Lebanon News

Female candidates face institutional challenges, tend to be nonsectarian, new U.N. report says

A Lebanese woman casts her ballot in a box as she votes at a polling station in the capital Beirut on May 6, 2018. AFP / ANWAR AMRO

BEIRUT: With Lebanon’s next parliamentary elections slated for 2022, coalitions should begin pushing to ensure women are equally represented in politics, activists and local advocacy groups said following the release Tuesday of a U.N. Women report entitled "Pursuing equality in rights and representation: women’s experiences running for Parliament in Lebanon’s 2018 elections."

The 2018 elections saw a significant increase in the number of women running for Parliament, from 12 in 2009 to 113, with women representing 11 percent of all candidates that registered to run in the 2018 election, according to Tuesday’s report. Of these 113 women, 86 made it on to candidate lists.

“Inequality in income and the gender pay gap are root causes for inequality between men and women in political representation,” the report’s author Halimé el-Kaakour told audience members during the Tuesday launch event at the Lebanese American University, where she was joined on stage by journalist Diana Moukalled and former Parliamentary Affairs Minister Wafaa Dikah Hamze.

Based upon interviews with 75 female candidates, the report found that women running for office on average tended to be younger and better educated than their male counterparts. The majority of female candidates ran either as independents or were affiliated with the civil society coalition.

Of those who were interviewed, 68 percent had prior experience in politics, and half had support from their families and extended families to run. Support from extended families was more likely to be granted when women ran with political parties, rather than as non-party affiliated.

“What we want is a feminist perspective in the Cabinet and other decision-making bodies, that can bring change to the situation of women and gender equality in Lebanon,” Myriam Sfeir Murad, director of the LAU Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World, said during the report’s launch event Tuesday.

During interviews conducted before Lebanon’s popular uprising began Oct. 17, 89 percent of female candidates said that their first priority in office would be to be to implement reforms improving women’s rights, while youth rights and corruption issues tied as second and third, the report stated.

Last month, Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced that a record-number of six female ministers would serve in Lebanon’s new Cabinet, with women leading the key Justice, Defense and Labor ministries. While some women’s rights groups welcomed the announcement as a step in the right direction, other activists characterized it as a calculated attempt to appeal to protesters by a government they reject as not independent.

Feminist political activist Nay el-Rahi told The Daily Star that is was especially significant that most female candidates in the 2018 elections were not affiliated with traditional sectarian parties.

“The family is the basic [political] unit according to the constitution, usually headed by an elder male family member. Political parties deal with the electorate through these male representatives and they do not take women seriously as leaders,” Rahi said.

“We aren’t going to see these parties disappear anytime soon, so I’d like to see women fill more leadership roles, especially because women are already at the base and very active in these parties,” she told The Daily Star. “But even more importantly, we need to open up and create spaces for new [independent] parties and dialogue that women can fill.”





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