Lebanon News

Women candidates report violence, assault

Lasagabaster said the high prevalence of violence could deter other women from running for office. (Ramzi Haidar/Dar al Mussawir)

BEIRUT: More than three-quarters of the women who ran for office in Lebanon’s 2018 parliamentary elections said they experienced some form of violence during their candidacy, according to a U.N. Women survey presented at a conference Wednesday.

The landmark May elections saw a record 86 women run for seats in Parliament, with every conventional party except for Hezbollah putting forward female candidates.

Only six women were elected.

Of the woman candidates who participated in the study, titled “Gender and Parliamentary Elections 2018,” 78.6 percent reported that during the time they ran for office, they were victims of violence. Almost half said this included sexual violence.

The study marked the first time physical threats and psychological violence were measured in Lebanon, according to Halimeh Kaakour, an independent consultant for U.N. Women, who led the research and wrote the report.

According to Kaakour, violence against women in politics “including in and beyond elections, consists of any act of gender-based violence, or threat of such acts.”

The violence identified in the study included physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering.

The study added that consequences of such violence could include discouraging women from being politically active, as well as restricting or preventing the political participation of individuals and women as a group.

Of those that reported violence, 85 percent experienced psychological and verbal abuse, which included comments like “You’re the prettiest of the list,” “Go raise your children” or “Run for Miss Lebanon instead.”

Twenty-eight percent received threats, including threats to harm their children. Twenty percent of the perpetrators of these types of abuse were family members, 28 percent were members of opposing groups, 12 percent were members of the same political group and 24 percent were from unidentified or fake social media accounts.

Forty-seven percent of the women that reported violence said they experienced some form of sexual violence. Of those women, 75 percent reported sexual assault and 43 percent said they had dealt with sexual harassment. Of the total women that had reported violence, only 8 percent said they experienced physical violence, or being hit directly.

Despite the high numbers of violence reported, 91 percent of the candidates said they would run again.

The findings of the study, which is expected to be released in March, were shared Wednesday at the Conference on Ending Violence Against Women in Political and Public Life organized by U.N. Women.

The conference also featured voices from local NGOs, including Yara Nassar, secretary-general of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, a watchdog, and Roula Mikhael, executive director of Maharat.

LADE and Maharat have both written reports raising awareness on discrimination in Lebanese elections.

In a recent study, Maharat revealed large discrepancies between the amount of media coverage of female and male parliamentary candidates after monitoring six newspapers and eight television stations, as well as the Facebook and Twitter accounts of candidates, during the two months leading up to the May 6 election.

Nassar stressed the need to improve electoral laws, not just by introducing female quotas but also including other measures ensuring the electoral law and media portrayal of women isn’t biased.

The head of U.N. Women’s policy division Begona Lasagabaster said the high prevalence of violence could deter other women from running for office. “Why would women get into politics if they know they’re going to have a hard time and experience harassment or not be seen well by their families and political parties?” she told The Daily Star.

“Violence against women in politics ... is a human rights violation and a violation of political rights. It deters women from exercising their political rights, and policy outcomes suffer when women are excluded from decision-making.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 28, 2019, on page 3.

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