A fair shake

Lebanese women march for their rights near the Parliament in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, March 5, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

The situation for women in Lebanon is looking bleak, but on the occasion of International Women’s Day, it is vital that the need for a revolution be understood.

Denied equal citizenship rights, Lebanese women must also contend with a lack of laws that protect them from domestic violence or sexual harassment. Draft laws which would see these rights granted to them have been sitting in parliamentary drawers for years.

But despite obvious government inaction over these issues, women’s rights campaigners must also show an increased dedication to the cause.

In Lebanon, women’s participation in social activities is almost unparalleled in the region. In many ways, they are granted more rights than women in neighboring countries: Indeed the struggle for women’s emancipation in the Middle East was largely driven by those campaigners in Lebanon, as well as Syria and Egypt. But since the turn of the last century, the rate of progress has slowed down, and even regressed in many ways.

There are only three women members of Parliament in Lebanon – and even these are relatives of politicians, whether alive or dead. They haven’t exactly had to prove themselves as political leaders.

With the Arab Spring, women seem to be suffering the most in several countries, with their rights being eroded faster than it seems new Islamist governments can be sworn in. And even before this recent round of revolutions, religious forces were often doing their best to ensure women were kept silent – often taking advantage of gaps in education to manipulate women into believing they were destined to be little more than mothers and wives.

But whether in Beirut or Tunis, it is imperative that women unite, to demand what is rightfully theirs. The struggle for equal rights is not an easy one, as all minority groups throughout history and across the world have shown. This battle, however, will only be won once it is genuinely recognized to be a revolution, and not merely a hobby.

In Lebanon specifically, campaigning and protesting is all well and good. But joining an NGO should be out of conviction, not boredom. The cause of women’s rights needs absolute dedication. Ahead of the elections, the movement needs new and creative methods of campaigning. En masse, women could consider standing for municipal or parliamentary elections, or instead contemplate a boycott of the election altogether. As half of the population, the combined power of the women of this country is a force not to be ignored.

If those in power, those 30 men who currently constitute the Cabinet, now see for themselves, however late to the table they may be, that women’s rights campaigners are united and determined, they may begin to pay due attention to their causes.

Equality is a long and difficult journey. But with sacrifice and perseverance, the status of women’s rights in Lebanon may stop being a national embarrassment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 09, 2013, on page 7.




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