Women’s quota: A so­ci­etal challenge

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - HIBA HUNEINI

Le­banon has been able to over­come an­other grid­lock by agree­ing on a new elec­toral law. It comes at a cru­cial mo­ment in the coun­try’s history to set the ba­sis for a reshuf­fle in the po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion scheme. This set­tle­ment has been par­tic­u­larly pos­i­tive af­ter wor­ries of po­lit­i­cal stag­na­tion and vac­uum, which are the last things Le­banon needs amid the sur­round­ing dis­tur­bances.

The early dis­cus­sions around the new draft law in­cluded pledges of a quota for women in or­der to guar­an­tee bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Le­banese women in politics. Un­for­tu­nately, the po­lit­i­cal fac­tions could not agree on the women’s quota which has been neg­a­tively per­ceived by women’s rights as­so­ci­a­tions. The Na­tional Com­mis­sion for Le­banese Women, rep­re­sented by its Pres­i­dent Clau­dine Aoun Roukoz, ex­pressed its dis­con­tent at the news the gov­ern­ment could not adopt the quota in the elec­toral law. How­ever, the com­mis­sion has praised the en­deavor of Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri, who is com­mit­ted to set­ting a quota for women in the Fu­ture Move­ment lists, and it called upon all the po­lit­i­cal fac­tions to fol­low the same path.

Ac­cord­ing to “Women’s Quota: Par­lia­men­tary Elec­tions 2017,” the word “quota” is a Latin word mean­ing “share” or “por­tion.” It is used to se­cure a pro­por­tion or a spe­cific num­ber of seats in elected bod­ies such as par­lia­ments and mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils to en­sure women’s ac­tive en­roll­ment in de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

The “quota” that was pro­posed in the elec­toral law con­sti­tutes at least 30 per­cent of women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. Its roots go back to the United Na­tions Eco­nomic and So­cial Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 15/1990 that calls for a min­i­mum of 30 per­cent rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in po­lit­i­cal life and de­ci­sion-mak­ing po­si­tions. Then the “quota” sys­tem was pro­posed dur­ing the Fourth World Con­fer­ence on Women held in Bei­jing in 1995. The 30 per­cent is the min­i­mum per­cent­age re­quired to reach the so­called “crit­i­cal mass” that grants women an ac­tive role and im­pact on the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process.

There are dif­fer­ent opin­ions and po­si­tions on the “quota” where it is con­sid­ered a tem­po­rary pro­ce­dure to mo­ti­vate women and em­power them in be­ing part of the po­lit­i­cal arena. Ac­cord­ing to this opin­ion, the “quota” is a pos­i­tive dis­crim­i­na­tion that em­pow­ers the po­si­tion of women in a man-dom­i­nated and un­fair sys­tem of po­lit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion. Oth­ers con­sider the “quota” a form of dis­crim­i­na­tion that lim­its women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion to a cer­tain per­cent­age and might lead to reach­ing non-el­i­gi­ble can­di­dates to the Par­lia­ment. How­ever, this is a tem­po­rary mea­sure to over­come the ex­ist­ing ob­sta­cles that hin­der women from re­ceiv­ing their fair share of po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

His­tor­i­cally, women in Le­banon have been lead­ing in var­i­ous sec­tors; how­ever, po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion is still weak since 1963 when the first woman en­tered Par­lia­ment. El­i­gi­ble and ac­tual women vot­ers in Le­banon were 50.8 per­cent in 2016, but they are still con­sid­ered a marginal­ized group in po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship and par­tic­i­pa­tion. This is due to many struc­tural fac­tors in the Le­banese so­ci­ety as we have neg­a­tive so­ci­etal at­ti­tudes that un­der­es­ti­mate the role of women in politics. It is un­jus­ti­fi­able how there are women as judges, se­nior em­ploy­ees in the pub­lic sec­tor and CEOs, but are only four out of 128 Par­lia­ment mem­bers. Since 1943, six out of 74 govern­ments in Le­banon in­cluded women.

The po­lit­i­cal ex­clu­sion of women is no stranger to the so­cioe­co­nomic alien­ation of women in Le­banon. It is ev­i­dent eco­nom­i­cally as it is po­lit­i­cally: 78 per­cent of Le­banese work­ing women are monthly em­ploy­ees whereas 12.2 per­cent only are self-em­ployed, which is ap­prox­i­mately half the per­cent­age of men who are run­ning their own busi­nesses. On the other hand, 29.7 per­cent of Le­banese women who are eco­nom­i­cally ac­tive are work­ing as un­skilled la­bor, whereas 16.1 per­cent are spe­cial­ized em­ploy­ees, and this num­ber is more than dou­ble the per­cent­age of spe­cial­ized work­ing men. Nonethe­less, 4.9 per­cent of work­ing women are in ad­min­is­tra­tive lead­er­ship po­si­tions and it is half the per­cent­age of men in the same cat­e­gory.

These facts show how struc­tural the prob­lem is and not solely lim­ited to po­lit­i­cal alien­ation. There­fore, de­spite the leg­isla­tive set­back in women’s po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship, var­i­ous ac­tions shall be taken to mit­i­gate the reper­cus­sions of such a po­lit­i­cal real­ity.

Me­dia out­lets need to in­crease the pace al­lo­cated to women. This gives women can­di­dates a chance to ex­press their elec­toral man­i­festo and en­gage into a trans­par­ent po­lit­i­cal de­bate that can show the pub­lic the qual­ity of their hopes and am­bi­tions for their re­spec­tive con­stituen­cies.

Sec­ond, civil so­ci­ety needs to play a strong role in build­ing the cam­paign man­age­ment capacities of women can­di­dates. Train­ing them on coali­tion-build­ing, ef­fec­tive mes­sag­ing and mi­cro­tar­get­ing is pre­cisely needed in or­der to sharpen their po­lit­i­cal engagement with their tar­get vot­ers.

Third, the gov­ern­ment and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity needs to ob­serve and ban any elec­toral cam­paign­ing that would in­clude a dis­crim­i­na­tory dis­course based on gen­der. Women can­di­dates should be treated equally and judged ac­cord­ing to the qual­ity of their pro­grams, not their gen­der or re­li­gion.

The door is open for civil so­ci­ety and com­mu­nity groups to work closely on iden­ti­fy­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties within the chal­leng­ing en­vi­ron­ment. If the po­lit­i­cal play­ers could not al­low for a proper po­lit­i­cal em­pow­er­ment scheme, then we shall or­ga­nize and strate­gize to achieve it our­selves. Over and above, the var­i­ous shapes of women’s alien­ation and ex­clu­sion ap­pear to be struc­tural fea­tures in the Le­banese so­ci­ety; thus, struc­tural prob­lems need paradig­matic so­lu­tions to over­come them.

Hiba Huneini is man­ager of the Youth and Civic Engagement Program at the Hariri Foun­da­tion for Sus­tain­able Hu­man De­vel­op­ment.

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