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Women standing for Lebanon: The female parliamentary candidates pushing for change Open in fullscreen

Florence Massena

Women standing for Lebanon: The female parliamentary candidates pushing for change

Campaign posters for the upcoming Lebanese parliamentary election hang in Beirut's Tariq Jedideh district [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 April, 2018

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In-depth: As Lebanon's May 6 election nears, Florence Massena talks to some of the female parliamentary candidates showing the country that capable women exist and will be heard in politics.

Lawyers, journalists, engineers, architects, NGO workers: the profile of the female candidates for the Lebanese parliamentary elections is as diversified as society itself. For the first time, there are 111 women on 976 registered candidates, breaking the record in political active participation.

Despite being from different backgrounds, female candidates are united in the common goal of showing the traditional male politicians that capable women exist and will be heard in politics. Currently only three percent of parliament seats are occupied by women. 

"At the 2009 parliamentary elections, we had 12 female candidates. This year we occupy 14 percent of all candidates – it’s a first in Lebanon," Nada Anid, co-founder of local NGO Women in Front told The New Arab.

"For me, it’s an answer to the Lebanese politicians who say that they can’t find Lebanese women to include in politics, when they themselves are not making any effort towards it."

Women in Front was launched in 2012 in order to find, motivate and train women to participate in the 2013 parliamentary elections, which was postponed several times until being confirmed for May 6, 2018.

Despite being from different backgrounds, female candidates are united in the common goal of showing the traditional male politicians that capable women exist and will be heard in politics

Nada said that most of the women are part of independent lists from civil society and don’t belong to the traditional ruling parties.

"Traditional parties have some women but they went fishing for them outside of their party, without giving them a proper role. It’s just to make people think they include women as well," she added. 

Laury Haytayan is a civil society candidate from
the Libaladi (For My Country) list [Getty]

Laury Haytayan, who runs for the independent group Kollouna Watani (We Are All National) and the list Libaladi (For My Country) in the first district of Beirut, has been working with Women in Front since 2013, when she first presented herself as a candidate.

Coming from a journalism and Middle East politics background, she works as the MENA Regional Programme Manager at the National Resource Governance Institute, an organisation of policy advice and advocacy on oil and gas resources.

"I have been working on transparency and accountability my whole life," Laury told The New Arab.

"My idea is to be the advocate of the rule of law. In 2013, with other women and civil society members, we became candidates to fight against corruption, to push from inside and make a change."

She also wants more women to be active in politics.

"Politicians are asking us 'where are the women?' So we will show them! I think that with independent groups we have more of a chance to run elections, develop ideas and take decisions. Even if all this campaign leads to only one more woman in the parliament, it’s a success. It’s just the beginning."

In the second district of Beirut, Lina Hamdan is part of the independent group Forum Beirut and the list Beirut Opposition List set up by the former Minister of Justice Ashraf Rifi. The list’s eight candidates want Lebanon to remain independent from international influences, administrative and political reform, freedom of expression, the implementation of social security, equality among people and education and medical improvement, among others.

We became candidates to fight against corruption, to push from inside and make a change

Lina herself has had many professional experiences and personal involvements, from being a sworn translator and journalist to a political analyst and communication manager for Carnegie, as well as a communication expert for European funded projects.

Specialised in Public Private Partnerships, she believes that what is needed in Lebanon is transparency, visibility and the strict application of the Constitution, dynamism but also more control through the organs of control already existing.

"I come from a secular family," she told The New Arab.

"I was raised in the idea that all women will get equal rights with men at some point. I am sure that after the elections, many women will feel encouraged to step up and come forward.

"Citizens need to see us as competitors and candidates and if more women were in politics, we could really impact the policies. What drives me now are the encouragements I receive, from women but also from men, who stepped down to give me a chance at these elections," Lina adds. 

I was raised in the idea that all women will get equal rights with men at some point. I am sure that after the elections, many women will feel encouraged to step up and come forward

Read more by Florence Massena

- 'We Exist': Symbolic campaign hopes to give rights to marginalised populations in Lebanon

- Arab women and new realities

For the district of Chouf, a mountain region above Beirut, Eliane Azzi decided to run with the independent list of Madaniya (Population). Trained in management and psychology, she has a diverse set of professional experience in and out of Lebanon, from administration to TV production and company management. She has worked with the United Nations' World Food Programme [WFP] for several years before deciding to get fully involved in politics for the upcoming elections.

"At WFP, I was working with Syrian refugees but also poor  Lebanese people who needed support and food," Eliane told The New Arab.

"I was thinking, why do we need international organisations to help us when we could do this job ourselves from the parliament?

"I was then introduced to Jad Chaaban, the associate professor of economics at the American University of Beirut, and to others who now form our list. Connected with the same ideas and solutions, we decided to unite under the slogan, Hada Mina (One of Us). I believe in equality and capacity, this is why I feel it is important to have half of the parliament as women in the future. I think the Lebanese society is ready to take a step towards it, with new faces and new blood in politics."

The three candidates are instating a quota in the parliament for women, a mandatory step towards more gender equality. 

Despite all this optimism and will from civil society’s women involved in the elections, Nada Anid doubts that it will make a big difference for now: "People will vote mainly for people they know, with a political experience, and we have a lot of new faces this year," she said.

"This will prevent many women from being elected. But having this many female candidates stand up and take a step forward in to the country's politics is a victory in itself. We will make sure we push on this even after the elections."


Florence Massena is a freelance journalist based in Lebanon, where she reports on the region with a focus on the environment, women's issues, refugees and humanitarian initiatives.

Follow her on Twitter: @FlorenceMassena

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