BEIRUT: For the delegates at a conference discussing female participation in politics Wednesday, there was widespread consensus on the need for more women to take part in the political sphere but little agreement on how best to achieve it.
Activist Hayat Arslan was forthright about her disappointment after May’s parliamentary elections, in which only six female MPs out of 111 candidates were elected.
“We have to admit we weren’t organized enough and the patriarchal mentality is still dominating,” she told The Daily Star.
Nevertheless, the longtime women’s rights campaigner said that work was already underway to prepare for the next challenge.
“We are working from now for the forthcoming elections so that we can organize ourselves much better.
“We are trying to avoid the mistakes that happened in these elections,” she said.
Arslan is proud of the progress that has been made, and of the change in culture in the political scene.
“Now, they can no more ignore the fact that there should be a woman [in the political arena].”
Her wish list of required changes going forward is long. “There are too many things: the quota system, awareness programs ... spending money, media,” she said.
Randa Abboud, a notary public in Damascus and former parliamentary candidate in Metn, has more modest goals. “We have to work for a little bit of change,” she told The Daily Star, adding campaigners should not neglect “the balance between Muslims and Christians in this country.”
Nonetheless, she also wholeheartedly backs a quota system that would see a minimum number of female candidates on electoral lists.
Abboud also has a proposal to even the financial playing field.
Having spent $300,000 of her own money campaigning in the last election, she believes women should have access to public money so those without such funds can campaign.
“Television, radio, [print media] all those things it should be written by law that ... they have to give them [to] women free,” she said.
Many of the speakers returned to the topic of the prohibitive cost of getting media airtime pre-election talk show spots were reportedly billed as high as $240,000, while just a minute of airtime was $6,000.
Rana Chemaitelly, an independent candidate in the Beirut II electoral district who ran on the list of independent MP Fouad Makhzoumi, said that she had been forced to rely on coverage from pan-Arab TV stations, rather than local channels.
“I was not affiliated to any party, that’s why it was impossible for me to get on TV [stations] such as MTV or LBC,” she said.
Another independent candidate, Caroline Bazzi, a journalist, found that her lack of an affiliation with an established party prevented her from competing at all in the south.
Bazzi said the problem was not to do with the current system.
“The new [electoral] law didn’t change anything,” she said. “We have a problem in our mentality.”
Bazzi said she is “against a quota in principle because we shouldn’t limit the number of women to 10 or 20 percent.”
Caretaker Minister of State for Women’s Affairs Jean Ogasapian dismissed such a notion. “Even if a quota was not perfect it would have made a difference under the new electoral law,” he told delegates.
The minister said the need for reform was vital: “I truly believe in this cause and I’m convinced of it.
“It’s not a matter of political luxury or mere rights,” he said.
“The absence of women in Parliament is a loss for Parliament itself because it means that this constitutional body is losing a lot of energy.”
Ogasapian willingly accepted the suggestion of his panel’s moderator, journalist Rindala Jabbour, that his successor should be a woman.
He said the groundwork had been laid for the next minister to make changes, as he has already submitted a draft law to reform the municipal elections and the parliamentary elections voting laws. “I hope the woman who comes into my position will take the initiative and enact these draft laws,” he said.