Lebanon News

U.S. kicks off program to empower women in elections

Yassir: “Women can be leaders.” (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The United States has stepped into the 2013 parliamentary election scene with a program set up to get more women involved in next year’s campaigns. The program is set to offer training for around 40 potential female campaign managers from the north, Mount Lebanon and the south of the country to help women candidates win more seats in Parliament, which currently has a miniscule female bloc.

Women hold just four seats in Parliament, or only 3 percent of the legislature, and those who do hold office are all members of traditional “political families.”

The training sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon and run by the group Smart Center aims to change that with a special seminar and three debates about women in politics, as well as a field study about women’s involvement in national politics.

“We want them to understand that women can be leaders and we want them to understand that she can be a candidate if she has a good agenda and good program to work on,” Randa Yassir, Director of Smart Center, said at the program’s launch in Beirut Thursday.

Interested participants are encouraged to have a background in fields such as political science, law and business. Eighty percent of selected campaign managers will be women, Smart Center organizers said.

The training sessions, beginning in February, are intended to be non-partisan, although embassy officials, and organizers have no plan to encourage full political participation in the country’s heavily polarized political scene, which includes groups such as Hezbollah, which the U.S. government has blacklisted.

“We are just trying to offer it to the widest possible audience,” an embassy official told The Daily Star.

Organizers and participants say that many women’s issues transcend typical political lines, and women from across the spectrum are likely to attend.

Randa Kabbini, who attended the launch of the program, said national issues such as women’s inability to pass on Lebanese nationality to their children, can only be addressed effectively with increased participation by women, irrespective of their political affiliation.

“My voice is very important,” Kabbini said.

The women’s voting program is part of a broad slate of local and international democracy projects that are gearing up for the elections scheduled for next year, even though politicians aren’t entirely sure the balloting will take place.

Lawmakers have been wrangling over the form of the new electoral law all year, and discussion of the issue has been delayed due to the latest standoff between politicians in the rival March 14 and March 8 camps.

Some versions of proposed electoral legislation include quotas for women, which could radically alter the shape of the country’s Parliament and throw programs like Smart Center’s into the spotlight. Smart Center is also involved in a program to encourage positive views of female candidates in the media.

Yara Nassar, the director of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections and an elections analyst, said programs encouraging women participation are generally a positive thing.

“It is a program to support the part of Lebanese that is marginalized,” Nassar said.

Such encouragement is generally well received, and similar programs have had good attendance, she added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 14, 2012, on page 4.

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