BEIRUT: Professionals and media personalities discussed Friday the importance of promoting the visibility of female leaders and the need to establish gender quotas ahead of the next parliamentary election round.
The calls came at the conclusion of a training program entitled “Media Supporting Women Leaders: Women Towards Parliament.” Andre Kassas from the Information Ministry presented more than 30 members of the media with awards for their participation in the program. The nine-month program, a joint effort by local advocacy organizations SMART Center and Women in Front, educated journalists and broadcasters about the importance of featuring professional Lebanese women in the media.
Women are often absent from public discussions, said representatives from several industries.
The root of the problem, says parliamentary candidate and director of the SMART Center Randa Yassir, is the media’s tendency to focus on male politicians, academics and business professionals. “This is giving the people and the public the idea that they can’t have confidence in a woman,” she said.
“It’s a mentality of the media in Lebanon,” said would-be parliamentary candidate and political activist Neamat Badreddine, one of the finalists on the Al-Jadeed reality show Al-Zaim, whose winner, Maya Terro, received the station’s backing in the next elections.
Badreddine is hopeful that the media’s male-oriented predisposition can change, however. “Through the media, we are trying to say to the Lebanese people that you have women, good women, that have all the qualifications,” she said.
And by encouraging the media to defer to qualified female opinion makers, the public will become more open to the idea of female politicians.
“We want to show that women really understand politics and that they are able to represent the people,” she affirmed.
Yassir hopes that with programs such as “Media Supporting Women Leaders” the media will be more open to featuring qualified females on their programs. “If you are going to have a discussion about oil or electricity, know that you have both male and female experts,” she said.
“Why not pick the female, because we’ve been giving the floor in the media to the male for a long, long time,” she added.
Others were more militant. “I want a live debate with a man in the government now,” said Josephine Zgheib, who says she plans to run for Parliament in the next election. “I want to show the people that he knows nothing!”
Zgheib, like many of those in attendance, supports a quota for female MPs.
“It’s the only way we can put ourselves in the government,” she said. “Even in France they did it.”
The SMART Center’s Yassir agreed: “Experience is proving that women can’t really get into the Parliament or into the government.” Only through a quota system, she believes, will women be represented meaningfully.
MTV presenter Walid Abboud, who was one of those who received a certificate for completing the program, agreed that the country would benefit from a gender quota “for a time,” he said, “so that women can succeed.”
Personally, Abboud said, he would try to feature at least one woman commentator in each episode of his show Bi-Mawdouiyyeh.
“It’s not just important for the women,” he explained, “but it’s important for us. We have to see new faces and new names.”