Lebanon elects record number of women to parliament

BEIRUT — The Beirut port explosion prompted Najat Saliba to enter politics as a counter-reaction.

I felt like I had to get out of my ivory tower in academia and start pushing for a new way of life,” the atmospheric chemistry specialist told Al-Monitor. Today, Saliba is one of eight women representatives in the Lebanese parliament, a record number of women among the 128 seats. Lebanon has one of the highest overall gender gaps in the world, and some of these women are aiming to address this issue, now from within institutions.

“It is not easy to implement a gender agenda in a sexist parliament, but I will fight for it,” said Halime el-Kaakour. The newly elected MP is known for her feminist platform. “My expertise and beliefs in gender equality was one of the main reasons for attacks during my campaign, and it still continues,” Kaakour told Al-Monitor. But she’s not going to give up. As one of the faces of feminist demands during the October 17 Revolution protests in 2019, she pledged to work for better policies for women.

The 2022 legislative elections secured eight seats for female representatives, two more than the 2018 vote. But despite this progress, they represent only 6.25% of parliament. Half of these women, including Saliba and Kaakour, come from the protest movement. “It’s a big win for us women to show that we treat each other as equals,” Saliba said. It was a feminist revolution.

“You can’t talk about rights without including a feminist agenda. The revolution broke many barriers when it normalized discussion of women’s rights and gender issues in public spaces,” said Myriam Sfeir, Director of the Arab Institute for Women.

But almost two years later, the economic crisis and the critical social context exacerbated by the August 4 port explosion are used as an argument to tell activists and politicians that now is no longer the time to work for rights. women.

Lebanon has one of the highest overall gender gaps in the world, ranking 145 out of 153 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Gender Gap Report. Political representation is one of the most affected areas. Although they are very involved politically on the ground or through voting habits and have a higher level of education than others in the region, women have always been excluded from decision-making positions. in the public and private sectors.

It was not until 2004 that women participated for the first time in the Lebanese government with two female ministers.

Women in Lebanon suffer from this absence of representatives. For example, in the approved subsidized food basket launched a few months ago, women’s sanitary napkins were absent.

“There is no political will to have better policies for women because there is a lot of pushback in terms of changing the status quo,” Sfeir said. She doesn’t see more female reps as the solution to gender. inequality, since some of these newly elected parliamentarians do not defend women’s rights.

Our priority is to have men and women in parliament with a feminist agenda,” she said.

Saliba agreed, saying, “It would help us get rid of all these macho men who believe the world revolves around them and have established this male-dominated way of politics.”

Lebanese electoral law does not impose quotas on the party list, but there is also no gender quota in the political system.

“In a country obsessed with quotas, we don’t have gender quotas;It’s ironic,” Sfeir noted, referring to the quotas that organize the Lebanese political system according to religious sects.

A gender quota is an affirmative action measure used in many countries to ensure equal representation of men and women in public institutions. The Lebanese women’s rights movement has been pushing for this legislation for years, but it has yet to be approved.

“Women’s political participation and the quota is something that all parties agree on, but when it comes to endorsing it, no one wants to flag it as their fight,” Sfeir added.

The absence of a gender quota is one of the main reasons for the low representation of women in Lebanese politics. According to report entitled “Women’s Political Participation in Lebanon: Perspectives from Mount Lebanon” by the Euro-Mediterranean Women’s Foundation. Each of them must also face their own socio-economic barriers.

In the 2022 elections, 157 out of 1,043 the candidates in the running were women, which represents 15% of all the candidates. But the results showed one woman for every 18 men (5%) in the Lebanese parliament. And those who took their seats had to walk a rocky road to get there.

“I encountered more obstacles than men, especially with regard to violence against women in politics,” Kaakour said. “There were rumors about my personal life, which my male competitors didn’t have to deal with.” The author of the book “Journey of Lebanese Women in Parliament” thanked these men who helped her to fight these stereotypes “by deciding to support her”.

“As someone trying to swim against the tide, it’s very difficult to do my job because they try to harass us a lot, especially on social media,” Saliba said. UN Women Study of female candidates in the 2018 legislative elections, 78.6% said they had been exposed to various types of violence against women in politics. In 85% of these cases, it was psychological violence.

Hostile online and offline environments and the denial of media exposure and coverage are just other tools to deter women from political activity, locking them into traditional stereotypes and the realm of domestic life. . But the absence of women in an institution only shows the lack of representation of half the population, and this turns out to be one of the greatest threats to democracy.

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