First lady Wafaa Michel Sleiman issued an open letter Monday calling for better treatment of women in Arab societies and for continued perseverance in the face of oppression and discrimination.
Timed to coincide with Arab Women's Day, commemorated annually on Feb. 1, the letter praises the work of women in various social and economic roles and urges Arab governments to prioritize gender issues as part of their wider developmental agendas.
“We take the hand of the Arab woman and stress on the fact that the process of the empowerment and advancement of women is part and parcel of the process of advancement of our societies,” said Sleiman. “Moreover, we stress on the fact that there could be no Arab advancement whatsoever, at whatever level, if women are not amid its key components.”
Sleiman is also head of the National Commission for Lebanese Women, the leading national group charged with “realizing women's advancement and gender equality in Lebanon.”
“We fully [realize] that the process is a long one, going on an uphill road strewn with hardships,” she said. “It is, first and foremost, of prime importance to the woman herself, but it also affects all the enlightened people in our societies, whether leaders, decision-makers … employers, fathers, brothers, husbands and beloved children.”
The critical and precarious situation in the Arab world, which sees widespread gender discrimination on both the economic, legal, administrative and social levels, prevent this day from being celebrated, she added.
“However, Arab women themselves must seek answers concerning the recent developments and achievements, and more specifically, concerning the priorities which remain to be urgently and inevitably tackled,” said Sleiman. “[This must be] carried out through the streaming of capacities and the convergence of efforts.”
Women across the Arab world face obstacles like unequal citizenship laws, where they are unable to pass on their nationality to their children and in some cases prevented from owning property. They are also subject to harsh and unfair divorce and custody laws, while many report suffering widespread inequalities in the workplace and in education.
“We pay tribute to the Arab woman who epitomizes patience in the face of subjugation, suppression, violence, and hurdles,” she said. “We praise the militant woman who defies occupation, tyranny and injustice. We admire the perserverant woman who fully assumes her family responsibilities when confronted with unjust and prejudicial family laws.
“We stand in awe of the woman who strives and works hard to fulfill herself in positions where the equal opportunities with men are beyond her reach,” she added.