BEIRUT: Introducing a gender quota for Lebanon’s parliamentary elections took center stage Thursday at a conference that brought together national and international stakeholders to discuss electoral reforms.
The “Parliamentary Elections 2022: Electoral Reforms and Gender Equality” conference coincided with ongoing discussions among politicians and officials over the past two weeks of a draft law proposed by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement, which includes a recommendation to reserve 20 seats for women in the upcoming 2022 parliamentary elections.
Though a record 86 women ran in 2018’s parliamentary race, only six gained spots in the 128-seat body: Paula Yacoubian, Rola Tabsh, Bahia Hariri, Sethrida Geagea, Inaya Ezzeddine and Dima Jamali. Four women - Hariri, Geagea, Gilberte Zwein and Nayla Tueni - had served as members in the preceding, 2009-era Parliament.
“Speaker Berri said it was the time to start discussing a new electoral law because the old one, the one according to which the 2018 elections happened, is suboptimal and it does not respond to our national aspirations,” Ezzeddine told The Daily Star.
The Amal Movement lawmaker, who was a panelist at Thursday’s conference, gained the highest number of votes among the elected women candidates, representing the Tyre district.
Ezzeddine said that for her, the 15 percent quota that Berri proposed was “very minimal, but we are discussing if we can increase it. Speaker Berri said he proposed [20 seats] because ... a lot of parties are against it, so he made it the minimum.”
Twenty seats is just over 15 percent of the 128-member legislature.
Abir Chebaro, another panelist at the conference and the vice president of the National Commission for Lebanese Women, said she hoped for parity in women’s representation in elections and government.
“I’m not for a quota. I’m for parity,” Chebaro told The Daily Star, but added that “we have to have quotas to enhance the representation and participation of women in all leadership positions. When we take these small steps and make women more visible in leadership, this will get you into better representation in every way.”
At the conference, Interior Minister Raya El Hassan also showed her support for the introduction of quotas. “If there is one legacy I want to leave during my tenure ... it is to introduce a quota for women, whether in the parliamentary election law or the municipality election law,” she said in a speech. “I will try in the coming years until the 2022 elections to introduce all the ideas and reforms and proposals.”
The conference also included the presentation of the UNDP’s key results on gender representation in the 2018 elections.
“Part of the issue is that in Lebanon, we don’t have data that we can analyze and we don’t have access to information. These results help us see the numbers,” said Nora Mourad, a research and gender officer for the UNDP who helped draft the report.
According to the results, female voters exceeded the number of male voters. Of the 1,861,203 total voters, 51.4 percent were women and 48.6 percent were men.
Of the total number of 89,447 votes cast for female candidates, 45.73 percent came from women, showing that “women do in fact vote for women despite the stereotype that there is not enough female support,” said Olga Eid, a reporting and statistics officer for the UNDP who also helped draft the report.
Despite the higher numbers of female voters than male, women remain underrepresented in Lebanon’s political arena.
“Despite the increase in the number of female candidates in the past elections, women remain severely underrepresented in politics in Lebanon,” EU Ambassador to Lebanon Christina Lassen said in her opening remarks at the conference.
The lack of female representation in Lebanese politics could be solved by “special measures such as a quota for women on the candidate lists, equal opportunities for all political candidates to access media and clear regulation and transparency when it comes to campaign financing,” Lassen said.