BEIRUT: Rights groups the SMART Center and Women in Front launched a collaborative awareness campaign Tuesday to train and encourage media professionals to play a role in enhancing the public influence of prominent Lebanese women.
The project, entitled Media Supporting Women Leaders, with support from the Information Ministry, is a multi-faceted national media strategy to highlight the role of female experts and leaders in the public and private sector. It aims to break prevalent gender stereotypes to build public confidence in the capabilities of female leaders.
“Despite the increasing number of Lebanese women working in high-level positions, women are still being kept out of political life. We don’t see women experts and leaders in mainstream media,” said SMART Center Director Randa Yassir at the event.
The project plans, among other things, to produce a directory of 150 biographies of female leaders to be distributed to media outlets and published on both groups’ websites.
“We met a big broadcast journalist in Lebanon, who has a daily show with a lot of viewers and we asked him why he didn’t feature female experts and he said, ‘There are no women [experts] in Lebanon.’ So, we had to fix this perception and the directory is the tool for this,” said Women in Front co-founder Joelle Abou Farhat Rizkallah.
The directory will be categorized according to specializations, and media professionals will be able to peruse the biographies of women experts according to their fields.
“‘There is no one’ is no longer an excuse,” she added.
Names of experts for the directory are still being gathered, but Yassir said that the media professionals they spoke to were keen to see it published.
“We have almost half of the directory, including 15 women who have decided to run for Parliament,” she said.
Gender sensitivity training will also be provided for journalists, enabling them to promote an image of women that is free of stereotypes. This training is thought to be especially crucial for politically ambitious women. Following workshops, networking events will also be organized to introduce female leaders to journalists.
According to Women in Front, women represent 53 percent of the country’s population and are active in private and public sectors, with 37 percent of women between 25-29 years of age and 29 percent between 30-34 years of age active in the work force.
However, a 2010 field study by the same organization found that women rarely occupy decision-making roles in their professions.
These figures, women’s rights activists argue, are not reflected in politics as women occupy a mere four seats in the 128-member Parliament. Women’s low representation in government has negatively impacted efforts to reform basic laws related to domestic violence and nationality rights.
Lebanon signed and approved the Beijing convention in 1995, stipulating a minimum 30 percent quota for female participation in Parliament.
“We cannot keep waiting for the quota so we’re implementing a strategy to support and encourage women who will participate in the 2013 elections,” Rizkallah said.
As part of the campaign, 64 potential female candidates will be identified and trained through a three-day workshop.
“I am running for candidacy, I am very glad to have this support,” said candidate Carole Babikian Kokoni, saying her decision was a recent one. “They are going to give us training sessions, make us feel stronger and ready to face every kind of obstacle.”
A national media campaign, in line with the project’s objectives, consisting of commercials featuring testimonies from women active in public life will air on television stations.
All six commercials conclude with the same slogan, “Go for it, we are all supporting you.”