Posts tagged parliament
It’s been many years we’ve been talking about the draft law to protect women from family violence. It’s a very simple law really. It enables women to call the police for help if they are abused at home. And it enables them to seek shelter and protection with their kids. It basically says that women can leave their homes with the support of the state.
It also overrides the current law, Article 503 that makes it legal for husbands to rape their wives.
At least one woman is killed every month by a family member. That’s last year’s count. This year alone, there’s been 4 murders. Out of the 2250 women who reported family violence to the police in 2009, almost half said they feel a direct threat to their lives.
The fact is, this law can save lives. An intervention can save a life. A phone call can save a life. Violence unstopped escalates into murder. At the heart of any feminist struggle is violence against women and this law is a crucial step towards ending violence against women. We’re not expecting it to do miracles, of course. But our battle isn’t just about this law. It’s with the patriarchy of our Parliament and Government who have proved again and again that they do not give a damn about women in Lebanon.
We’ve tried protests and sit-ins and vigils and social media campaigns and meetings with MPs and billboards and awareness-raising and flyers and workshops and panels. We even tried interactive theater and flash mobs and dances. And still they tell us to wait.
On February 24, Kafa organized a demo that marched to Nabih Berri’s house demanding that he put the law on the agenda of the parliamentary discussions. He replied on February 25 with: “It is not possible in these circumstances to hold a session while the country is drowning in the elections law.”
And so, we have decided – some friends and I – that we are no longer putting up with this bullshit. Tonight we announce to the MPs that if the law to protect women from family violence is not put on the agenda for the next parliamentary session and if it is not voted on fully without mutilations, we are going on an open hunger strike in front of parliament. If they don’t mind women dying, we’ll give them starving women at their doorstep.
This is our final battle and we are going to win it. Brace yourselves.
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.
I have a proposal for you as a follow up to this post I wrote 2 months ago about taking back the Lebanese Parliament. I have been trying to find traction and excitement for this project but I can’t manage to convince people around me. Everyone says nobody will be on board and that it’s a failed idea. So I decided to put it online and ask for your feedback (whoever you are). Let me know how you feel about it. Be honest cos I might be wrong. But I can’t help thinking that if we can find a few hundred people who can believe in this, perhaps we can achieve the impossible.
It is clear that we, the people, need to take back Parliament from the claws of the zo3ama, millionaires, and warlords. It is clear that all political parties in Lebanon are too sectarian and corrupt to change anything. We are stuck. We can dream of a revolution in the streets. Or we can dream of a revolution at the voting ballots.
The Lebanese Parliament should not exist so that the rich feudal lords can become richer and enforce their control over people. It exists to legislate laws that protect the people, ensure equality, and develop our economy and culture. Clearly, it has been doing none of that for decades now.
We must take it back.
Despite the corruption and inefficiency of the electoral system, we can still create a third option. Despite the sectarian division of the districts and the confessional quota of the seats, we can still run with an agenda to change this. Let’s elect new, qualified, inspiring people to Parliament. Let’s create a national coalition of top-notch candidates who support a platform of secularism, civil laws and socio-economic justice. Let’s vote for independent candidates who have fresh new ideas and commitments. Let’s support the new talents who usually have no chance: the women, the youth, the workers, the ones who have never had a relative in Parliament. Let’s hold our representatives accountable. Let’s revolutionize the system. Let’s run a low-budget, eco-friendly, grassroots campaign that will astonish generations. A coalition where everyone has a critical voice – and nobody is a blind follower. Let’s remember forever that summer we took back Parliament – against all odds, when nobody believed it was possible.
Makes you a little nervous, doesn’t it? Could it really happen? No. Surely, it is impossible. Or is it? Maybe? If we work hard enough? No… what is this naïve unrealistic dream, I obviously don’t know shit about politics. But wait. Can we gather enough heart and intelligence to face the billions of dollars in bribes? Can we break that barrier of fear and intimidation? Can we make our people believe in their power again?
I’m just like you – uncertain. But the mere thought of engaging in a real battle for Parliament in 2013 (instead of getting depressed) makes my heart dance. So I decided to put up this post and ask my fellow Lebanese: are we ready? What do you think? Can we find a few hundred Lebanese who can commit to a new 2013 elections campaign?
To you, the answer.
P.S. I will not publish your info online anywhere ever. But I will email you to have coffee.
This feeling has been creeping up inside me for some weeks now. It used to be a dream and then it became an idea and now it’s a lot more powerful than that. Now it’s become a feeling.
I have a feeling that our time has come. We, the people on the margins. The angry, disenfranchised people who pay too much for bread and fuel and rent and water and parking. We, the kids who grew up in the 80s. We, who are unamused by boring media and mindless entertainment. We, who’ve been struggling for years trying to create small, important projects that go nowhere and achieve nothing. Civil marriage. Women’s rights. Green spaces. Anti-corruption. Renewable energy. Equal pay. Migrant rights. Bicycle lanes. Refugee rights. Public schools. Public universities. Social security. Protect our beaches. Protect our workers. Protect our Internet. Protect love. Save our animals. Save our forests. Save our heritage. End torture. End the civil war. Build a public transportation system that works already!
