The pa­tri­archy prob­lem

Executive Magazine - - Last Word - By Car­men Geha CAR­MEN GEHA is a mem­ber of the Na­tional Com­mis­sion for Le­banese Women, and as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion at the Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Beirut.

Politi­ciz­ing the strug­gle for women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Le­banon

Le­banese vot­ers will head to the bal­lot boxes in just a few

days. One of the ma­jor changes to the elec­toral scene af­ter thrice- de­layed par­lia­men­tary elec­tions has been the in­crease in the num­ber of fe­male can­di­dates, up from 3 per­cent of over­all can­di­dates in 2009 to 14 per­cent this elec­tion. This time around 111 women ini­tially regis­tered to run, and 85 made it onto lists.

Le­banon’s num­bers show progress in the bid to in­crease the num­ber of fe­male mem­bers of Par­lia­ment, but not nearly enough. We need to have a na­tional dis­cus­sion about why we are so far be­hind other coun­tries in the re­gion, and what ob­sta­cles Le­banese women must over­come to ob­tain their ba­sic right of rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Par­lia­ment. The over­ar­ch­ing theme of these chal­lenges is the per­va­sive ideation and in­sti­tu­tional in­flu­ences of sec­tar­i­an­ism and pa­tri­archy. These trickle down into elec­toral bat­tles fa­vor­ing strong men, fa­ther fig­ures, and for­mer heads of mili­tias. The pa­tri­archy is fur­ther en­trenched when a man is cho­sen to head a min­istry solely re­spon­si­ble for ex­e­cut­ing poli­cies and pro­grams to ad­vance the rights of women. But more wor­ry­ingly, women now have to ap­peal to this min­is­ter, and other men, to step aside or to grant them the equal op­por­tu­nity to be min­is­ters, par­lia­men­tar­i­ans, and may­ors.

Be­cause of sec­tar­i­an­ism and pa­tri­ar­chal in­flu­ences, the elec­toral system fa­vors men time and time again. One ex­cep­tion is the all- fe­male list run­ning in Akkar, but even in­de­pen­dent lists em­a­nat­ing from civil so­ci­ety could barely se­cure a 30 per­cent rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women. Men make the deals, ne­go­ti­ate the al­liances, and head the lists as spokesper­sons and rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Men al­ready em­bed­ded in the po­lit­i­cal system who are more likely to re­tain their seats. This is what sec­tar­i­an­ism and pa­tri­archy re­pro­duces, a system with the man as the sav­ior and the fa­cil­i­ta­tor of a woman’s ac­cess to votes and vis­i­bil­ity.

The sec­ond part of this prob­lem is the ar­gu­ment that there are no com­pe­tent women will­ing to en­ter pol­i­tics. Out of a to­tal of 75 elec­toral lists, just 48 in­clude women. This leaves 36 per­cent of lists all- male. The of­fi­cial line is shared across most par­ties: Not enough women could be con­vinced to run. Other par­ties placed em­pha­sis on the tra­di­tional role of women in the home as a bar­rier to their in­volve­ment in Par­lia­ment. Women, it seems, are re­quired to pass a test of com­pe­tence and avail­abil­ity not placed on their male coun­ter­parts.

The third prob­lem is that po­lit­i­cal par­ties and civil so­ci­ety have got it all wrong. Women do not need to be put in rooms and trained to be good can­di­dates. They do not need fe­male branches within po­lit­i­cal par­ties to iden­tify fe­male can­di­dates and groom them into be­com­ing mouth­pieces of their lead­ers. For women to be bet­ter heard and rep­re­sented we need to move away from the po­lit­i­cal dis­course of sec-

tar­i­an­ism and pa­tri­archy. Re­cent lit­er­a­ture shows that fight­ing pa­tri­archy would go against the cus­toms rather than cod­i­fied rules of Le­banon’s po­lit­i­cal power- shar­ing system. It would re­quire the end of se­cre­tive deals be­tween men that craft leg­is­la­tion and reg­u­la­tions, form gov­ern­ments, make po­lit­i­cal ap­point­ments and em­ploy­ment de­ci­sions across state in­sti­tu­tions, and ul­ti­mately di­vide the spoils amongst them­selves.

Le­banon is fail­ing to do jus­tice for its women and needs to cre­ate bonds of po­lit­i­cal sol­i­dar­ity on struc­tural in­equal­i­ties that re­quire dif­fer­ent so­lu­tions. Le­banese women do not have the same rights as Le­banese men: they can­not pass their na­tion­al­ity to their chil­dren, they suf­fer dis­crim­i­na­tion in di­vorce and cus­tody bat­tles be­cause of the ab­sence of a civil sta­tus law, they earn less than men, and women re­main bound elec­torally and ad­min­is­tra­tively to the an­ces­tral dis­trict of her fa­ther or hus­band. To im­prove the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women is to make the system less pa­tri­ar­chal and less sec­tar­ian. But that would re­quire fo­cused struc­tural po­lit­i­cal re­form. Un­til then, we shall en­joy a male min­is­ter hailed for sup­port­ing the can­di­da­cies of women and male heads of lists brag­ging about in­clud­ing one or two token women within their ranks.

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