Lebanese women look for greater role in parliament elections
Beirut - Since 2004, there have been one or at most two posts for women in government.
Published: Sun 21 Jan 2018, 8:49 PM
Last updated: Sun 21 Jan 2018, 10:54 PM
Lebanon is campaigning to get at least five times more women elected to parliament this spring in its first vote in nearly 10 years, the country's first women's affairs minister says.
It is a daunting task for a country that may otherwise look like one of the most liberal in the region.
Despite a relatively free Press, diverse religious groups and women in prominent positions in the business world and the media, Lebanon ranks surprisingly low when it comes to female representation in politics, and politicians have failed to act on a movement to institute a quota for women in parliament.
"Keeping women from public life is not only a loss for women. It is a loss for the parliament," Minister of State for Women's Affairs Jean Oghassabian said. "The main obstacles are mentality, a philosophy of life, and this needs time," he said.
There are only four women in the outgoing parliament elected in 2009, a flimsy 3 per cent of its 128 lawmakers. It was a drop from 2005, when six women were elected.
Since 2004, there have been one or at most two posts for women in government.
Three months before the vote, the women's affairs ministry in collaboration with the United Nations and the EU launched a campaign to boost women's numbers in the elections, with the slogan: "Half the society, half the parliament."
Billboards went up in several Beirut districts. Programmes on local TV stations about women in politics are airing weekly and local groups say they are training women candidates on public speaking.
Oghassabian said last year's decision to appoint a man to the newly created portfolio was meant to send a message that it is also "a man's duty" to fight for women's rights.
Holding parliamentary elections in Lebanon is a feat in itself. Scheduled for May, these are the first elections in the country since 2009.
Seats in the Lebanese parliament are allotted according to sects, with each community distributing them according to region and strongholds. In this complex system, adding a women's quota was too complicated for some to contemplate, said Nora Mourad, a gender researcher with the United Nations Development Programme.
Last year, the politicians refused to even discuss a female quota in the new law.
Members of the Hezbollah group walked out of the room before the discussion began.
"We are against a quota. We are against imposing conditions from the outside on our policies and roles and work," said Rima Fakhry, a politician from the group. "The women movement considers that women should reach decision-making positions. For them it is in parliament. We differ with those movements."