My application to issue a new visa to hire a new driver by the Labour Management Regulatory Authority (LMRA) has been declined.
I live with my parents and so the visa will only be issued to the “head of the family”, i.e. my father.
A Little Background Information:
I am 33 years old, and so happen to be still living with my parents, in Bahrain.
because: culture here dictates that unless I am married (to a new “head of the family”), moving out of my parents home is deemed socially unacceptable.
Why do I need a driver:
At the age of one, I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy which is an umbrella term for various cognitive and/or physical challenges caused by a deficiency of oxygen in the brain either during the birthing process or right after birth. In my case, my CP caused muscle spasticity in certain areas, which affect my gait and balancing. Thankfully however, after years of therapy and a surgery, I am now able, for the most part, to walk unassisted. I however, chose not to drive. I am not very confident of how quick my reflexes would react towards anything sudden on the road, especially considering the fact that people here hardly stick to traffic rules, driving here is close to maniacal! Being the cause of harm to someone is certainly not a risk I would want to take, the guilt from which, is not something I could live with.
That aside, I was fortunate enough to have lived a fulfilled childhood and to have been integrated into society. I am an independent woman in all respects: I have a good job, I am financially independent, I make my own decisions and I continue to strive for the highest levels of independence in life in a society that is yet to make strides of progress in terms of gender equality or inclusion and equality of the differently abled, socially, I hardly faced any serious issues growing up, when it came to being accepted.
A few years back, I submitted the same application to the LMRA along with a letter reasoning why I needed a driver and medical report to support my application. I was given a visa based on which I hired a driver. Now that he returned to his home country, I applied for a visa to hire a new driver last week, but I received the unexpected text yesterday morning from the clearing agent who was processing my paper work saying that the LMRA declined my application for the reason I stated at the beginning of this article.
Obviously, I could not take no for an answer just like that so I called, explained my predicament to the lady over the phone, and demanded I speak to the official who is responsible for approvals, she explained this was a help desk and they had no access to transferring calls, when I asked for a number to call, she said that the officials do not provide phone numbers. Hopelessly, I asked her to advise me on how to reach the concerned person, her passive response struck me, “these are the laws, there’s not much I can do!” “…as per the law the visa has to be issued to a married male”, and when I explained that this contradicts with the fact that Bahrain is a signatory of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and has issued Decree Law No. 5 of 2002 in this regard, she got nervous and kept repeating that there was nothing she could do, which I believed. It was obvious that she was trying to get out of a situation she clearly knew nothing about but did not want to make her ignorance on the matter seem too obvious, at which she failed miserably! I demanded she give me a link to the law she was referring to or guide me as to where I can find it, and I was met with more passiveness, she went on telling me that it was not posted on the website and that she does not know where I can find it, at which point I was struggling to keep my calm as I went on lecturing her on how this was unacceptable from a public service-based establishment and how this is ironic from a governmental entity that prides itself on transparency!
I then took refuge in the world wide web and set out on a hunt to find the laws that govern these decisions, and I found Order No. (4) of 2014 With regard to Regulation of Work Permits for Domestic Servants and Equivalent. Nowhere in the order does it specify that work permits are restricted to the “head of the family” or to a certain gender for that matter.
And what’s more, it also states, “In case an Order is issued to refuse the requested application for the Work Permit; the reasons for such refusal shall be stated. In all circumstances, the Employer or his assign shall be notified of the issued Order within 3 business days from the date of issuance of this Order. Besides, this notification may be submitted electronically.”
Based on this, I texted the clearance agent asking him for the statement of refusal, much to my shock, he responded saying that he was not given one, “the counter employee refused to take the application!”
This keeps getting better and better! At this point my outrage burnt a hole through the roof! I was not even given the right to submit my application, let alone have it reviewed, I certainly was not planning on letting this slide.
By then, it was after 15:00 and the LMRA was closed for the day. I called back this morning, and explained the situation all over again expressing my outrage and demanding not only to speak to a senior official but also to have that employee reprimanded for rejecting my submission without even so much as a glance, they took all the details and I am now waiting for a call back.
Why can’t I “just take it easy!”:
The comments I got from some friends to whom I vented about this were, “Why not just process the application under your father’s name and get it over with without issues?”, “Who do we know at the LMRA?!” and “Don’t stress yourself, this is Bahrain, you can’t fix everything.”
Even though I know that their comments come from an intention to help, and that my father will definitely not mind or cause issues at any point, should I settle for issuing the visa under his name, but if my CP has taught me anything in life, it is the vehement disbelief in easy fixes. The issue is not whether or not I get the visa, it is more deep-rooted than that and silently resolving the issue would be an act of selfishness on my part. These unspoken policies and regulations do not just affect me, and if I resolve them quietly, I am making myself a part of the problem and I am no accomplice!
I realize that these tight policies are an attempt to regulate the expatriate labour market and prevent abuse of privilege by limiting recruitment to one driver per household, which is understandable. But here’s where I have a problem with this:
By telling me that I cannot issue a visa to hire my own driver simply because I am a single woman living under the roof of her father, you are telling me that as an adult human being, I do not have the same rights as my male counterparts. In a Gulf country that prides itself on women empowerment and which is in fact, a historical pioneer in the region when it comes to that, practicing such a policy – whether officially or not, is gender based discrimination.
Not only is it patriarchal, but in this case it was also ableist. By denying me the visa, though the rules applied here are the same as those applied on my able-bodied peers, and yes, that might be regarded as equal standards; but the difference is, to my able-bodied peers who have no problem driving or moving around, hiring a driver might be seen as a privilege; whereas in the case of differently abled citizens like me who do not drive, having a driver is vital to obtaining the free movement and independence that able-bodied people already are capable of and enjoy; so in reality, it is a stark inequality. Therefore there needs to be a change in the standards followed by governmental services in ways that reflect true equality by giving people who, like me, are unable to drive, the means to live as equally and independently as they possibly can. By denying differently abled citizens their right – yes it is a RIGHT, to be able to move from one place to another, you are debilitating a segment in society that has the resilience and energy to contribute to this society; and by denying them such empowerment, you are disabling them and making them a burden on society rather than making use of the fact that they can be tenacious catalysts for progress and more often than not, tend to be goldmines of talent and innovation.
After all this venting, I guess what I am saying here is that I will continue the struggle to get to the bottom of this, and hopefully manage to help bring about change to these policies. After all, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I cannot climb a tree (yet) but I will never ever let anyone make me feel any less of a human being for it.
My battles with patriarchy, ignorance and bureaucracy continue…