BEIRUT: In a move aimed at bridging Lebanon’s notable divide between the genders, a database providing biographical information about influential Lebanese women was launched on Tuesday.
The “Who is She in Lebanon” database was created by the Lebanese American University’s Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW) and launched at a ceremony ahead of International Women’s Day.
Supported by the Danish Center for Information on Gender, Equality and Ethnicity (KVINFO), the database provides Arabic and English readers with comprehensive biographical and contact details of women in notable positions in the fields of arts, sciences, business, activism and elsewhere.
It will be especially useful for students or media professionals looking to find prominent women. A similar online database listing notable Danish women has been available to the public since 1995, said Elisabeth Moller Jensen, the director at KVINFO.
“It’s really a good tool … and I think it can have a big improvement on women in society,” Jensen told The Daily Star, adding that similar databases were in the works in Jordan and Egypt.
“The major drive behind this project … is to render justice to prominent Lebanese women by documenting and publishing their achievements in the fields of politics, arts, literature, and the liberal professions to name a few,” said Dima Dabbous-Sensenig, director of IWSAW.
She pointed to the “appalling” absence of women in the world’s history books, noting that everyone had heard of the mathematician Pythagoras, but few knew anything about his wife Theano, the first recorded woman mathematician in history. Even fewer will have heard of Fatima al-Fihri, who founded the first university in Morocco in 829 AD.
“These women, who have worked silently and patiently most of the time, deserve to be honored by having their biographies and achievements recorded,” Dabbous-Sensenig said.
She added that the database “expresses our determination to acknowledge first and foremost what has already been done by contemporary women in Lebanon so that it becomes clearer to us what remains to be done, by Lebanese men and women jointly.”
Although Lebanese women have made sufficient advancements in society, serious legislative discrimination remains in place, noted Fadi Karam, secretary-general of the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW). Lebanon is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women but has never ratified the convention and maintains reservations on several key articles of the document.
Lebanon’s income tax, personal status and nationality laws all disadvantage women, as does the country’s social security regulations. In addition, the penal code shows leniency toward rapists and men who commit “honor” crimes. Up until December 2009, women were also not entitled to open bank accounts for their children without permission from their husbands.
On behalf of NCLW, Karam signed a memorandum of agreement with LAU president Joseph Jabbra pledging to collaborate on women rights issues.
“Shedding light on distinguished women … must act as an incentive to future generations of women,” said First Lady Wafa Sleiman, who is also chairperson of NCLW. “We firmly believe that any progress made by women anywhere in the world shall carry a positive impact on the conditions of those women who are still suffering from discrimination.”
The launch of the database comes as part of activities to mark International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on March 8. The day was created in 1911 following a proposal by German Social Democrat Clara Zetkin at the International Conference of Working Women, and was granted official recognition by the UN in 1975.