NAYA | Breaking Down Barriers: A panel about women and their political participation

A session of Q and A followed the discussion, where students expressed their opinions and voiced their concerns.
by Rana Tabbara and Danah Kaouri

2 November 2018 | 12:54

Source: by Annahar

The panel ensemble consisting of : Joumana Merhi, Paula Yacoubian, Manar Zeaiter and Joumana Haddad from left to right. (Annahar Photo/Danah Kaouri)

BEIRUT: Michelle Bachelet, UN Human Rights chief, once said: “One woman in politics changes the woman, but many women in politics change politics.”

The Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World collaborated with the Human Rights Club at the Lebanese American University to discuss the topic of women’s participation in politics and public life, Thursday evening.

Under the title of Breaking Down Barriers: Women and Political Participation, a panel discussion was held; it included notable women from the public and political sphere such as MP Paula Yacoubian, author and activist Joumana Haddad, and Director of the Arab Institute for Human Rights in Lebanon Joumana Merhi. Moderating the inclusive women’s right talk was lawyer and human rights activist Manar Zeaiter.   

According to Lina Abirafeh, director of IWSAW, the panel came into existence under the umbrella of a project they initiated: Equality for Everyone, and Gender Reform from Grassroots to Government. This project aims to promote women’s political participation in a country described as “having the lowest levels of women in politics, leadership, and decision making,” on a global context.

The project tackles the problem through integrating the youth and existing politicians to create an enabling environment for women to enter the domain of politics as their “own independent selves and not as wives, daughter, sisters and widows of politicians,” she added.

“We are half of the population so we deserve to be here just as much as anybody else and our presence is long overdue,” said Abirafeh.

The panel kicked off with a word from Abirafeh, and the panel was assembled afterward. Introducing the topic, Zeaiter started with a question: “What do we want of women’s participation in the public affairs?”

Answering her question, Zeaiter continued that the talk won’t be limited to discussing numbers and percentages of women active in the political sphere, but will also cover the leverage of their roles and positions if they were to participate.

Zeaiter followed up with another question that asks about the strategies, tools and tactics one can follow to activate the general public to establish an environment that invites more women to participate in the public affairs.

Yacoubian was first to talk about her experience in the parliamentary elections, where she tackled three main points, which included the absence of the political will, where women are not encouraged to take a leap in politics due to the gender norms and roles enforced on them, the political partisanship and its consequences on the efficiency of the parliament especially that the parties are, in her defense, patriarchal and do not encourage women’s participation in political talk, lastly, Yacoubian touched upon the political frameworks that embrace equal representation of genders in the parliament.

“Extremism is not the solution,” said Yacoubian. “We are not going to form lists of all-women candidates for the parliament because that is not what we seek, we seek equal chances of representation without favoring one gender on another one.”

Haddad was second to give her intake on women’s rights. She touched upon giving women the space to participate in the political sphere regardless of their plans and projects as it is their right to run prior to judging their efficiency.

“We should first achieve equal political participation as a right and then we can start choosing according to qualifications,” said the activist.

Haddad also emphasized the importance of an inclusive quota, because unlike what patriarchal politicians would claim, a quota is not discriminatory but a step towards equality.

“All of us should be able to choose what we want to do in life, and these choices shouldn’t be based on ideas reinforced by gender roles,” said Haddad.

Merhi talked about her experience as an activist for women’s rights. She tackled the week points of the feminist movement in Lebanon and considered it to be “an elitist movement rather than a social one.”

Merhi also encouraged an intersectional approach to feminism that partakes in issues beyond women’s rights, such as the pollution crisis and democratic reforms.

“Where is the feminist movement in facing the sectarian political system that holds us back from building a national and secular state?” said Merhi.

According to Abdullah Malaeb, president of the Human Rights club at LAU, the club is interested in women’s rights.

“The context of what’s happening today and the youth’s need to know what Paula Yacoubian is working towards and whether she is voicing the voiceless, from youth to women, along our concerns made us collaborate with the institute to present this panel discussion,” said Malaeb.

A session of Q and A followed the discussion, where students expressed their opinions and voiced their concerns.

According to Mira Majed, Journalism student at LAU, Today’s debate reminded us of the bitter truth that we are living in and the unjust treatment of women in politics.

“Just like men who work in the fashion field become great at it, women can also break the stereotypes and innovate in politics,” said Majed. “In all areas, women and men complement each other, politics can be one of those areas.”

According to Joey Badr, TV and Film student at LAU, the panel was essential to put forward ideas and plan how women could be working to achieve their goals.

“Women’s representation in politics can amend their difficult situations such as that they face from domestic violence, underage marriage and right of giving their nationality to their kids,” said Badr.

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