The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Women’s quota: A societal challenge

- 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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