How much longer are we supposed to fight – alone and secluded – for what is right? How much longer do we bang our heads against a Parliament that doesn’t give a damn? Over 300 laws they have in their drawers and they waste their time – time that we pay for with our sweat and hard work – to quarrel over issues that don’t even concern us. Better yet, they create issues and convince us that they are protecting us from each other. Who protects us from the daily struggle it takes to live in this country that millions of us have abandoned because it get more and more unbearable every day?
I have a feeling that thousands of you agree that enough is enough. And what’s different this time is that I have a feeling thousands of you want to do something about it. What better thing to do than take back Parliament? Why do we have to fight against a lazy, inefficient, dysfunctional Parliament that will never give us our basic socio-economic rights? Our basic human dignity? Why does Parliament have to be ruled by war lords and billionaires and dynasties of the same families replicating the same incompetent sectarian crooks that feed on the hatred of their own people?
We can imagine a better quality of life for ourselves and our children and our brothers and sisters. We can find it in our hearts to translate this (sometimes inexplicable) love for Lebanon into a revolution that gives victory to the poor and the wronged. We can rise above $100 bribes and family loyalties and herd mentality to put our votes where our hearts really are. We can find and vote for MPs that are young and secular and progressive and hard-working and feminist and independent and intelligent. We can take back Parliament – the highest legislative authority in the country – and set it back on its original mission: to organize the lives of its people in the best possible and most egalitarian way. We can convince everybody around us. We are the majority and there is not a single person suffering today from unemployment or poverty or stolen rights or that huge, enormous feeling of helplessness and depression that will not want to hold on to the dream that change is possible.
I have a feeling that our time has come.
And what else does one do with feelings but run?
You can read the full post in Arabic about the Lebanese Parliament vote to cancel Article 562 of the Penal Code that offers reduced sentences for “honor” crimes.
The Committee for Administration and Justice, headed by MP Robert Ghanem, had raised the recommendation to cancel Article 562 back on May 16, 2011. The matter was put to a vote as the last point on the agenda of the legislative parliamentary meeting yesterday. Some MPs argued against the annulment: Butros Harb, Samir El Jisr, Imad El Hout, and Ali Fayyad. Others argued for removing Article 562: Sami Gemayel, Elie Keyrouz, Antoine Zahra, Marwan Hamadeh, Ghassan Moukhaiber, and Elie Aoun, and their arguments were good.
The vote finally passed FOR and the article should now officially be removed from the Penal Code. I could not find information on the voting numbers – I will post those when I do. Nayla Tueni and Gilberte Zouein (who represent half of the women in parliament since we only have four) were not even present.
It is important to note that Saada Allaw from AsSafir had written an article objecting to the annulment of Article 562 without looking at Article 252 as well. Article 252 allows for reduced sentences on crimes committed in a state of rage. She argues that many judges in Lebanon would frame “honor” crimes as ones committed in a state of rage and criminals could still benefit from reduced sentences. Although she is right, I don’t think we could have a Penal Code that does not distinguish between pre-meditated murder and second degree murder. So I am not sure what the solution would be – perhaps to forbid its use when it comes to gender-based violence. Thoughts?
The important thing now is that this small and long overdue victory does not take our eyes off the crucial battle of sending the bill to Protect Women from Family Violence into Parliament for a vote. It is right now still in the Special Committee and might be vetoed through the pressure of religious groups. “Honor” crimes are a direct result of the vicious cycle of gender-based violence going unpunished and remaining a taboo in Lebanon. So if we’ve agreed to cancel those, we might as well install protective laws against violence all together.
In all cases, congratulations to the women’s movement on this victory
After the announcement of the new all-male Lebanese cabinet on Monday, journalists asked MP Michel Aoun – the main winner in PM Mikati’s new government formation – about the lack of female participation. He replied with:
We did not have any women candidates to nominate , but we welcome their opinions, my house is full of women, and I am very popular among the female population.
You all know that women in Lebanon need more practice and experience in the public life so that she may become qualified for parliamentary and ministerial work.
Clearly, we have a serious gender inequality & stereotyping problem. It is becoming more prominent and more exemplified in our dysfunctional political sphere that there is no room in Lebanese politics for women. People have said to me: what do you care that there are no women when all politicians are corrupt? La2, I care. Of course I don’t want sexist, corrupt women in power any more than I want sexist, corrupt men in power either. I want good, strong women and men who care about social issues and the people’s concerns. But the current regression (illustrated below) demonstrates clearly that we not only have a problem of getting people outside of sectarian politics into the governing sphere. We also have a problem of getting women into government and parliament full stop.
Aoun’s comments – like all of his counterparts – show that the ruling elite have no awareness whatsoever of the importance of women’s political participation. To say that there are no qualified women (out of a population of 2 million) is extremely offensive. And no, we have not forgotten the FPM’s famous appeal to women in the 2009 elections: Sois Belle et Vote.
The chart below illustrates the regression in Lebanese parliament and government from 2005 to the present.