MIDDLE EAST

Lebanese women to gain political ground?

After gaining the right to vote and participate in elections in 1952, one would assume that more female politicians would be taking part in Lebanon’s administrative scene.

Women won the right to participate in politics 19 years before those in Switzerland, a neutral European country.

But what have they done with this?

The June elections are just around the corner and, while the men continue to argue over the proposed electoral draft law, women in the country are attempting to take a stand.

The Coalition for Women in Parliament 2013 is trying to put pressure on lawmakers to approve a 30 percent quota for women, making it a little bit easier for them to be a part of parliament.

Lebanese women do enjoy equal civil rights, but the persistence of traditional attitudes regarding the role of women means most political organizations, of which they are a part, exist as subordinate branches of the political parties.

Sophie Ghaziri

The reason why women are not highly involved is a slightly more complicated issue than just simply breaking it down to laws that bar women from participating. It is, however, how society weighs in. Many women in Lebanon abstain from taking part, a result of widespread political culture in Lebanon that, as a matter of fact, relegates women to second-class citizens.

Paul Salem, the Director of the Carnegie Middle East center in Beirut, has previously said that Lebanese democracy failed to strengthen political life in the country and has not been able to take the required steps to modernize social life.

“The women’s movement has not been very successful because we are up against a political body that is male-dominated, so we’re always confronting the political system rather than becoming part of it,” Nadine Mouawad, head of Nasawiya, a feminist collective in Lebanon said.

Lebanese women do enjoy equal civil rights, but the persistence of traditional attitudes regarding the role of women means most political organizations, of which they are a part, exist as subordinate branches of the political parties. In some cases they can even be seen as NGOs.


Mouawad added that as long women don’t pose a threat to Lebanon’s political system, the government and the country will not take them seriously.


The right family name

Since its independence from France in 1943, the political structure in the country has been dominated by men and the same powerful family names, which were around in the 50’s and 60’s.

The women who have managed to break into the political spectrum hold their positions because of some sort of affiliation with those elite families, a helping hand from fathers, brothers or even their husbands.

Women’s organizations may have been lobbying for years to introduce female quotas for MPs, but in a country that remains divided along sectarian lines, it is difficult.

Linda Matar, a prominent activist, spoke to The Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon and said “the problem is in the sectarian system, the heads of sects have the grip on all decisions.”

After Lebanon’s civil war from 1975 to 1990, political parties continue to compete in order to preserve narrow sectarian interests. In such a system, women are less likely to be nominated or elected. This inevitably discourages women from seeking office.

“We are calling for partnership and just equality with men, and we believe having a share in both Parliament and Cabinet would be the first step to turn women into decision-makers,” Olfat al-Sabeh, an activist, also told The Daily Star.

At least 50 women attempted to take a stand this week and are seeking political office in this year’s upcoming parliamentary poll.

Women need to be more persistent, aggressive and willing to run for election until they can manage to achieve their goal and set the trend for others to follow.

Think about it, if one woman can make noise, how much noise can 50 women make?


___________
Sophie Ghaziri is a Shift Editor at Al Arabiya English. She has previously worked as a producer, presenter and a writer at the BBC, Al Jazeera and she was Head of English at Future News in Lebanon for 2 years. She can be followed on Twitter on: @sophieghaziri
 

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Last Update: Saturday, 18 May 2013 KSA 07:50 - GMT 04:50
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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