Rights groups push­ing for women’s quo­tas ahead of polls

The Na­tional Coali­tion de­mands a 30 per­cent share of the Le­banese Par­lia­ment seats

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - By Ghinwa Obeid

BEIRUT: Fol­low­ing calls by sev­eral politi­cians for greater women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in Le­banese pol­i­tics, ac­tivists are lob­by­ing for ac­tion on prom­ises through the adop­tion of a quota in the up­com­ing par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.

Many in the coun­try voiced frus­tra­tion when only one woman was as­signed a min­is­te­rial port­fo­lio fol­low­ing the for­ma­tion of the new gov­ern­ment on Dec. 18. This bol­stered the call from sev­eral rights groups and or­ga­ni­za­tions for a min­i­mum 30 per­cent quota of seats for women in par­lia­men­tary elec­tions sched­uled for May.

The Na­tional Coali­tion to Sup­port the Es­tab­lish­ment of Women’s Po­lit­i­cal Par­tic­i­pa­tion in Le­banon is one of the groups cam­paign­ing for a quota.

“There are two main goals: we are de­mand­ing a 30 per­cent women’s quota in any elec­toral law. We don’t want 10 or 20 per­cent,” Rita Che­maly, a project devel­op­ment con­sul­tant at the Na­tional Com­mis­sion for Le­banese Women, told The Daily Star.

The na­tional coali­tion, which was formed in sum­mer of 2016 and was of­fi­cially launched Tues­day, falls un­der the NCLW and in­cludes more than 150 or­ga­ni­za­tions and civil so­ci­ety as­so­ci­a­tions.

“The sec­ond de­mand is that it’s im­por­tant for us as a coali­tion to par­tic­i­pate in the par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee that is study­ing the draft laws,” Che­maly said, ex­plain­ing that this would al­low them to take part in the dis­cus­sion and lobby for the quota.

Bar­ring de­lays, par­lia­men­tary elec­tions are ex­pected to be held in May, the first since 2009 af­ter the Par­lia­ment ex­tended its term in both 2013 and 2014. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties have been de­bat­ing the na­ture of a new elec­toral law to gov­ern the up­com­ing elec­tions for years.

They are di­vided be­tween sup­port­ers of a pro­por­tional law and a hy­brid law, which brings to­gether pro­por­tion­al­ity and ma­jori­tar­ian sys­tem. Re­gard­less of which elec­toral law is fi­nally ap­proved, Che­maly said that a women’s quota can be in­cluded.

De­spite the fact that many coun­tries, in­clud­ing many Latin Amer­i­can na­tions, Bel­gium and France, have some form of reg­u­la­tion to en­sure a min­i­mum num­ber of women in elec­tions or a quota sys­tem, Le­banon still lags be­hind and the num­ber of elected women re­mains low.

In the cur­rent sit­ting Par­lia­ment there are four fe­male MPs out of 128. Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri’s 30-mem­ber gov­ern­ment in­cludes one fe­male min­is­ter, the Min­is­ter of State for Ad­min­is­tra­tive Devel­op­ment Inaya Ezzed­dine.

“At the be­gin­ning, we wanted women in the gov­ern­ment and in Par­lia­ment. We were sad when in the gov­ern­ment we had only one woman,” Che­maly noted. She said that be­fore the Cab­i­net was formed, sev­eral women groups vis­ited par­lia­men­tary blocs to lobby on be­half of women but as sep­a­rate coali­tions.

“Par­lia­men­tary blocs and par­ties promised us that they would name women, but they didn’t, and so now we are pres­sur­ing them to do so for the Par­lia­ment and en­dorse a 30 per­cent women’s quota as a short term, tem­po­rary and pos­i­tive mea­sure,” she said.

The calls are also be­ing echoed by po­lit­i­cal fig­ures in the coun­try, of­fer­ing some hope that par­ties may push for greater women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion. How­ever, whether th­ese calls will ma­te­ri­al­ize into ac­tion is un­cer­tain.

