rights that are continually threatened by conflict in the Middle East, but there are many other human right issues to be confronted as well, some of which are the focus of other campaigns listed on the UN’s webpage for the Middle Eastern region.

The United States does have an influence in the UN’s work on a global scale, and thereby in the Middle East as well. The UN Security Council, which is dedicated to maintaining international peace, security, cooperation, and harmony, is comprised of 15 member nations. There are five permanent members of the Security Council, those being China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Additionally, there are 10 non-permanent members that are elected every two years by the UN General Assembly. These 10 members, with terms ending in 2016, currently include Angola, Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Spain, and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

The conflicts occurring in the Middle East are in part due to what is known as ethnocentrism, which, as defined by Farish A. Noor in Dealing with Human Rights, is “the tendency of individuals and cultures to view themselves as well as the environment around them from the perspectives of their own culture, values and beliefs,” and also, “entails a favourable evaluation of one’s own culture while perceiving any differences from this norm as inferior, thus viewing relations between the self and the other as opposite extremes of a dialectic.” In order to combat this ideal, which promotes violence and conflict amongst individuals, cultures, and societies, Noor believes that we must accept our cultural, religious, and racial differences as a simple fact of our world, and we must also attempt to understand and appreciate one another. In a region such as the Middle East, which is over encumbered with conflict due to superiority complexes and the support of violent solutions, Noor’s comments and ideas about cultural and racial appreciation and understanding will be critical in promoting a future of peace and harmony with one another.

Post #8 Humanitarian Aid

Kate Burke

Humanitarian aid may not be as good-natured as society often thinks. Linda Polman illustrates the flaws of aid organizations and non-profits in her novel, The Crisis Caravan. One of the main concerns she raises is the paradox of who benefits from the aid that NGOs provide when there are conflicting groups in a country. The example she uses is that of the Rwandan Genocide. The war consisted of the opposing groups of Hutus and Tutsis. The infamous genocide was a mass murder of thousands of Tutsis and even some moderate Hutus. Ideally, humanitarian aid would be provided strictly to the Tutsis (the injured and targeted tribe), and the Hutus that were wounded as well. But Polman points out that achieving such outcomes is much easier said than done. She explains, “Mindful of the Red Cross principles of neutrality and impartiality, the aid organizations in Goma were committed to helping anyone they could” (Polman, 26). Consequently, the dangerous Hutus that were causing harm received aid and money, along with the injured Tutsis and Hutus. To be fair, it was seemingly the only way to provide aid to the Rwandans that genuinely needed it. But Polman calls for readers to rethink their stance on aid and doubts that this is our only option. She provides the views of Florence Nightingale and Henri Dunant to help make things more clear. Nightingale believed that if the parties at war use the aid to their advantage, then the purpose of the aid fails altogether. On the other side of the spectrum, Dunant sides more along the lines of the Red Cross, claiming that one should help those in need, regardless of the circumstances. It is clear that Polman agrees with Nightingale’s position on humanitarian aid, and she tries to challenge readers to reconsider how much progress is actually being made with humanitarian aid in these sorts of situations.

Another main concern with humanitarian aid that Polman points out is with the state of NGOs and non-profits in themselves. Since the organizations have to spread awareness to the public in order to get funding to provide aid, they all compete with each other and in turn lose sight of what their goal was in the first place. Many times the founders and volunteers of the organizations are living rather comfortable lifestyles while providing aid, when in reality that money could, and in Polman’s view, certainly should be given to the people that need help. Polman also speaks about the process that aid organizations have to go through in order to get donor contracts to work in areas that need relief, and only further points out flaws in the aid process. A crucial issue is how the organizations use media to get attention and money for their cause, as well as how inefficiently the media handles their news stories and information. Polman states that “Significant portions of aid organizations’ budgets are devoted to “press and publicity”” (Polman, 42). I certainly think that there is a problem with the aid process if the money that the uninformed public is donating for those in need is instead going towards media coverage, whether that blame falls on the specific organization or the system as a whole. I believe this process that organizations go through in order to get money for their assignment is the reason why Polman said that “Aid organizations are businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa” (Polman 177). While the main focus should be how to effectively and efficiently help the people that need aid, most organizations spend their time and resources trying to compete with other NGOs, get donor contracts, and fight for attention in the media. Personally, I think it is important that Polman is drawing attention to the faults of humanitarian aid. I never thought that the system might be unjust or flawed, and the public needs to be aware of how the humanitarian aid process works, especially if they are the ones donating their money.

It is up to us to take action towrds the methods of how aid and relief is given to people that need it. Yes, the media needs to present the story of people who need help in a way that will get attention. But that does not mean that they have to compromise the integrity of their writing and their journalism. They must commit to spending more time and effort in order to get the facts correct. Researching the culture of a country or conflict may take more work, but it is their duty as journalists to present factual information to the public. If the goal is to spread awareness, they must strive to spread awareness truthfully and effectively. The public plays a vital role in humanitarian aid because they are the ones donating much of the profits.  There is some responsibility on the public to do their own research on the cause to which they are donating, and even the organization to which they are donating. The humanitarian aid process could also be helped by supervision of NGO activity or budgets, or at least some regulations or standards that NGOs and non-profits must be held to. However, the government cannot get too involved, obviously, in Non-Government Organizations. Therefore, I think it is crucial for all three segments to play a role in order to make a change. The media, the public, and the government must all work together to make the humanitarian aid process more effective and efficient and for the aid to actually reach those in need.

Source: Polman, Linda. The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? New York: Metropolitan, 2010. Print.