BEIRUT: The Lebanese woman’s role in politics has always been a tiny spec in a sea of patriarchy. After 61 years of independence, Lebanon only appointed its first-ever female ministers in 2004.
Fast forward to January 2020, Lebanon announced a new 20-minister cabinet consisting of six female ministers. For the first time in its history, Lebanon had a cabinet consisting of 30% women - up from 13% the year prior.
Women’s roles in leadership and its gradual increase has been a big topic of discussion in recent years. The Arab Institute for Women at the Lebanese American University in collaboration with UN Women and ESCWA held a panel discussion on women in positions of leadership on Tuesday. The discussion was split into two sections: Women in politics and women in the judiciary in Lebanon.
Women in Politics
The UN Women Lead Consultant Ph.D. Halimeh Kaakour presented a study on female candidates in the 2018 parliamentary elections. The study included interviews with most of the female candidates on various topics including gendered discrimination at home, work, within political parties, in public, online or even at home. This included bullying, harassment, and threats from other political parties.
The results showed high rates of gender-based discrimination against women in the political -and even social- landscape. Other parts of the study revealed a preference by media channels for male candidates.
Kaakour discussed how reality motivates people to become more socially aware and active, telling Annahar that “showing them this study would help them know as women what they’re gonna go through and as men what women go through, so they come together and minimize discrimination.”
Part of the same panel was Former Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Wafaa Dikah Hamze, who was one of two women chosen to be Lebanon’s first-ever female ministers back in 2004. Hamze spoke of her experience as a minister.
“Back when I was a minister in 2004, the issue of Lebanese women's rights was still not close to any political party’s mind. We kept trying and trying. We were exhausted,” adding that passing anything related to empowering women had to be pushed for ferociously.
Though times were different, Hamze never shied away from advocating for equality.
“I can say with a clear conscience that I had women’s rights on the top of my priorities, even though I was a minister of parliamentary consultations," she said.
Women in the Judiciary
Nada Darwazeh, chief at ESCWA center for women, presented a study of Arab women in the judiciary. The study showed that even though Lebanon had 49.3% female judges, the highest in the Arab world and on par with international figures, most were not of higher rankings. Higher positions were more likely to be occupied by men.
Also part of the panel was Nazek El Khatib, a Lebanese judge who has experienced the job first-hand. During her panel, she spoke of one of her experiences.
“I had a court case with a religious figure and he refused to have me be the judge as it was ‘against his principles,’” said El Khatib, adding that: “I gave him an ultimatum: Either prepare to proceed with the session or suffer the consequences.”
The man later met El Khatib in her office to discuss more calmly.
“He wouldn’t even look me in the eyes at court, but he was so different when he came to discuss with me. That’s when I realized that he just did not want to seem like 'any less' of a man by listening to a woman in front of the courtroom,” she added.
However, El Khatib stressed that this was an isolated incident and that her work in the judiciary has been largely positive.
Over the years, the explosion of the rights movement contributed directly to Lebanon. Though slow, changes have been made and the director at the Arab Institute for Women Myriam Sfeir, is hopeful.
“We cannot lose hope. Things will change eventually. It takes a lot of time especially in societies where there is a lot of power in people’s hands and people are very resistant to relinquishing this power,” she said. “We cannot afford to be disheartened. Change takes time.”
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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