Lebanon: Five Reasons That Demand Women's Participation in Government
by Marie Nassif-Debs
In his book entitled Silence of the Poor, French writer Henri Guillemin said that those who were the foundation of the victory of the Revolution of 1789, the urban and rural poor, including women, were excluded from politics by an electoral law giving the right to elect and be elected only to citizens who could read and write. . . . Since that distant century, despite hundreds of wars and revolutions that have changed the face of the planet, the poor and women are still the weak link in all the changes and compromises, even though they are the ones who made them possible.
Based on this historical fact, let's review the current political situation in Lebanon, following the compromise made, on 21 May 2008, between the majority (known as the "14 March Bloc") and the opposition (called the "8 March Bloc"). What draws our attention is, first and foremost, the entente that settled for, despite all the blood and destruction, the only electoral law that could keep them all in power while preserving their (social and sectarian) role at the top of the hierarchy: the law of 1960 which, beginning with highly confessionalized cazas (small districts), alone is capable of guaranteeing the economic position and the share of the cake due to each "emir of a taifa" (political representative of a religious denomination) and the role of various foreign "tutors" near and far. All this in order to keep the Lebanese political system, designed by France and redesigned sometimes by the United States and sometimes by Syria, the place that Lebanon has been assigned on the regional chessboard.
In this situation, where the struggle for power has been brought to its conclusion, since each of the parties based on the alliance of the bourgeoisie and political feudalism had borne arms to improve its portion at the "town hall," the portion of the poor has, once again, fallen off the agenda and, with it, also that of representation of women who, though constituting 53% of the entire Lebanese people, have not been able, so far, to rise to the positions of political decision-making power, except to replace family members, dead husbands in most cases. . . .
When we raised the issue of "women's quota," for some time thereafter, certain representatives of the bourgeoisie complained of dishonor, saying it would degrade the role of women to demand a quota to allow women to be present among them! They have forgotten that most, if not all, of them only rose to their positions of leadership through the quotas granted to the political representatives of Lebanese religious denominations. . . . They attached the adjective "humiliating" to a legitimate demand to better represent women of their country, though we find them being very much worshipful of what they call "Western democracy," willfully ignoring that this democracy is putting female quotas in practice and that Angela Merkel, to mention only one example, has risen to her high office because she was elected first of all because of such a quota. . . .
What is a "female quota"? And how is it formulated by the associations and political parties that have proposed it?
The electoral program of the "National Assembly for the Elimination of All Discriminations against Women in Lebanon," published three years ago (2005), stipulates that Lebanese women be given a 30% share of deputies, i.e., 38 seats. These 38 seats will be, according to the network of 60 associations and many eminent women in the country, filled by the adoption of the most democratic of all known electoral systems, starting with proportional representation and set outside any sectarian confines. That is to say, it will start with a unique experiment, different from all those experienced since the independence of Lebanon. Demanding the abolition of confessionalism and proportional representation, the women of Lebanon aspire to represent not a part of the people but Lebanon as a whole. By doing so, they wish to express their opposition to the electoral laws that were tailored to the measure of sectarian divisions and that could not but engender civil wars.
This program is based, by the way, on very good reasons, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Here, we'll cite only five.
The first reason, one of principle, is based on the Constitution, which proclaims, in its seventh article, full equality among citizens. This reason of principle has been strengthened in 1996 by the signing of the "International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women," which provides, inter alia, the right to quotas as a means to institute complete equality between men and women.
The second reason lies in the great role played by women, especially young women, in the movement for independence in the early forties, and also in the organizations of the Lebanese resistance against the Israeli occupation. In all these battles, Lebanese women have demonstrated leadership qualities.
The third reason is visible in the place currently occupied by women in economy and production. This place, which has been horizontally expanded, has also become more impressive in the senior echelons of economic and even financial power. . . .
The fourth reason is found in the role played by women in the judiciary and the media where limits and differences have been completely abolished.
The fifth and final reason, as was already mentioned, lies in the numbers. While some leaders boast of the percentage of the denomination that they represent in the total population of Lebanon, in any faith, women are the only "part" who enjoy an absolute majority.
Yes to a quota for women, on a provisional basis. Yes to a new electoral law based on proportional representation in Lebanon as a whole considered as a single constituency. Yes to the abolition of sectarianism in politics. These are the foundations of civil peace and political reform.
Marie Nassif-Debs is a spokesperson of the Lebanese Communist Party. Her article was first published in An-Nidaa on 27 June 2008 and made available in French at the Al-Oufok Web site on the same day. English translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.