SAT 15 - 12 - 2018
Date: Mar 8, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Women in politics: ‘Unfinished business’
Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine

International Women’s Day has been observed for over 100 years now. Annually, on March 8, the day brings together governments, women’s organizations, businesses and charities to celebrate women’s achievements in the push toward gender equality. Every year celebrations take the form of talks, debates, rallies, movements, performances, gatherings and networking events.

This year was marked by a determined global thrust striving for gender parity and shaped by global marches and campaigns. #MeToo, #TimesUp, #TimeisNow and #pressforprogress exemplify movements that spread virally as hashtags used on social media, tackling various issues such as sexual harassment, violence against women, equal pay and political representation of women.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017 reveals that for the first time since 2006, “gender parity is shifting into reverse this year” globally.

The report, quantifying gender disparities, tracking progress and focusing on the gender gap’s key areas, stated that it would take 100 years for the gender gap to disappear completely across the 106 countries surveyed since the report’s inception and highlights that the economic gender gap will take another 217 years. Moreover, while the education-specific gender gap could be closed in the coming 13 years, the political participation gap needs 99 years.

The report stresses that the few countries showing considerable progress are those that consider talent as “a critical factor for growth and competitiveness” and have worked toward integrating women into the national talent pool both as beneficiaries and shapers. This pool of skills, ideas and perspectives is critical to tackling challenges and harnessing new opportunities.

Each country follows its own path in achieving gender parity. The British Ambassador to Lebanon Hugo Shorter, during his address at an event hosted on Feb. 13 on the occasion of “100 years of votes for women in the U.K.,” said, “This is a symbolic year for women in the U.K. I hope it will be a symbolic year for women in Lebanon too.” He added that the U.K. is still “on a journey” and “Lebanon is on that journey too.”

Separately, a panel discussion on women in politics was held on Feb. 22 with the first female head of state in Finland, organized by the Ministry of State for Women’s Affairs, the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women and the Finnish Embassy. The event was a good opportunity for sharing the experiences of women from Finland, the first country in the world to fully exercise a woman’s right to stand as a candidate in elections a hundred years ago, with the first female members of Parliament in the world elected in that country in 1907.

Both events were a chance to call on Lebanese political parties and voters to increase women’s representation in Parliament in the upcoming elections. As the British and Finnish anniversaries are commemorated, women over the world and in Lebanon are still facing a lack of political representation as well as other social and economic inequalities.

1953 represents an important milestone for Lebanese women’s political participation, with women given the right to vote and stand for Parliament. As we approach the next anniversary of this milestone, it is important to reflect on how far women’s rights have advanced and how far there is still to go. It is a perfect moment to reflect on both women’s achievements and on an important question: Why did gaining that right back then not pave the way to equal citizenship rights?

With many bumps along the road, the past two years witnessed a number of legislative changes aiming at improving Lebanese women’s position and standing in society, politics and the economy. However, women remain highly underrepresented in the parliament and in other positions of power.

It is the interaction of gender as a structure of power with other structures that shapes every aspect of life. Looking at it as a process rather than a variable will enhance the understanding of the different factors influencing gender equality and women’s empowerment in Lebanon, reflecting on accomplishments, trends, permitting and constraining factors.

The road ahead is still long. According to the WEF Gender Gap Index 2017, Lebanon ranks 142 among 144 countries in political participation. Since 2010, Lebanon has seen a constant decline in the global index ranking and relative gender gap score consistently close to zero in political empowerment.

While Lebanese women have been succeeding in all walks of life, it is not a lack of competence or will that is holding them back from political representation. With women’s representation in Parliament at 3 percent; 5.4 percent in 2016 municipal elections; less than 25 percent in membership in political parties; and around 5 percent in parties’ political bureaus, it is definitely “unfinished business” as the U.N. secretary-general describes it in his message for International Women’s Day. With 10 percent Lebanese women candidates for 2018 parliamentary elections, will gender equality remain a pipe dream?

With an indicative 50 percent of parliamentary representation in the city of Saida for 26 years, MP Bahia Hariri has presented an exemplar of women’s political participation for many years.

After 66 years in the journey of promoting the role of women in politics, it is essential to study the impact of women in politics on social peace, stability and security. By “walking the walk,” it is important to understand a legacy of an inspired leader and a “woman who leads by example.”

Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine is executive director of the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 07, 2018, on page 3.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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