Editor's note: NAYA’s Ministers' Series is devoted to spreading knowledge on the four women who broke the glass ceiling. They earned a seat at the table of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s January 2019 cabinet comprised of thirty members. As Annahar’s NAYA exclusively delves into the backgrounds of HE Rayya El Hassan, HE Nada Boustani-Khoury, HE Violette Khairallah Safadi, and HE Dr. May Chidiac, we learn who these women are, how they gained a seat at the table, and how we can pull up a chair for more women in the future. For further information you can contact NAYA Editor Sally Farhat: Sally.email@example.com
BEIRUT: Raya Haffar El-Hassan is hailed for taking on the Patriarchy by shattering the glass ceiling over a decade ago as the first woman Minister of Finance. This January, she broke new ground by becoming the first woman Minister of Interior and Municipalities in the Arab world.
El-Hassan attended the American University of Beirut business school during the Lebanese Civil War, a time when it was understandable, and in some cases welcomed, to drop out and/or flee the country.
"I went to AUB in 1984 and I studied business administration, it was during the war. My father instructed us, at the time, that you need to do something that you could find a job in. During my Bachelor’s Degree I did very well in the finance courses and I grasped the concepts that underpin fiscal matters at that time," El-Hassan told Annahar.
Her older brother, a role model for El-Hassan, played an influential role in her educational trajectory.
"My brother was working at Bank of New York at the time. He was born and raised in the states. I looked up to him. Since I had excelled in business affairs, and since what my brother was doing was somethings interesting and exciting, I continued with my graduate studies and focused on finance. I got accepted at George Washington University in Washington D.C. and this is how it all happened," she added.
With Wall Street on her mind El-Hassan graduated from the George Washington University with an MBA focused on investment.
"I liked the idea of Wall Street and we were influenced a lot by the news about it. It was a hot topic at the time, so I majored in Finance and I did well," El-Hassan said.
On Women in Policy Making
El-Hassan is not new to navigating sectarian groups. With only 6/128 female members of Parliament, and 4/30 female ministers, the question of how to encourage party leaders to present women to be considered for government roles becomes evident.
"As more and more women do well in public sector positions, whether in Parliament, whether in Ministries, or whether in the government, the belief in women’s capacities will be enhanced. This will be an encouragement for them (party leaders) to present more women candidates in the next electoral cycle," El-Hassan told Annahar.
On Gender Equality and Mansplaining
Despite breaking the mold to a certain extent, there is still the issue of mansplaining.
"Even Christine Lagarde, Chairman and Managing Director of the IMF, was talking about mansplaining not too long ago. The Director General of the IMF, the highest financial position in the world, herself suffers from Mansplaining," El-Hassan told Annahar.
Mansplaining, as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is the explanation of something by a man, typically to a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.
“It’s becoming better. 10, 15, 20 years ago it used to be much harder to impose yourself so that men don’t speak over you. 'Mansplaining' used to happen a lot, especially when you’re young and haven’t established yourself yet. 20 years ago women in Lebanon did not enjoy the confidence they are now creating for themselves," El-Hassan said.
El-Hassan explains that gaining confidence and having more successful women role models (who can change the perception of men towards women), account for changes for the better.
“Now I find it easier. Maybe it’s the fact that I was a Minister before, the fact that I was in government before, or the fact that I’ve worked in many public sector domains, it is easier. With time as you gain more and more experience in dealing with men, in trying to communicate and negotiate, you establish some sort of a professional relationship. This is when men stop and listen instead of speaking over you," she said.
On Civil Marriage
El-Hassan has previously stated there should be a "framework for civil marriage," and that she is open to facilitating a dialogue on the subject matter as Minister of Interior and Municipalities.
"I know that this topic has a political and sectarian dimension to it, and I have to take this into consideration, but I will open this discussion with all religious figures," she previously said.
El-Hassan has previously made news headlines for something other than shattering the glass ceiling; this time a defiant couple wed in a civil marriage in Lebanon provoking a response, a signature, from El-Hassan. She took no action on the signature and has since dispelled this simplification of the process.
"This is not something that can be done by just signing a civil marriage certificate. This requires a real discussion, and a real dialogue on all elements of society. Saying it’s as simple as signing something is simplifying the issue," El-Hassan told Annahar.
The issue, far more complex than her signature, requires legal reform, and the participation of all factions of society, she states.
"The only way to do it is to have a law ratified in Parliament. This is where you ensure that everybody has signed off, and all the different constituencies in the Lebanese fabric are on board. This is the only way you can protect this civil marriage arrangement," El Hassan told Annahar.
Despite publicly taking a stance towards opening a dialogue, El-Hassan states that ultimately, it’s in the hands of the Lebanese people and their representatives in Parliament.
"Whether the civil marriage law will be ratified or not this is up to the people and the representatives of the people in Parliament," El-Hassan said.
Welcome to “NAYA,” the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. NAYA is devoted to women of all generations. NAYA Editor, Sally Farhat: Sally.firstname.lastname@example.org
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