May’s parliamentary elections in Lebanon were groundbreaking. They are a hope for real change and a better future for a country in crisis. As many as 88 young people (between 25 to 35 years old) and 155 women were among the number of 1043 candidates. These are the historical numbers. Lebanon has been at the forefront of countries with the highest gender imbalance rate as per the Gender Gap report released by the World Economic Forum.
Due to the latest elections, Lebanese women gained 8 out of 128 seats in the Parliament. That was a record.
“For us women, it is a huge victory. We are showing that we must treat each other on an equal footing” – says Najab Saliba, who got engaged in politics after participating in the wave of protests.
“It is a feminist revolution. I felt as if I had stepped out from the tower and started fighting for a new way of living” – she adds.
“My knowledge and awareness about the gender gap were the main reasons for attacks against me during my campaign. They continue” – says Halime el-Kaakour, newly elected Member of Parliament. She emphasises that these women who have chosen to pursue a political career are forced to face constant struggles. Many times they are exposed to harassment or even violence.
They have to fight for their presence in the public domain. However, according to data more and more Lebanese women are deciding to speak out and strive against patriarchalism and stereotypes.
“As a person trying to swim against the flow, it is very challenging to do my job” – confesses Saliba. According to research conducted by UN Women in 2018, 78,6 % of women candidates in parliamentary elections were exposed to different types of harassment.
Myriam Sfeir is the director of the Arabic Institute of Women. She expresses her concern by saying that winning the election is not enough. Myriam emphasizes that it cannot guarantee triumph in the gender equality battle. She adds: “the country is preoccupied with other problems”. In her opinion, the priority is to guarantee parliamentary seats for those men willing to fight for women’s rights. “That would help us eliminate all mucho who believe the world revolves around them. We are fed up of those who have set this male character-dominated way of doing politics”.
Here the parliamentary elections have special rules
Every 4 years the Lebanese elect 128 deputies. Seats are divided equally among Christians and Muslims. The National Pact is an unwritten agreement of political and religious leaders, that established the division of power in the country according to a confessional basis. The president is Maronite Christian, the prime minister – Sunni Muslim and the president of parliament – Shia Muslim. In theory, this division should guarantee inter-denomination cooperation. It should also prevent another civil war. However many claim that the theory does not apply to practice.
Unemployment, inflation, corruption, poverty, the pandemic of COVID-19 and the explosion in Beirut in 2020 are just a few of the problems that Lebanese society struggles with.
This election is a hope for change, hence many people decided to stand because they want this shift. New Parliament is a chance for a new chapter in Lebanese history.
What is crucial, is that in the latest election Hezbollah – a Lebanese radical Shiite political party recognised as a terrorist group in many countries, lost its parliamentary majority. Victory belongs to independent opposing candidates. Most of them were among the organisers of the 2019 protests.
The strongest parties in the Parliament are the Maronites. They are a Christian ethnoreligious group, which plays a crucial role in the political life of the country.
Julia Parkot – Arabist in her fifth year of study. Member of the editorial board of Salam Lab. Author. Particularly interested in the Islamic culture and the issue of terrorism in the context of conflicts.
Translation by Aleksandra Ciemała.
Sources: al-Monitor, Arab News.
Cover photo: El Loko Foto via Wikimedia Commons.