BEIRUT: Thousands of Lebanese poured onto the streets of Lebanon to rid the country of decades of corruption and mismanagement that have brought it to the brink of economic collapse. Since the eruption of the nationwide protests, women have joined in mass numbers. This participation was nationally and globally recognized, especially after the image of a woman kicking a minister’s armed guard went viral, making her a national icon.
UN Women chose to highlight females’ contributions to the uprising by monitoring trends, incidents, and issues related to gender across social media and online platforms. The data collection ended on the 58th day of the protests.
In their study, Claire Wilson, Jumanah Zabaneh, and Rachel Dore-Weeks underlined roles that women have played in the protests, namely how they managed to prevent violence when tensions arose, acting as human shields to separate protesters from security forces.
“Women have been using tactics that leverage gender stereotypes to depoliticize and deescalate tensions, playing on social norms, which see women as secondary, not as political actors, and as in need of protection. Women have been physically inserting themselves into situations deemed as unsafe or at risk of escalation,” the study stated.
Lebanese women not only served as physical buffers but also made sure to bring conflicted communities together.
“Women have been exercising their influence as mothers tactically, using the gendered identity of motherhood as a banner under which to call for an end to violent clashes,” the paper noted giving as an example of the march carried out by mothers to join the areas of Chiyah, a Shi’ite stronghold, and Ain-Al Remmeneh, with a large Christian support base, after three days of sectarian tensions.
Nearly equal or equal participation
According to estimates by UN Women, the number of women who participated in the first week of the protests was equal to that of men.
Gender Expert Abir Chebaro saw that women stood alongside their male counterparts to demonstrate unemployment, dire economic conditions, poor services, and the rampant corruption of the country’s ruling elite.
“Females took to the streets as citizens to call for their basic needs to be met. Their demands were not limited to feminist issues only. Just like male protesters, they want to improve their living conditions,” Chebaro told Annahar’s NAYA.
She went on to explain why women were strongly present in the protests.
“In a patriarchal system, women are excluded from the socio-economic structure and are more exposed to the risk of poverty than men because of gender inequality. In general, women living in poverty are vulnerable to sexual exploitation, including trafficking,” she said, adding that deteriorated socio-economic conditions affect women mostly.
“We revolted to preserve our dignity, to demand our rights,” she added.
Sexism, harassment, and gender-based political violence
Several female journalists were subject to verbal, sexual, and physical harassment throughout the protests.
Commenting on this, Chebaro stressed the need for having a law that protects against sexual harassment in public spaces.
“Such acts should never go unpunished. When we start penalizing the perpetrators, we will see fewer people daring to commit similar crimes,” Chebaro said.
Chebaro also spoke about gender-based political violence, emphasizing that “there has to be a legislation that deals strictly with offenders to prevent violence against women in politics.”
No turning back
Chebaro clarified to NAYA that “the presence of women in the uprising raised awareness on the necessity of granting them leading roles and positions.”
This was reflected in the newly formed cabinet, she explained.
“After many years of struggle to raise the voices of women and increase their political representation – with lately their remarkable participation in the uprising, people in power have realized that they can no longer ignore women and put them aside. Their involvement in politics, peace, and security became vital,” she noted. “Today, the 30% female quota within the cabinet has been secured. We must now aim for parity in future cabinets as well as in parliament and municipalities.”
UN Women emphasized that the protests had generated both new spaces and conversations for women’s rights and political participation.
“Women have led political organization, planning rallies and marches, writing articles, staffing roadblocks, and generating messaging through slogans and signs,” the study mentioned.
The study discussed as well the role of women in creating sustainable peace.
“Women make exceptional negotiators and peace mediators. It has been proven that peace agreements last longer when women are part of the negotiating process,” Chebaro explained.
But still, a long way to go
Despite the slight increase in the participation of women in politics, Lebanon still has a long way to go.
In this year’s edition of the World Economic Forum report on the global gender gap, Lebanon scored 149 – a setback compared to 2018’s index, in which the country ranked number 147.
Chebaro attributed this to the slow pace of change when it comes to tackling gender inequality.
“Countries are progressing way faster than us. They are taking action to support women. In my opinion, to advance towards equality, we need to walk the walk instead of talk the talk,” she 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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