BEIRUT: While Lebanon suffers from a paucity of female politicians, establishing a quota is not the only way to bolster women’s participation in the political sphere, say members of UNDP’s Lebanese Electoral Assistance Program.
Parties from all across the political spectrum acknowledge the need to include more women in Lebanese politics, but agreeing what steps to take toward that end have proved more difficult said Richard Chambers, the Chief Technical Adviser at LEAP.
Many Lebanese civil society groups have called for an amendment to the current election law to establish a quota for female parliamentarians.
“The focus has very much been on wanting to change the election law,” Chambers said. “But that’s a very long and protracted process.”
While establishing quotas in Lebanon may be a good goal to have, it is important to work simultaneously toward integrating women in other phases of the electoral process, Chambers said.
LEAP is working alongside the Interior Ministry to establish more female poll officials in the next Lebanese parliamentary elections scheduled for November.
While 51 percent of Lebanon’s 3.5 million voters are women, only 20 percent of polling officials are women, according to UNDP.
“Being a polling official is one of the most important [jobs] that any person can do in an election,” said Said Sanadiki, a program adviser for LEAP. Increasing the number of female polling officials will help “increase [voter] certainty and trust that women can do a job as well as the men.”
While Lebanon is one of the more progressive nations in the region with respect to women’s rights, Sanadiki said it was “a bit surprising and shocking” how many people in Lebanon still doubted women’s capacity to work in traditionally male dominated fields.
Sanadiki and Chambers said the number of female parliamentary candidates rose between the election in 2009 and the deferred 2013 election, but most ran as independents. There are currently four female MPs.
“There were still very few political party nominations,” Chambers said.
A number of temporary measures can be implemented to incentivize party bosses to put forward female candidates, explained Sanadiki.
“If we increase the ceiling of spending for female candidates, increase medical coverage for female candidates ... these [measures] will not only help women candidates but will also encourage political parties to invest in women as candidates,” he said.
Sanadiki and Chambers said they were encouraged by the will political parties have expressed to include more women in politics. Representatives from six parties from both political blocs, the March 8 and March 14 groups, will attend a five-day training course next week led by LEAP with funding from the U.K. and the EU to address some of these issues, and discuss what meaningful measures can be taken to ensure high female participation in November’s elections.