FRI 20 - 4 - 2018
Mar 17, 2018
The Daily Star
To the U.N. Commissionon the Status of Women
Dear Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, Congratulations on your leadership as the Chairwoman of the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women. I would also like to thank the secretary-general for his report to this session.
Madam Chair, Honorable Representatives,
It is a great honor for me to address you on behalf of my country, Lebanon. Our conference this year is historic because it coincides with this great women’s awakening around the world.
“Time is now,” is not a slogan anymore, it has become a reality for millions of women. You can hear it echoing the world over. But it is also still a dream for many more millions who are asking: If not now, then when?
This year’s theme: achieving gender equality, and the empowerment of rural women and girls speaks to me personally as a girl from rural Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. When my grandmother took me by hand to school every morning and made sure that I learned my first words she had no idea that these words will lead me to this magnificent Hall of Humanity, the GA. Education is the best gift we endow on rural girls and women. If you want to change the life of a rural girl, find her a desk at a school and she will do the rest.
It also speaks to me because I am the first Lebanese woman ambassador to the United Nations since Lebanon joined a small group of pioneer nations that founded the U.N. in San Francisco 73 years ago.
I was appointed because we have a president and a prime minister and a government in Lebanon today that believe: Time is now.
Empowering women and helping them find their voice has been the most defining attribute of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government. For the first time in Lebanon’s history, it established a Ministry for Women and a Human Rights Ministry.
Women comprise 27 percent of the newly appointed positions in the diplomatic corps, and 30 percent of the Electoral Management Body, 23 percent of officials of the National Security positions, and 17 percent of women in the Social and Economic Council.
Women are called upon to stand up and be counted. This is a breath of fresh air since the picture has not been rosy for women in politics and public life before. I will share with you some examples:
Although women were granted the right to vote and run for office in 1953, the ratio of women in Parliament today is only 3.1 percent, (four women out of 128 members of Parliament). Also, there is only one woman minister in the Cabinet out of 30 ministers.
But this year it is different: Lebanon is holding its parliamentary elections in May and women feel empowered more than any elections in our history.
There are 111 women running for elections, the highest number since women started voting in Lebanon, and political parties made sure to include women on their electoral lists.
Women’s groups proposed a law to get a 30 percent quota for women in Parliament but this failed to gain parliamentary approval. Women constitute only 5.4 percent of local government, while they are 28 percent of the labor force.
The situation is worse for rural women. While women in agriculture comprise 40 percent of the agricultural labor force, the income gap between men and women is 21 percent.
To change this picture, the government has embarked on a strategy that not only empowers women and seeks gender equality, but also eliminates all forms of discrimination against women and protects them from violence.
On the strategic level, Lebanon is developing the national strategy to combat violence against women. The Parliament adopted in 2014 a bill for the protection of women and family members against domestic violence, and now it has successfully repealed article 522 of the penal code which allows a rapist to marry his victim.
The government is submitting and trying to pass a number of laws to protect women:
r There is a draft law to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.
r A draft law to set the minimum age of marriage for women at 18 years old.
r A draft law to penalize sexual harassment.
r A draft law in the Council of Ministers to eliminate discrimination in the National Social Security Fund.
r A law to grant paternity leave, to ensure gender balance.
It is also developing the National Strategy for the Prevention of Violent Extremism from a gender perspective. As well as developing the National Strategy to implement UNSC Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.
This work is the fruit of strong collaboration between the Ministry of Women, the National Commission for Lebanese Women and civil society.
The Lebanese Constitution grants men and women the same civil and political rights without any discrimination.
But the political reality deprived women till now from playing an equal role in the political life of the country. Winds of change are sweeping across Lebanon, as they are rocking basic concepts and traditions that closed the doors of political power to women.
As the Secretary-General Mr. Guterres said, “power is never given, it is taken away.” In Lebanon, as everywhere else on this planet women are heeding this call.”
Amal Mudallali is the Lebanese ambassador to the United Nations.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 16, 2018, on page 3.
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