Veiled Bahrainis find more work in commercials

Local models preferred to foreign ones


Companies in Bahrain are increasingly turning to local talent for their advertising campaigns as the veil becomes an asset rather than an obstacle to commercial stardom.

Even women who wear the face cover-niqab-can audition to take part in commercial media, Ali Bahr, commercial development manager in a T.V. production company told

"Veiled women are preferred to non-veiled ones because they reflect the reality in the Gulf," he said.

Bahr's company, which shot 50 commercials since the beginning of 2008, pays between $130 to $3,000, depending on the model's experience.

Companies in Bahrain offer veiled Bahraini models significantly more, double to triple, what they offer foreigners.

Bahr said that it is much easier to find models in Bahrain than in Saudi Arabia adding that media protocols in Bahrain favor female talent when the commercial is related to a governmental or social organization.

"We are a well-known and professional organization. We usually film during the day," he said. "And generally our productions are more conservative than T.V. drama."

Mariam Hamad, who works in the Bahraini Ministry of Health, was offered the role of a doctor in a commercial for a newspaper and took it because she wanted to play a role that resonated culturally.

"I took the offer because the producers said they want someone with Bahraini features and because the subject of the commercial is meaningful and decent," Hamad explained to

Her decision to take the offer was met with a range of reactions when the billboards hit the streets, Hamad said. She received numerous calls asking if she was the woman in the advertisement, and while some encouraged her, others disapproved.

Despite her initial hesitation, Hamad chose not to consult her family before filming the commercial.

"My mom found out later. In the beginning, she did not object, but later she changed her mind when my brothers disapproved and one of them gave me the silent treatment for days," she said.

A few days after shooting her first commercial, Hamad shot another commercial for a dentistry clinic.

No veiled women have appeared on television in the past several years although no law prohibits them. Veiled presenters have recently begun to appear and several of those who donned the veiled while working retained their jobs.

Manager Designate of Bahraini T.V. Fawzia Zanil told that Bahraini women are generally conservative and that is why it is normal to have veiled women on T.V.

Although Bahrain is a relatively liberal country with half its population composed of foreigners, many families hold conservative views about their daughters' appearance in the media, an extremely public venue. Society also tends to view women who appear in T.V. commercials or magazines with suspicion.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)

I took the offer because the producers said they want someone with Bahraini features and because the subject of the commercial is meaningful and decent

Mariam Hamad, commercial actress