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Four female ministers: a first… yet not enough


The Shiite and Druze communities are being criticized for not appointing women.

Within the new thirty-seat Lebanese government formed on Thursday January 31st by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, four of the appointed ministers are female. While far from the 30% feminist campaigners were aiming for, it is still a record for a country that has never shone in terms of female representation in the cabinet. The importance of the portfolios is also a first, and while they have never had more than two ministerial seats in the same government, women now make up 13.33% of the cabinet. Better still, along with two state ministries, they hold the Ministry of Interior, a position seen as needing a “manly” figure, a first in Lebanon and the Arab world, as well as another key ministry, Energy and Water. Both ministries present important security, economic and social issues, and require vision, combativeness and a reform-minded leader.

The progress is notable, compared to the derisory female representation in previous governments: there was a single woman (Inaya Ezzeddine), out of thirty ministers, in the outgoing government of Saad Hariri. In the previous government of twenty-four ministers formed by Tammam Salam in 2014, there was, again, only one, Alice Chaptini. There were none in the Nagib Mikati cabinet in 2011. Saad Hariri appointed two women, Raya el-Hassan and Mona Afeiche, in 2009. Again, only one woman, Nayla Moawad, was in the Siniora cabinet of 2005. And only two were included in Omar Karamé's cabinet in 2004. These two women, Leila Solh Hamadé, as Minister of Industry, and Wafa 'Diqa Hamza, as State Minister, made headlines at the time for being the first female ministers in Lebanon.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri did not fail to address the matter in a tweet on Friday: "Proud of Lebanese women, proud of the four female ministers of the government, proud of the first female Minister of the Interior of the Arab world, proud of the future, proud of Lebanon”, he wrote on his Twitter account. His words were immediately relayed and underscored by the resident coordinator of the United Nations and coordinator of humanitarian action in Lebanon, Philippe Lazzarini, in an enthusiastic post: "Mabrouk to Lebanon for having appointed the first female Minister of the Interior of the Arab world”. The news was also welcomed by the co-founder of Women in Front, which advocates for women's participation in politics. Interviewed by L’Orient-Le Jour, Joëlle Abu Farhat Rizkallah praised "the politicians’ courage", stating that "the context was favorable" for better female representation in the Serail, given "the strong pressure exerted by the feminist associations to do this". "Mr. Hariri had no choice but to respond positively to the titanic work done for better participation of women in politics”, she added, recalling "the high number of female candidates for last year’s legislative elections: 113 in total , to end up with only six in the end”.

Who are they?

Raya Haffar al-Hassan was named to the Ministry of Interior. This Sunni Hariri supporter from Tripoli, born in 1967, and a graduate of George Washington University in finance and investment, is not a political novice. Particularly appreciated by feminist circles, respected by her male peers, she was the Minister of Finance between November 2009 and January 2011 in a previous government also headed by Saad Hariri.

Despite her relative youth (she was born in 1983), Nada Boustani, a Maronite and a member of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), should do just as well as Minister of Energy and Water. Prior to her appointment, the graduate in business administration from a leading European school, the ESCP, was an organizational and strategic advisor to the outgoing Energy and Water Minister, César Abi Khalil. She was also the coordinator of the advisory committee for energy and water.

(Also : Power Relations in a Cabinet of Minorities)

At first expected to be named Minister of Culture, the journalist May Chidiac, born in 1963, was eventually appointed Minister of State for Administrative Development. A Maronite close to the Lebanese Forces, Chidiac holds a doctorate in communication from Paris II Panthéon-Assas University. A few months after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, she was targeted in an attack on September 25th 2005 that deprived her of her left arm and leg. She has been actively campaigning for freedom of expression ever since.

Finally, Violette Khairallah Safadi, wife of former Minister Mohammad Safadi, was appointed Minister of State for The Social and Economic Rehabilitation of Youth and Women. A ministry that was immediately renamed the State Ministry for Women and Youth Capacity Building, following the outcry provoked by the word "rehabilitation”, that was deemed “insulting” by feminist activists. The former journalist and information consultant at the Ministry of Finance and the Economy, is a Harvard graduate in leadership, negotiations and decision-making, and represents the Greek-Orthodox community within the new cabinet. Born in 1981, she is engaged in humanitarian work with disadvantaged Lebanese citizens, Syrian refugees and children with chronic diseases.

Parity in the line of sight

These women are active, highly qualified and politically and economically involved in the country. Some are also committed to humanitarian causes. And, for once, the majority of these new ministers are not married or related to Lebanese political figures ... They have worked their way up within the political parties they represent, or the institutions in which they have distinguished themselves. This is already a breakthrough in itself, one that justifies the Prime Minister’s choices.

However, the road to better female representation remains obstacle-ridden. Neither the Shia nor the Druze communities named any women to their positions. "The lack of effort of the two political leaders Nabih Berri, leader of the Amal Movement, and Walid Jumblatt, leader of the PSP, is regrettable”, said a representative of Women in Front, noting that Mr. Berri was among the precursors regarding female participation. But Lebanese women are not disheartened, according to Ms. Abou Farhat Rizkallah "Parity is now their next goal”. And they intend to get it, "even if it means going through women's quotas".

(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 2nd of February)

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