LEBANON: Lebanese Women Seek Stronger Representation in Parliament

Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Western Asia
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While parliamentarians discuss a new electoral law to govern the 2013 parliamentary elections, women politicians are seeking stronger presence in the country's legislature.

Lebanon signed the Beijing agreement in 1995, which stipulated a female quota of no less than 30% but this has yet to be implemented in parliamentary elections.

Member of the parliamentary follow-up committee on the new electoral law, MP Serge Torsarkissian told Al-Shorfa his committee "discussed strengthening women's role in the elections in terms of candidacy and allocated seats but the discussion has not yet resulted in anything due to a rigid atmosphere".

"The focus instead has been on putting women on electoral lists that guarantee their success," he added.

Torsarkissian stressed the importance of reinforcing women's presence in parliament, based on their "historic struggle" and effective role ever since the Lebanese independence.

"Women played a pioneering role in the intellectual and literary fields and strongly proved themselves at top tier positions, particularly in the judiciary, law, media, associations and unions," he said.

"Women achieved a lot [in parliament]," he added, including taking part in "legislating laws for minors as well as amending the penal code and trade laws".

"Today, women [parliamentarians] are working toward implementing the quota law as well as amending the personal status law," he said.

Nada Zaarour, head of Lebanon's Green Party, told Al-Shorfa women must assert themselves in political decision-making circles, as they have done in other sectors, for they make up more than half of society and are professionally and educationally qualified.

Zaarour, who recently announced her candidacy for one of the parliamentary seats allocated for the North Metn region, said "parliamentary elections must be grounded in competition among the most qualified people, and we need to give civil society a say in the matter".


Women's associations and civil society organisations have long called for bringing Lebanese women into the electoral fold.

In 1963, Myrna Bustani became the first woman elected to parliament and following Bustani, women -- in many cases born into traditional political families -- were elected or appointed to a few parliamentary seats in 1991, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2009.

For decades now, Lebanese women have been fighting to play a bigger role in outlining national policies and to gain stronger representation in parliament.

Among these women is Princess Hayat Arslan, head of the Committee for Promoting Women's Role in National Decision-Making, which she formed in 2004 to lobby for a female quota in parliamentary elections.

"Women are capable of working in all fields of life and through education, hard work and perseverance they have proven they can take on their patriotic responsibilities," she told Al-Shorfa.

"What we ask for is not because women make up more than half of society but for the sake of the entire country, to tap into society's potential," she said.

"I will run [for parliament] if there is an election law that allows qualified women to reach parliament," she said. "The quota system has been adopted by the most advanced countries and has allowed women to reach decision-making circles."

MP Bahij Tabbara, a former minister who helped draft Lebanon's election law in the 1990s, said he wonders why Lebanese women still play a small role in the political sphere when they are achieving outstanding results in all other fields, including the recent judiciary exams.

"We ask that women be allowed to make it to parliament and government through a modern election law that opens the door for female participation in political life," he said. "The quota is a temporary fix to secure women's place in parliament, but after that, she must prove herself at the heart of political decision-making."

French and European political systems, for example, require political parties to include female candidates in their electoral lists, Tabbara said.

"We will seek to ensure female presence in parliament and will not give up," he said.