BEIRUT: On March 8, MP Paula Yacoubian entered the door of Aaliya’s Books, a literary café and bookstore in Gemmayzeh, to fight a battle; it appeared to be a battle as she repeatedly used the word “war” when speaking of women’s rights throughout the conference “Women and Politics.”
The hall where the event took place was crowded with a mixed audience of both men and women, old and young. The talk, part of a series of discussion panels organized by the independent platform Coffee & Politics, aiming at re-opening the political dialogue among Lebanese citizens.
“Paula Yacoubian was invited as an activist and not because of her political role,” pointed out Tracy Nehme, moderator, and founder of the initiative.
Defining Yacoubian – whose real name is Paulette Yaghobian – can actually turn into a hard task. Her curriculum includes a brilliant career in journalism, radio and TV, but also a celebrity status prematurely acquired when she was assigned her own talk news program, “Al Sulta al Raabi'a.”
Since then, she’s never stopped to go after her goals; she became CEO of Integrated Communications, a company specialized in communications strategy, media relations and public speaking training. She also started using her popularity to advocate social and environmental issues.
Moreover, she launched one of the largest and most successful donation campaigns in Lebanon, “Dafa,” reaching more than 100,000 underprivileged families. But Yacoubian was even dreaming bigger: she raised the bar to the parliamentary elections and on May 7th, 2018, where she was appointed as one of the few women to have a seat in Parliament.
Yacoubian discussed various topics at the conference, she started talking about the hardships a strong woman faces, and then went to tackling big issues related to women in the country. To her, being an independent and opinionated woman in Parliament is not easy: “I got exposed to a slanderous media campaign. Recently they were saying my son is illegitimate,” she said. Then she shifted the topic to the need for a new Nationality Law: “This issue is causing troubles to many families. There are children without any nationality,” she added.
Although Lebanon ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1996, the government rejected articles related to personal status laws and nationality rights of women citizens, denying women to pass their nationality to their husbands and children, as well as having the same rights as men in instances of marriage and divorce.
According to Yacoubian, demographic imbalance, quoted by the government as a reason to not allow women to pass their nationality is not supported by numbers: “It’s a war against information, a purely political issue.” She also highlighted how the citizenship issue affects both Christian and Muslim women.
Yacoubian’s speech continued with another debated topic: domestic abuse. “We consulted the NGO Kafa to suggest to us how to protect women from domestic abuse, but the government doesn’t conceive it as a priority,” she said. In addition, she accused the Lebanese government of being deceptive on civil marriage: “Nowadays the marriage has become a big business for religious centers, that’s the reason why the establishment is against civil marriage.”
As the conference came to an end, Yacoubian still had one final thing to say: “We must have the courage to vote against corruption, this is the only way we can serve our country. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
This photo shows Paul Yacoubian speaking at the Women and Politics conference, at Aaliya's Books in Gemmayzeh. (Annahar Photo)
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