LEBANON: Traffic Stops as Activists Protest Against Absence of Women in Cabinet

Wednesday, June 29, 2011
The Daily Star Lebanon
Western Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

Traffic stalled and offices stood still for five minutes Tuesday as women's rights activists protested against the exclusion of female ministers in the new Cabinet.

Positioning themselves as roadblocks in Downtown, Hamra and Sassine Square, the groups of several dozen demonstrators, part of the Lebanese Women's Movement, held banners saying “A Cabinet without women is going backward.”

They also handed out flyers to passersby and waiting vehicles, asking them to “stop working, stop your cars and honk your horns for five minutes … for not appointing female ministers in the Cabinet,” as motorists split between those honking in support and those beeping in annoyance.

“It's a disgrace that we see no women ministers in the new Cabinet. It sends a bad message,” said Zeina, a stalled driver who applauded the protests but did not want to give her last name.

As part Interior Ministry-approved strike, employees in the ministry, several leading banks and hospitals, as well as some universities, halted work for five minutes in support of the cause, organizers said.

“We are doing this to raise our voices and to say that what is going on is not fair toward women,” Aman Chaarani, president of the Lebanese Council of Women (LCW) told The Daily Star.

“We are taking our democratic rights to be represented in society and in government as citizens.”

LCW has been operating since 1953 but last week branched out to form the Lebanese Women's Movement in a drive to attract a wider array of supporters to rally against the new 30-member all-male Cabinet.

The last three Cabinets have all had at two female ministers, but the latest Prime Minister Najib Mikati-led lineup, announced on June 13, has failed to appoint any women, much to the annoyance of gender-equality activists.

“We have been working on this cause for a long time and were so happy to see women deputies, even if they were just a small percentage,” said protester Aida Markarian, president of the Armenian General Benevolence Unit.

“The women have proved that they can work, manage and excel at their posts so there is no excuse for them not to be included.”

The LCW consists of 160 concerned associations from across Lebanon, and was a driving force behind women gaining the right to vote and run for elections in 1953 and has also campaigned for Lebanon to drop reservations to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women convention since 1996.

While a signatory of the U.N. treaty, Lebanon, alongside most Arab countries, has opted out of certain clauses permitting personal status laws; matters such as marriage and divorce are instead decided by religious authorities.

The protests were not staged in coordination with former State Minister without portfolio Mona Ofeich and former Finance Minister Raya al-Hasan, although organizers said the pair, who served as part of the Saad Hariri government, had been informed about the move.

“We have so many talented and able young women in politics, they are university educated, they are lawyers, they are bankers,” said Chaarani. “They have also been elected with a bigger percentage of votes than many men.

“We have voiced our concerns but while the politicians say that they are with us and for women, when it comes to [Cabinet formation] they have forgotten them completely. It is just words without deeds.”

Activists have now vowed to launch an intensive nationwide campaign to pressure authorities into appointing a female minister and ending all forms of institutionalized discrimination against women.

“But the new generation has a different mentality, they are determined and I know that they will come back and fight back,” said Markarian.