Hariri has re­cently ex­pressed sup­port for women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion, which was also re­flected in the gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy state­ment, and for the in­tro­duc­tion of a women’s quota.

“To­day I am with you to the end and if it were up to me I would like a women’s quota of 50 per­cent,” Hariri told a del­e­ga­tion from the Na­tional Coali­tion last week.

“It shows that there’s an in­ten­tion that women should be in the de­ci­sion mak­ing po­si­tions, but we don’t only want in­ten­tions we want im­ple­men­ta­tion,” Che­maly said when asked about Hariri’s re­marks.

Caro­line Suc­car, vice pres­i­dent of the Le­banese Women Demo­cratic Gath­er­ing, ex­pressed her own doubts.

“I think there is no real po­lit­i­cal will to in­tro­duce quo­tas and I think politi­cians are still not con­vinced about do­ing so,” Suc­car told The Daily Star. “Of course, if there’s a prime min­is­ter that is se­ri­ous in his sug­ges­tion this will help a lot. But un­til now, I don’t see that, there is no real will or se­ri­ous­ness,” she said.

For Suc­car, in­tro­duc­ing quo­tas on elec­toral lists is in­ef­fec­tive if it isn’t well planned and “en­gi­neered” to en­sure that women will then be rep­re­sented in Par­lia­ment. She echoed Che­maly’s com­ments that the new elec­toral law could in­clude a women’s quota.

“The new law that will be adopted by the Par­lia­ment should at least in­clude the quota … with seats be­ing re­served [for women] be­cause if we wait for the quo­tas on [party] lists then women will not make it.”

She ex­plained that she thought there might be fears from Le­banese politi­cians that a women’s quota would take seats from es­tab­lished male politi­cians. She also added that there is a be­lief among some politi­cians, as well as oth­ers, that quo­tas in fact dis­crim­i­nate against women.

“Those who speak like this don’t fully un­der­stand the dif­fi­cul­ties that women face,” Suc­car said.

A quota, ac­cord­ing to a UNDP cir­cu­lar on the mat­ter re­leased ahead of last year’s mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions, shouldn’t be per­ceived as a neg­a­tive move that dis­crim­i­nates against women. Rather, it should be seen as an in­tro­duc­tion for women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the po­lit­i­cal life and de­ci­sion mak­ing po­si­tions.

The U.N. cir­cu­lar also pointed out that in­ter­na­tional con­sen­sus says that quo­tas should be tem­po­rary mea­sures to boost and em­bed women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion.

How­ever, there are those ad­vo­cat­ing for more fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion that are skep­ti­cal of quo­tas. Danielle Hoyek, a lawyer, says she doesn’t see that quo­tas would lead to ma­jor changes in the sta­tus of women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

“I am against the quota be­cause to­day I don’t con­sider that there is some­thing that pre­vents women from mak­ing it in to power or de­ci­sion mak­ing po­si­tions,” Hoyek said. “The quota will bring women [into pol­i­tics] but would it ad­just the per­spec­tive [on women] as it should?”

She ex­plained that in many cases, women in power in Le­banon are not given good role models for lead­er­ship. She said she thinks that of­ten women sim­ply re­flect the pa­tri­ar­chal char­ac­ter of the ex­ist­ing so­ci­ety or that those who at­tain po­si­tions of in­flu­ence make lit­tle im­pact and have lim­ited vis­i­bil­ity. Hoyek added that quo­tas might make lit­tle im­pact if many par­lia­men­tary seats are treated as hered­i­tary by po­lit­i­cal dy­nas­ties.

“The change that is needed is to work more with the youths on the real def­i­ni­tion of cit­i­zen­ship,” she said. “In Le­banon all the po­lit­i­cal power, class and the democ­racy isn’t well-founded … and this re­quires a lot of work.”

Par­lia­men­tary elec­tions are ex­pected to be held in May 2017.

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