Fawzia Zainal made the breakthrough in Bahrain’s history on Wednesday evening after she was voted in by the members of the Council of Representatives, the lower chamber of the bicameral parliament.
Zainal, who won 25 votes from the 40-member lower house chamber, became the second woman to head a parliament in the Gulf Arab region after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) made history in 2015 when it appointed Amal al-Qubaisi as president of the country’s Federal National Council (FNC).
“I will work with my fellow MPs to implement the political, economic and social implications set out in His Majesty’s speech, and will use all the constitutional and legal instruments available that elevates our precious Kingdom of Bahrain and preserve its security, stability and advance its position in the field of sustainable and human development. I would like to thank all those who voted for me, as well as all those who did not vote for me, in the exercise of civilised democracy,” Zainal said in one her first statements as parliament Speaker.
Ms Zainal worked as a journalist before running for parliament. Zainal contested the local elections for a third time after having come close to winning a seat in 2014 but falling short by a mere 288 votes in a run-off round in her East Riffa fourth district against her male opponent.
Her counterpart in the Kuwaiti parliament, Marzouq Al Ghanim, congratulated Ms Zainal, saying that her victory represents the progressiveness of Bahraini women and their role in society.
Speaking to Al Arabiya English in the previous week, Zainal said it’s been a long time coming as she saw her support base grow over the years. “In 2006 when I first ran, the elections were crowded by political societies and gender was a main topic of discussion among voters. Over time, that became less of an issue as voters’ awareness of politics and society grew and matured where they were able to see past a candidate’s gender as a factor but rather what they could bring to the table,” she told Al Arabiya English.
Justice Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa, head of the Supreme Elections Committee, said the elections were notable for the greater participation of women and youth and increased voter scrutiny of the candidates. There were 41 women among the 293 candidates for the 40-seat Council of Representatives, and about 200 standing for council seats.
Bahraini women finally broke the proverbial glass ceiling this year when six Bahraini women MPs broke their country’s record of female representation in parliament when official results on Dec. 2 confirmed that they – along with several fresh-faced independents – will make up part of the island-kingdom’s fifth legislative term.
Sawsan Kamal, Zainab Abdul Amir, Massoma Abdul Raheem and Kaltham Al Hayki and Fatima Al Qatari will join Zainal in parliament as female MPs.
Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa sent a cable of congratulations to Zainal after she was elected. “The election of the first woman speaker of the Council of Representatives represents a quantum leap forward and source of pride for the Kingdom of Bahrain which has spared no effort to empower women,” King Hamad said in a statement.