Editor’s note: This is part of a series of weekly articles interviewing pioneering Lebanese women from various sectors.
BEIRUT: Maj. Suzan El Hajj’s office is teeming with personnel, paperwork and clients. The head of the Cyber Crime and Intellectual Property Protection Office of the Internal Security Forces seems to have her work cut out for her but never fails to be in control, calling on young girls to never give up on hopes for success, regardless of the difficulties.
“The most important thing is for them not to despair,” Hajj stressed to The Daily Star, adding that young girls need to be their own role models in this day and age.
Hajj has a striking track record in a mostly male-dominated field. Exuding both femininity and toughness, she is the first woman to join the Internal Security Forces, and apart from her current high-ranking position, was also the Secretary of the Female Officers Recruitment Committee and Chief of Training for the ISF’s campaign to recruit women.
“Maybe you will suffer in getting the message across, but be patient and up to [the job], and don’t get sucked into the details, keep your eye on the future,” Hajj says.
“The most important thing is patience, not to despair quickly and to keep your self-confidence strong,” she adds.
Hajj was born and raised in a small town in the northern district of Koura, and graduated from Balamand University, majoring in computer and communications engineering. She also holds a master’s degree in computer science.
While growing up in a very conservative home, Hajj says her parents, especially her father, who was also a member of the ISF, was always very encouraging of the career path she chose to take.
“Even though my house was very conservative, no one ever told me I was not allowed to go into the ISF,” she says.
In fact, her love for the police force was greatly inspired by her father’s work, and manifested at a very early age. As a young girl, she would erect fake checkpoints and pretend to stop cars and ask for the drivers’ identification cards. It was also her father who first spotted the ISF’s recruitment notice for officers specialized in computer and communications, which did not specify that only males could apply for the position.
A recent graduate at the time, Hajj was already hired by a private company and was preparing to start on a new job. Though her older sister was also an engineer, Hajj’s father called her instead.
“He used to feel that my heart was always on the go and ready, and that I have a strong personality, and I would be excited about this issue,” she says.
That is how she became the first female officer to join the ranks of the ISF in 2001, at a time when the very notion was an anomaly.
Contrary to many pioneering women interviewed by The Daily Star, she says she didn’t face any notable difficulties within the ISF, including her current post which she assumed in October 2012.
“I used to feel that others would be excited that I was there,” Hajj stresses, especially after her colleagues realized her potential in terms of physical strength and intelligence.
In today’s world, she explains, it is a person’s character that determines their path to success, regardless of gender.
“Today, we have 1,100 young women in the ISF, and they were recruited with enthusiasm,” she says.
Hajj also created the Rights, Equality and Diversity bureau within the ISF to ensure that the concerns of officers and minorities in particular, including women, are relayed to the government. The office has yet to be formally established.
And while she is formidably successful in her own field, she acknowledges that progress for the status of women in the country has been too slow.
“Today there is a movement, though it is not a massive and big movement,” she says, citing the importance of social media to get ideas across.
According to Hajj, Lebanese non-governmental organizations rallying for women’s rights need to band together “under one umbrella” on social media websites and blogs.
“Because they are big in number, they can make changes on a very large scale,” Hajj says. “They can unify all of these movements into one movement on social media ... if they work hand in hand, the result will of course be much bigger.”
The idea, she added, was to keep accomplishments coming and make sure that progress was continuous in all fields, especially in the realm of local government. Once more women are elected as mayors, this in turn could allow for more to become members of Parliament, something Lebanon is seriously lacking in.
“When I can see and accept a woman as mayor and understand that she was elected by the people, it will no longer be a far-fetched idea to see a woman in Parliament who has been elected by the people, and can shoulder their concerns and their worries,” she stresses.
“As long as a person is reverential, and pours everything they have into their work, nobody can say that just because she is a woman, she is not worth it,” Hajj says.