|Date: Mar 8, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Working for women in Lebanon but still more to be done|
This year in particular, it is with great satisfaction that I celebrate International Women’s Day.
On this occasion, I want to review the achievements of the Office of the Minister of State for Women’s Affairs, established in December 2016, in the current government. In the past year, the ministry has been working to advance women’s rights at the strategic and legislative levels to enhance their participation in all aspects of society.
On the strategic level, the ministry is working to implement the National Strategy for Gender Equality, which was developed in consultation with the different stakeholders (ministries, public institutions, non-governmental organizations, governmental organizations, European Union and United Nations agencies).
The key purpose of this strategy is to eliminate inequalities and promote gender equality between women and men in Lebanon, and to improve the situation and the representation of women in Lebanon in all fields, aligned with Article 7 of the Lebanese Constitution: “All Lebanese shall be equal before the law. They shall equally enjoy civil and political rights and shall equally be bound by public obligations and duties without any distinction.”
Additionally, we are coordinating directly with the Office of the Prime Minister to develop the national strategy for the prevention of violent extremism where the gender concept is mainstreamed. The ministry is also developing the first National Strategy to Combat Violence Against Women and a study on the economic cost of gender-based violence in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.
In addition, the ministry is a member in the committee to develop the National Action Plan for the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, which reaffirms the role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace building, and the need to increase their participation in decision-making in this regard.
Finally, there is a national action plan to promote women’s participation in political life. In fact, we are currently implementing a program with U.N. Women, the United Nations Development Program, UNDP-LEAP (the Lebanese Elections Assistance Program) and the European Union to increase the presence of women in the Parliament. This action plan included capacity building for potential female candidates in the upcoming Parliamentary elections in May, as well as a media campaign under the slogan “Half the society, Half the Parliament.” As I always say, keeping women from public life is not only a loss for women. It is a loss for the Parliament.
Also, regarding women’s economic empowerment, we are currently working in partnership with the World Bank to develop a jobs program to support the Lebanese government to create new job opportunities, taking into consideration the gender aspect.
On the legislative level, one of our main objectives is to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. The ministry has submitted legislative draft proposals as follows: a law to punish sexual harassment, a law to eliminate discrimination in the provisions of the Social Security Law, and a law authorizing paternity leave. Last summer the government repealed Article 522 of the Penal Code that exempted rapists from punishment if they married their victims, and we are still working on further amendments to that law to protect minors.
Finally, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the ministry is a member in the national committee for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and is working in parallel to build the capacities of ministries and other public institutions to increase cooperation for gender mainstreaming.
Some challenges that I, as a minister, and the ministry have been facing include the fact that Lebanon is still subject to the plurality of legislations and courts in personal status matters, where the different types of personal status laws are marked by discrimination against women. Regardless of all efforts and progress achieved, these laws remain a very challenging area that hinder advancement. However, we are not planning to give up.
I firmly believe in the full realization of women’s rights, including the right to grant nationality. I also truthfully consider the substantial role played by civil society.
However, the full realization of women rights will not be reached without political will and support for this issue. The ministry has proved to be of need in Lebanon, especially in taking responsibility in the formulation of policies in favor of women and in ensuring that gender is being mainstreamed at all levels.
Accordingly, I do believe that the ministry will continue the performance of its role in the formation of successive Cabinets.
Jean Ogasapian is Lebanon’s minister of state for women’s affairs.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 08, 2018, on page 3.