Gender struggle in Lebanon politics writ large in towering campaign posters

By Noemí Jabois and Ana María Guzelian

Beirut, May 10 (EFE).- Despite pretensions of equality ahead of the upcoming elections in Lebanon, Beirut’s streets are dominated by towering portraits of male candidates while the campaign posters of female aspirants, who number just 155 out of 1,043, are smaller and confined to underpasses and dead ends.

While the number of female candidates running in the May 15 elections has nearly doubled compared to 2018, some experts believe they are being used as tokens of equality while attempts to approve gender quotas in parliament flounder.

The co-founder of the social democratic Lana party, Zeina al Helu, blames the situation on the all-powerful traditional parties, continued social “inequality” and Lebanon’s confessional system.

“The political parties in Lebanon are extremely sectarian, are extremely patriarchal and they are part of the overall structure of inequality and they maintain this system where exclusion is key,” she tells Efe.

Most of Lebanon’s formations identify themselves with one of the 18 recognized religious groups.

Women who ran in the 2018 parliament elections “did not have a chance to win” and they mostly were not members of the parties that included them on their lists, she denounced.

Gistelle Semaan, a candidate for the May 15 elections for the secular and opposition National Bloc, agrees that the female presence in the race is “for photography.”

She believes that the serious economic crisis the country has been struggling with since late 2019 encourages a tendency for women to focus on the “indispensable” aspects of life.

“In the current circumstances today women in Lebanon tend to concentrate more on how to solve the daily problems more than getting involved in public affairs,” she tells Efe.

“These social and economical and livelihood problems are affecting directly on (the priorities of) women,” she adds.

The aspiring lawmaker stresses the need for setting a minimum number of seats for women.

In recent years, several parties have presented bills to set a minimum gender quota to help increase female representation in parliament, president of the National Commission for Lebanese Women, Claudine Aoun, tells Efe.

“Draft laws for the adoption of the women’s quota were presented in various forms by party and independent representatives, but these projects were not discussed, neither in the parliamentary committees nor in the parliament as a whole, because of the lack of priority for this issue,” she adds.

The commission proposed reserving 24 seats for women from different electoral constituencies and religious groups, and the body is “determined” to resume efforts for a minimum quota approval.

“The fact that the parliamentary blocs did not take the initiative to bring up the issue for discussion in parliament, in fact, indicates indifference on their part and the absence of a real will to undertake change,” she says. EFE


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