A record number of women have decided to run in the upcoming Lebanese elections, slated to take place on May 15, Al Arabiya English reported Friday.
While Lebanese women currently comprise less than 5% of the 128 seats in the Lebanese parliament, no less than 118 women are hoping to win a seat next month.
The number of women running in the scheduled elections is 37% higher than last year when 86 women ran. In 2009 and 2005 only 12 and 4 women ran, respectively. However, few of these women were elected. In the last five general elections, only three to six women have won seats in the Lebanese parliament.
“It’s a historic number to us,” said Joelle Abou Farhat, co-founder of fiftyfifty, an organization that lobbies for gender equality in Lebanese politics. “This is the first time in the history of Lebanon that 118 women are on electoral lists running in the parliamentary elections. If we see this as a political marathon, women in Lebanon are 30 years behind, and we are telling them to run alongside men in this marathon. For the past three decades, and even more than that, women were barred from participating in the political life because of the wars that Lebanon experienced and all the aggravated political problems where the ultimate decision in the country lies in the man’s hands alone.”
Although Lebanon frequently boasts of being more liberal than the rest of the Arab world, the country, in fact, has a worse ranking than several other Arab countries considered more traditional, on the Global Gender Gap Index. In 2021, Lebanon ranked at 132, below the United Arab Emirates (72), Tunisia (126), Egypt (129) and Jordan (131).
One of the women running in this year’s elections is Nouhad Doumit, a 64-year-old nurse. She first ran, unsuccessfully, in 2018.
“It was a daring experience, for a woman and a nurse, to say that I am a free person who believes in democracy and one’s competence – not gender, sect nor age – to do what they have set out to do,” Doumit said. “My candidacy went very well considering that I was on a list facing the traditional leaders’ lists, with no money, no media exposure, and no support. Women in Lebanon remain subservient to men. They still need extensive training in empowerment, advocacy, and leadership. We need to push them to take the lead in different matters in life, such as speaking up, establishing financial independence, demanding their rights, and occupying political positions that are usually male-dominated.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the male domination of Lebanese politics, only six of the 118 women candidates are affiliated with a political party. According to Joelle Abou Farhat of Fiftyfifty , “Political parties around the world have a vital role to play when it comes to including women in elections, where many times they create a gender quota within the party, but this role in Lebanon is absent today.”
There have been calls for gender quotas to ensure active female participation in Lebanese politics. Bills calling for 20% of seats in parliament to be reserved for women, coupled with a requirement for 40% of female candidates on party lists, were developed by a joint parliamentary committee but then “shelved,” allegedly because of “technical loopholes.”
“The political decision allowing women to participate in political life has not been taken yet, and a high-level decision is pivotal for women’s participation in politics,” said Nada Anid, founder of Madanyat, another Lebanese organization that works for the equal participation of women in political and public life.