Cablegate: Perspective of Some Shi'a Women Apparel Industry

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) SUMMARY. Bahrain anticipates that the WTO-mandated
end of textile quotas at the beginning of 2005 will cause its
garment manufacturing sector to contract. The Ministry of
Industry estimates that there are 3,600 conservative Bahraini
Shi'a women working in this industry. There are few
industries in which these Arab women are able to work limited
by their adherence to conservative social mores. The loss of
these jobs is politially salient considering an official 15
percent unemployent rate that already disproportionately
affects the Shia' population. During April and May 2004,
PolOff visited more than half of the garment factories and
surveyed 150 Bahraini Shi'a female workers to gain insight
into possible options for them. END SUMMARY.


2. (U) At the start of 2003, there were 24 garment
factories in Bahrain, employing over 13,000 foreign and 3,700
Bahraini workers, mostly conservative Shi'a women. In the
last seven months nine factories have closed due to lack of
orders and in anticipation of the WTO-mandated end of US
textile quotas on January 1, 2005. The remaining 15 factories
each employ anywhere from 250 - 1,200 Bahraini workers. The
Ministry of Industry estimates that 3,600 Bahrainis still
work in the industry. These factories manufacture clothing
primarily for K-Mart, Sears, WalMart, JC Penney and The Gap.
Textiles and apparel comprise 60 percent of Bahrain's total
exports to the US. Most factories segregate its Shi'a female
workers from the foreign male workers. According to the
Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry Textile Committee,
over 90 percent of Bahraini female workers work in the
finishing process, the lowest skill level of apparel
manufacturing. Factories provide separate prayer/locker
rooms for women. The monthly wage for 160 hours is BD120
(USD318). Workers do not receive private healthcare
insurance but factories do make contributions for their
pensions. (NOTE The GOB provides free healthcare to its
citizens. END NOTE)


3. (U) The 150 women interviewed range from 21 - 42 years
old and are single or divorced. Most of them live in their
parents' homes in nearby Shi'a neighborhoods. Ex-husbands of
those who were previously married have custody of the
children. Family size ranged from 6 to 12 persons. Unlike
the older women, the younger ones do not contribute a large
part of their salary to the family unit. The majority did not
finish high school. Several of the older women lamented that
they dropped out of school to support the family and had no
possibility to obtain a higher education.

4. (U) Only a handful of women claim to make decisions
independently and do not follow the guidance of husbands,
fathers or brothers. To keep abreast of current events, most
of the older women read the Arabic local newspaper "Al Ayam"
and watch "Al Arabiya" channel television. The younger set
used the Internet as its primary source of information and
spend more than 10 hours per week in chat rooms. More than
half of the women interviewed voted in 2002 Municipal
elections. However, less than 20 voted in the 2002 national
elections. Only one woman, 30-year-old Mousa, boldly stated
that she would run for office, if she could get a higher
education first. None of the women were members of NGOs or
political societies.

5. (U) Unknown to both the President of the Textile Union
and the Ministry of Industry Textile Affairs Representative,
there are 11 Shi'a men who work in the garment industry.
Their ages range from 18 - 24 years old. All of them are
single, still live with their parents, high school graduates
and members of the largest opposition society Al-Wifaq. They
use the Internet and read the independent Arabic local
newspaper "Al Wasat" for their main sources of information.
All who were eligible in 2002 (age 21) voted in both the
national and municipal elections. A 23-year-old man named
Ibrahim told PolOff on April 28 that he chose to work in the
garment industry because he has aspirations of becoming a
fashion designer. But Ibrahim is the exception to the rule.
The others stated that they work to support the family.
Eighteen year old Jassim said that it was important to keep
busy and do something positive. Jassim told PolOff that so
many young unemployed Shi'a men get into trouble because they
have no where to place their energy.


6. (U) For the most part, factory management allows union
representatives access to workers. However, the women
interviewed unanimously view the textile union as not worth
the monthly 500 fils (USD1.33) dues. At Continental Garment
factory, the women workers designated five women to become
union members and represent all of them. This group of five
women fields all complaints and demands to the union.
Workers described union activities at other factories as far
less organized. The textile union has yet to bargain
collectively with management on any issues. President of the
Textile Trade Union Khadija Attiya told PolOff on May 12 that
there are 250 dues-paying members out of a total of 12,000
textile workers. She claims that she has encountered some
resistance from management to her efforts to recruit union
members, and a couple of factories have forbidden her access
to foreign workers. Even though the 2002 Trade Union Law
allows foreigners to join trade union, none have done so.
Attiya cited that foreign workers are afraid to join for fear
of losing their jobs and/or being repatriated. She has not
heard of any factory management threatening repatriation or
loss of jobs. She also admits that she has little support
from the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions. Attiya
told us that she needs support and more training.


7. (U) The majority of women cited naturalization of Arab
non-Bahrainis as the main issue facing indigenous ethnic
Bahrainis, alleging that naturalized Sunni Yemenis and
Syrians take finishing and sewing jobs away from Bahrainis.
The second most important issue was sectarian discrimination
against the Shi'a. All agreed that housing is scarce and the
cost of living is rising. However, they also acknowledged
that women rights have greatly expanded.


8. (U) Very few Bahraini women purposely chose to work in
the apparel industry. Many asserted that they work at an
apparel job because it earns the higher end of the "minimum
wage." When asked what they would like to do if the apparel
industry did not exist in Bahrain, only a handful thought
they could be re-trained to become a secretary or an
accounting clerk. Several said that they would like to
receive more education and pursue careers in nursing and
teaching. However, the overwhelming majority could not
conceive of working at any other job.

9. (U) COMMENT. The WTO-mandated end of textile quotas
could cause several hundred conservative Shi'a women to lose
their jobs. The loss of these jobs is politically relevant
considering the high unemployment rate that already
disproportionately affects the Shi'a population.
Unemployment is a main bone of contention between the GOB and
the opposition. In addition, the end of textile quotas and
the possible effective date of US-Bahrain Free Trade
Agreement (FTA) is January 1, 2005. The FTA could be blamed
for job losses resulting from the end of quotas, causing a
public relations nightmare for both the USG and the GOB. In
order to mitigate the impact of the loss of these jobs, this
issue will merit serious attention from the GOB, business
community, the union and NGOs. END COMMENT.

© Scoop Media

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