For years now, the Civil Campaign for Electoral Reform has been lobbying for proportional elections, a 30% women’s quota, lowering the voting age to 18, allowing diaspora voting in Lebanese embassies, and a list of other reforms. With time ticking for the 2013 elections scheduled for next May (although many speculate it will be postponed depending on the uprising in Syria), the Lebanese government met today and passed a proposed law to Parliament, which includes proportional representation based on a Lebanon of 13 districts. Since nothing in Lebanon is decided outside of the March 8 / 14 deadlock, it is clear that the current March 8 government would push for proportional representation not because it is more fair but because it would benefit the Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, and other members of the coalition who had greater numbers of votes in the 2009 elections. Zako has a full study of 2009 election results on a proportional scheme here. Odds are that the March 14 bloc will turn down the proposal in Parliament and the country will go to another majority representation in the 2013 elections.
Women’s Political Participation
But now we look at the issue of women’s quota, which was discussed as part of the proposal in government today. I haven’t cared for gender quotas much in Lebanon since we all know the same MP seats are going to be filled with the same corrupt sectarian politicians – men or women. We used to focus our discussions at Nasawiya on the question of: do we want women in Parliament just for representation, so girls can have role models? Or do we not care about women as long as they replicate the same sectarian models? Given that this is a false dilemma, many of us opted for wanting strong, feminist, secularist women in Parliament who can hopefully be elected in a non-confessional system. Of course, this was all theory for me until I actually started meeting women MPs and working on the Take Back Parliament campaign. It was then that I realized that there is really no women’s engagement in politics in Lebanon. None. The issue is not about female MPs or ministers alone – the issue is that there weren’t any women I could name that were political analysts, heads of news desks, editors of political pages in newspapers, bloggers, journalists, anything. Since the days of the civil war in the 70s, women were completely alienated from Lebanese politics – much to their credit, some would say, for who would want to be associated with such a bloody war – and have not been able to get back into the arena since the 90s. And if women are not at the table, you can be sure that their issues are not at the agenda.
This is a structural issue – one that will take years to fix – and the solutions must come at many levels. Electoral quotas are one of these solutions, temporary of course, that could get more women into the political sphere. There is no guarantee that women’s issues will then make it into political agendas (we cite Gilberte Zouein’s shameful stance on family violence as an example). But, frankly, no women on the table at all is an absolute guarantee that women’s issues won’t be on the agenda. So whether or not you agree to a quota, take a look at the disgusting way in which the issue was discussed in government to give you an understanding of just how isolated women are from politics and how shamefully their demand for political representation is treated.
The Discussion on Women’s Quota
In 2011, Cabinet chose zero women ministers and here was Michel Aoun’s chauvinistic reply to why. Basically he said women lack the experience for public service. All women, apparently. His same government now treated women’s quota in the following way.
Firstly, the discussion of percentage happened in the most random of ways, with one minister suggesting 5-7%, another minister upping him to 15-17%, and the majority agreeing that they must take the average of 10%. As if they were discussing what to order for lunch. It shows you just how little concern they pay to the issue of no women in politics as a fundamentally unimportant crisis. Nobody seems to notice that half of the country is not concerned with the way the country is run. Perhaps they know this is to their advantage as sectarian war lords.
And then, during the discussion, MP Nicolas Fattoush (Zahle, March 14) dares to utter the most hypocritical argument against women’s quota by referring to Article 7 of the Lebanese Constitution that states that all Lebanese are equal before the law. Mon Dieu. The nerve of this guy. All Lebanese are equal before the law? Where the hell was that argument when women demanded equal citizenship rights or equal marital laws or equal labor laws or equal anything?
WTF. There is no equality before the law, Mr. Fattoush, we live as gendered citizens – the structures of patriarchy and misogyny (perpetuated by our very government) prevent women from access to protection and to equal treatment everywhere from the home to public spaces to police stations to courts of law. This is a perfect example of empty concepts of equality at the disposal and service of those in power.
When asked about women’s quota, Michel Aoun, the same guy who said women lack experience in the political sphere insulted the question with: “Lebanese culture is misogynistic and doesn’t want to see women in positions of power. You, as women, must create strong women’s movements to impose your opinion. You must refuse all gifts! I personally refuse to give you this gift, you must go out and fight for it!”
WTF again. Ya3ni, I don’t know what to say to that, Mr. Aoun. You think supporting women’s political participation is a gift that women should fight for? And you, a man on top of that pyramid of power won’t do anything to support it, like say, I dunno, instate a women’s quota? The women’s movement has been banging its head against the FPM-majority committee for the protection of women from family violence — these are the same MPs who have claimed that gender-based violence is being handled fine by religious courts and that the state shouldn’t interfere when in fact, at least one woman is dying every month as a direct result of family violence. How hypocritical these statements are and how insulting to all women in Lebanon and all women’s movements.
No Country for Women
The misogyny of these politicians has to be brought to a stop. Every phrase they utter about women is insulting. I hear stories about this every day – even from women MPs and journalists. The other day at the Family Violence press conference, Samir el Jisr had the nerve to tell a woman journalist that she didn’t understand what rape was. He then went on to give her the legal definition of rape. This is the epitome of insult. A man telling a woman what rape is. This corrupt political landscape needs to change on so many levels and one of these is to get large percentages of women from the women’s movement into Parliament, Government, and municipalities. The final format of the proposed law seems to have included a gender quota of “at least one person from every gender in the nomination lists.” That means there must be one woman nominee in every list (the proportional system mandates closed election lists). What a wonderful gift, Lebanon. I’m sure women feel more motivated to work hard for their basic human rights now.