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Middle East & North Africa

Why the Lebanese presidential election was not a laughing matter for women

The 31st of October was not a particularly good day for Lebanese women. An overhead visual of the Lebanese parliament reminded us of the stark reality that we have only 4 women MPs, that’s 3 % of the total number of MPs, one of the lowest percentages in the world.

Not only did we have to put up with the childish behavior of MPs during the voting process to elect a new president, but we also had to endure their condescending laughter when the names of MPs Gilberte Zwein and Sitrida Geagea were called out during the vote tally.

It was this dismissive behavior that was especially irksome. An MP obviously thought that putting a woman’s name was a good joke to emasculate the presumptive candidate. Because the idea of a woman as President is of course ludicrous, isn’t it? Neither Zwein (from Aoun’s Reform and Change bloc) or Geagea (Samir Geagea’s wife and head of the LF bloc) could protest much as their parties had formed an alliance to elect Aoun as president.

And then of course there was model Myriam Klink who managed to get her name on an MP’s ballot.  Other than getting more free publicity in one day than she could have ever dreamed of, she was used as a joke to undermine and make a mockery of the presidential election.

On to President Michel Aoun’s inaugural speech: It was disappointing, that despite having 3 daughters and a large number of committed women members in his party, he did not mention women’s rights. Not even a token acknowledgement of women.

Which is a shame as the Free Patriotic Movement really needs to improve its record on women. During the 2009 elections they ran the highly controversial “Sois Belle et Vote” ad campaign aimed at women, which seemed to imply that women are too stupid to do anything other than vote.

President Aoun’s son-in-law Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil has also not been particularly sensitive to gender equality. Take for example, the embarrassing ‘Caroline’ scandal, which took place at the annual United Nations General Assembly in 2014, where Bassil was caught on video objectifying Caroline Ziadeh, Lebanon’s UN deputy head of mission.

Or his assertion earlier this year that Lebanese women married to Syrian or Palestinian nationals should not be allowed to give their nationality to their husbands and children due to ‘demographic’ concerns. Because somehow women (physically? mentally?) are weaker transmitters of national identity.

The FPM is not worse than other parties on women’s rights. It is after all part of the patriarchal political system and we should not expect it to be better than the current dismal standard.

But a president’s inaugural speech to the entire nation should be held to the highest possible standard. Equality, pluralism, fair representation and protection of rights were key words in the President’s speech. A guarantee that the so-called new era will grant full and equal rights to women is not too much to ask.  

You can follow the author on Twitter @doreenkhoury.