Editor’s note: This is part of a series of weekly articles interviewing pioneering Lebanese women from various sectors.
BEIRUT: Raymonde Bachour Sakr is no pessimist. Lebanon’s first female public notary’s positive attitude and determination has taken her a long way, but she acknowledges that the status of women in the country is far from ideal.
The only way to progress, according to her, is for women to fight for what is rightfully theirs, and do it hand in hand with men.
“A right is taken, not given,” Sakr told The Daily Star. “Women need to go after that right.”
A woman who believes she has the required skills and is able to take on a number of responsibilities has to demand her rights, she explained, adding that the female quota system, implemented under former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in order to close the political gender gap, was of little significance.
As long as Lebanon is “ruled by sectarianism,” the advancement of women’s rights will be hindered, she said.
Sakr relayed how she was compelled to begin working at an early age after her father suffered a stroke.
“We learned at an early age to work and learn at the same time,” she said of her upbringing.
“I am self-made, I made myself on my own.”
While she was encouraged to pursue an education, Sakr said she believes ambition comes from within.
“The one who has ambition, the one who has drive, the one who challenges, these [characteristics] are born with a person,” she said.
“If in a family the girls and boys are brought up in the same way and on the same level, the woman will grow up to be like the man, an equal, and she has the right to get to – according to her abilities – wherever she wants,” she said.
After graduating from high school, with universities closed because of the raging war, the dynamic Sakr resorted to working in journalism as a volunteer for the Information Ministry, a sector she became very attached to.
It is also there that she trained with her future husband, journalist Ghassan Sakr.
Once universities reopened, Sakr went on to study law, intending to become a judge. She would teach math and French to fifth graders in the morning, and attend classes in the afternoon at Sagesse University. To her dismay, the Civil War hampered her plans: The university was late in handing out attestations, and she was unable to sit for the bar exam.
It was then that she resorted to taking the very first exam set for public notaries. With only 15 days to cram for a test that others had three months to prepare for, Sakr – 25 at the time – studied day and night. To her surprise, she received many congratulatory calls upon completing the test: She was the only woman to pass the exam, making her the country’s first female public notary.
With an entirely new future suddenly ahead of her, she was intent on rising to the challenge.
“I was still a child, but ... I had the determination, the toughness, and the strength,” Sakr explained, excited as she spoke.
“At the time, during the war, it was the time of machismo, so there were often cases of someone trying to go over my head, believing that I was just a young girl,” she said.
People who walked into Sakr’s office could not believe she was a woman, expecting a male public notary with more experience.
“They would come in to the office looking for a man, thinking I was the secretary,” Sakr said, laughing.
“They would be shocked when they found out it was me, that I was a female public notary. They also expected to see a much older woman. But in truth, I was up to the job. When I sit behind the desk, I no longer distinguish between anyone. ... In my office I am a queen, my own woman.”
Sakr also credits part of her success to her husband, whom she mentions often and speaks highly of. He has stood by her side since the very beginning, she said, adding that whenever she feels overwhelmed by her responsibilities, he pushes her forward.
“We are one hand together, in everything, with the children, with the house, with our jobs. I did not part from him since we got married,” Sakr said.
“He always used to tell me that I need to be a pioneer in everything.”
Like many successful women, however, Sakr acknowledges the difficulties of being a working mother, exacerbated by the presence of six children at home. What improves the situation, she said, are joint efforts by husband and wife.
“Both complement each other, whether in the political sector or in the social sector. Both genders, if they walk together, give more results,” Sakr explained.
Sakr said the issue was particularly important because Lebanese society is still a patriarchal one that dictates that women’s place is in the home. According to Sakr, men need to first change their perceptions of women, and get used to them holding leadership positions, in politics and elsewhere.
As the conversation veered toward her children, her eyes lit up. It is perhaps no surprise that her determined character has had a great effect on her four boys and two girls. Proudly citing each one’s accomplishments, Sakr said the strongest weapon a young adult can have is education – especially for young women, she added.
“[A woman’s] weapon is education, so wherever you throw her, she lands on her feet, whether in Lebanon or abroad.”
“The most important thing [young girls] need is to be educated, to be cultured, to read, and to work with whatever they can to gain some experience in life, and life will direct them,” she said.