'The status of women in our country is miserable': Lebanese women fight to be heard in the upcoming elections
Welcome to The New Arab’s coverage of Lebanon’s General Election 2022 held on May 15, 2022. Follow live updates, results, analyses, and opinion in our special hub here.
Despite the multifaceted crisis that has affected Lebanon for the past two years, Lebanon is among the Middle Eastern countries that have recorded the largest reduction in the gender gap in 2021.
According to the Global Gender Gap Index, this improvement would be mainly due to better political empowerment of women ministers which would have increased from 3.4% to 31.6%.
While this progress is important to note, the lack of women's representation in politics remains particularly alarming despite a high political participation rate in the general elections of 51%.
"The quota is the only way to give an equal chance to women compared to men in political life. The bill we drafted last September stated that 26 seats must be reserved for women in parliament. In addition, 40% of the lists of candidates must be women"
The Mikati government formed last September includes only one woman, compared to the six women in the previous Hassan Diab government. The situation of women's representation in parliament is also concerning.
Lebanon has one of the lowest percentages of women in parliament in the MENA region (less than 5%), despite an increase in the number of female candidates in 2022 (155) compared to 2018 (113), and 2009 (13). Thus, since Lebanese women obtained the right to vote, only 17 of them have been elected to Parliament.
Despite the lack of women's political representation over the past decades, Lebanon was one of the first countries to grant women the right to vote in 1953, and its constitution promulgated in 1926 sets forth the principle of equality between the sexes and citizens.
More recently, Prime Minister Saad Hariri established the position of Minister of State for Women's Affairs to tackle gender-based discrimination and violence.
However, the appointment of a 62-year-old man to this position has generated negative reactions and confirms the glaring dissonance between political engagement at different levels and the lack of political representation of women in Lebanon.
This situation has prompted many to mobilise for a better political representation of women in Lebanon. On the occasion of the round table entitled Women Change Makers - Union in Times of Crises organised on the occasion of International Women's Day, Diana Fadel, founder and president of Diane Foundation deplored that, “The status of women in our country is miserable and their rights are violated. Just look at the personal status laws, and count the number of women in parliament."
According to the latter, a sufficient number of women must arrive in Parliament so that they can defend their rights and begin to bring about real change in the country.
For this reason, Joelle Abou Farhat, founder, and co-president of the organisation Fifty-Fifty – which aims to increase the number of women in political life in Lebanon – have tried several times with her team to implement a quota policy.
"Some prospects for change can be seen. During the massive October 2019 nationwide rallies known as the thawra, women have been at the forefront of the demonstrations against the government"
“The quota is the only way to give an equal chance to women compared to men in political life. The bill we drafted last September stated that 26 seats must be reserved for women in parliament. In addition, 40% of the lists of candidates must be women,” she told The New Arab.
“Of course, this proposed law would also take into consideration the sectarian nature of the Lebanese system with as many Christian women as Muslim women in parliament,” she added.
Despite the positive changes this law could have brought, it has been voted down in a joint parliamentary committee meeting on the grounds that the system was already complicated enough. The country's discriminatory political and economic system is thus partly responsible for the lack of women's participation in politics.
Also speaking at the roundtable, Tracy Chamoun, Politician and former Lebanese Ambassador to the Kingdom of Jordan denounced a patriarchal movement that prevents Lebanon from reaching parity.
“The representatives – who often fight each other – united and voted against women’s quota,” she said.
“The Lebanese are in a difficult situation, and women have a national duty and role. Women should be encouraged to stand for elections, to elevate women in the political sector, which to this day still deprives them access to decision-making positions,” she added.
In addition to a socio-economic context that prevents the representation of women in Lebanese politics, it is also cultural norms and social aspects must be taken into account.
A national survey conducted by The Status of Women in the Middle East and North Africa (SWMENA) concluded that 30% of women with university education, and an average of 40% of women with secondary education, believed that men are better political leaders than women.
Nevertheless, some prospects for change can be seen. During the massive October 2019 nationwide rallies known as the thawra, women have been at the forefront of the demonstrations against the government.
This presence allowed them to advance their rights while exposing the Lebanese patriarchal system that prevented gender equality in all aspects of their life.
As such, during the roundtable, Michel El Helou, Candidate of the National Bloc in the upcoming parliamentary elections noted the gap between the legislative system and the Lebanese society’s progress
“Based on my experience in journalism, topics related to women’s rights attract a large number of readers, which means that the Lebanese society is ready for change,” he explained.
At the same time, the international pressure on Lebanese officials to improve the representation of women in the coming elections is becoming more intense.
As such, the Security Council reiterated one more time its call for “free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections to be held on May 15, as scheduled”, with elections that ensure "full, equal and meaningful participation of women as candidates and voters”.
Clément Gibon is a freelance journalist based in Lebanon.
Follow him on Instagram: @clm_gbn