TUE 19 - 11 - 2019
Date: Jan 21, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Single female voice at Arab summit says it was ‘strange’
Timour Azhari| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Despite their divergent political opinions, the 20 Arab delegates who spoke at the main event of the Arab economic summit Sunday had one thing in common: They were all men.

But there was one woman who took to the microphone. Maria Daou, who works in media at the Economy Ministry, found her way to being the only female speaker at the summit after being selected by the Free Patriotic Movement, of which she is an active member.

The day before the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit was held, another conference took place: on women’s economic empowerment. The conference was attended, albeit briefly, by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and a number of Arab ministers.

Its final communique included items that addressed women’s issues, including a call to facilitate their ability to actively participate in society.

But Daou, who spoke at the economic summit as a representative of the Arab Youth Forum, said she thought the recommendations would remain on paper.

“In the Arab world, we’re very good at talking, but bad at implementing,” she said.

Daou spoke Sunday about working to end the exodus of Arab youth from the region, as well as about improving conditions for the physically disabled as well as those with special needs. She also called for “revitalizing the role of women in Arab youth society.”

Speaking after addressing the summit, Daou told The Daily Star: “I noticed I was the only woman there, and it was strange. There were a few women in the delegations, but they were sadly just there to fill a void,” she said. “This is what I’ve seen in other Arab meetings.”

“It’s obviously wrong that I was the only woman speaker. We didn’t hear female voices, and even when we heard them calling for equality between men and women, it sounds like lip service,” she said.

Daou said she hoped that Lebanon - as the Arab country that is the “most open on women” - would at least take strides forward on women’s issues.

But progress has been slow. Women account for only six of Lebanon’s 128-member Parliament, up from four in the last one. This makes Lebanon the sixth-worst on representation of women in Parliament in the world - out of 187 countries ranked by the interparliamentary union.

Daou also said the fact that women’s issues are often lumped in with children’s issues in public discourse betrays the mindset among (mostly male) decision-makers that women still belong in the home.

“The problems children face are often completely separate to those we do - like violence against women and our rights to equality. We have our own visions for our lives, and if we want to work, then that should be up to us,” she said.

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