Rights groups pushing for women’s quotas ahead of polls
The National Coalition demands a 30 percent share of the Lebanese Parliament seats
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.