Joumana Haddad

Lebanese women: time to wake up!

Image via rough guides.com

The J.Spot
a blog about women’s rights, human dignity, secularism and sexual freedom in the Arab world


Nothing compares to the Lebanese feeling of superiority. Except maybe the Lebanese power of denial. Try to tell a Lebanese man that Lebanon’s record of human rights is shameful; he would take your words as a tasteless joke (The imperishable myth of the Switzerland of the Middle East). Try to tell a Lebanese lady that the women who work for her, coming from Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, are much more valued in their respective countries than she is in hers; she would be utterly outraged. And yet, this is the glaring truth: Lebanon’s ranking in the gender gap report for 2012 is 122nd, while Ethiopia is 118th, Sri Lanka is 39th and the Philippines is 8th! The current Parliament of Lebanon has 128 deputies, carefully distributed between Christians and Muslims. However, there are only four women deputies (that’s 3%). As for the current cabinet, not one female has been deemed worthy of being appointed as a minister.


In France, where women were pioneers of the Feminist movement and have gained exceptional rights that few women in the world can claim to have (except in Scandinavia), president François Hollande felt nonetheless the need to restore a women's rights ministry – after it was closed for almost 30 years – and has sent his ministers to a sexism-education class. Things are changing even in Saudi Arabia! We heard yesterday that the Kingdom is expected to name 15 women among its 150-member Shura Council (that’s 10%), when the body’s new representatives are announced next week. A number of prominent females have been nominated to take up positions on the council, like deputy chairman of the National Society for Human Rights, Al-Jowhara Al-Anqari; and current deputy minister of education, Noora Al-Fayez.


Meanwhile, in Lebanon, where some women are so proud because they are allowed to drive cars; feel utterly emancipated because they can wear miniskirts; and snub their Saudi counterparts because they can walk around without a male guardian; women continue to be discriminated against in law and practice, and to face gender-based violence. Lebanese women remain unable to pass their nationality on to their husbands and children, and the parliament failed to pass a draft law criminalizing domestic violence, including marital rape.


There is a definite alienation between Lebanese women and politics. When I started writing this post, I did some research in our political background, in order to see when this alienation started. And I found out that it has always been there. Put aside a few bright exceptions like Laure Moghayzel or Mary Debs and a handful of others, Lebanese women were never interested in getting involved in the political life of their country. Even long after they had gained the right to vote and to participate in National elections (1952), only 17 women have served in Lebanon’s parliament. Our political structure has always been dominated by men; and the patriarchal political culture is evident in our parliament, ministries, and municipalities. What did not help was the hereditary system of political positions, which is prevalent till this very day. But the women’s unwillingness to participate is also to blame. Will that change in the upcoming elections? Hoping it would is not enough. We need to work for it. Women's organizations are called upon today to amplify women's voices in the political process, and rally support around those running for office, either as independents or representing parties.


A famous Lebanese saying goes like this: “Lucky he who has a place to accommodate a goat in Lebanon.”


Could it be because we are increasingly becoming mindless herds?


Follow Joumana Haddad on Twitter: @joumana333


*This article was amended on January 13 to replace the main image accompanying the text.

Image via rough guides.com

Lucky he who has a place to accommodate a goat in Lebanon”.

  • freddyatali

    Thank you Joumana for pointing to this fundamental issue. Actually if there were one solution to Lebanon's problem, it's in women's emancipation. They are the only ones able to tilt the balance away from the pointless bickering and sectarianism and in favor of the real social issues all Lebanese suffer from.

    January 15, 2014

  • Kamealharb

    you women are complete idiots .... running for mayor or becoming a ceo of a company or even isn't where the equality issue settles... equality simply isn't about you broads whining and nagging and b#*ching cuz you arent allowed to do certain things.... on the contrary dear..... It's about being able to fulfill the positions that your unable to fill ..... just like I can't and wouldnt want to become a prostitute you ladies cant and wouldnt want to work construction or become garbage women or drive taxi's ( oh wait you don't know how to drive that well) proof here dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/mythbusters/videos/battle-of-the-sexes.htm but anyways back to my rant .... In countries that are highest in womens rightssuch as finland where i lived in and the US for extensive periods of time. Currently live in lebanon I have been able to see quite a spectrum of different levels of gender equality and respect for women's rights in the past 6-7 years. The fact is that for a country with America's wealth and development level, women's rights are in an abysmal situation. Finland, or the Scandinavian countries, are far from perfect - a woman's euro in Finland is still around 75 cents and sexual violence is a huge problem - but in terms of issues like representation and participation in politics, reproductive health rights, access to sexual and reproductive health services and information, maternity leave and benefits, and division of domestic and child care chores, the finnish are way ahead of the game compared to leb. Gender equality is about women having the same choices and opportunities with men to educate themselves, to live a safe life free from violence, to participate in politics and society, to obtain health care, to work, to make income. It's about being valued as a human being, not as a member of a certain sex. , the fact of the matter is that LEB has a long way to go before women and men truly stand on equal grounds in terms of options and choices

    January 15, 2014

  • CRM

    There are two reasons as to why Lebanese women choose not to get involved in their country's politics. They are either a) too smart and realise how aimless it would be to attempt to work alongside these children we call our politicians, so they move on to something or somewhere else where they will actually be able to use their intellectual capabilities and be commended for it or b) too careless and oblivious to the current political situation and worried solely about being able to secure a husband before hitting the age of 30. It is unfortunately a sad, sad reality and until Lebanese women are allowed to pass down their nationality to their children, amongst other vital steps, then the discussion is pointless.

    January 14, 2014

  • Woman's rights

    Dear Commentators, you are being driven by your emotions, go back to Joumana's article, what needs to be changed is the Lebanese law. What would improve our position is the LEBANESE LAW. And to be able to change it, we need the power to change, which will not come if we do not enroll in politics or support a political body or organization that would support our cause...(...) I am aware that there are organizations in Lebanon like Kafa, that are supporting women being subject to violence, but we need to support them, we need to back them up. (...) Maybe Joumana missed to mention the most appalling law of all if you are not aware of it there you go: Article 522 of the Lebanese law penal code, permits a rapist to avoid prosecution if he marries his victim. Think about it, what if you are that victim?

    January 14, 2014

  • Michel.Raad

    First the women in these photos are not Lebanese. and please stop using nonsense examples to back up your theory making it sound like the 15 women in the saudy shoura will actually have any power..that's not the case, the thing is you said it yourself, women in lebanon are the ones not interested in politics, so stop accusing men of discrimination. Moreover, this gender gap report that u all hung up about, outs the poorest countries in the world on top, because the poorer you get, the less u can afford a member of your family not working, hence all women work, unlike in other countries where women can afford to be housewives.So chill and stop waging a war on another lebanese problem that doesn't even exist.

    January 14, 2014

  • Henry123

    Hi there, don't mean to demean your writing or cause but I think your reference to the Lebanese saying and your understanding of it, is not right. the saying in Arabic is ''هنيئاً لمن له مرقد عنزة في جبل لبنان" and I will leave it here for you to correct if you want to :)

    January 14, 2014

  • CandianLebanese

    There is more to change than to just get involved politically. I myself, a lebanese woman, blame women for this. There is so much power in being mothers and teaching not only our daughters but also our sons on the respect of women and giving women their rights. Many women today, which shocks me, still have a very backdated mentality and raise their sons and daughters under that mentality. We can all start to make changes in our own household. I for one, am currently expecting a son and will make sure that my son will learn that men and women are of equal status in society and women have the same rights as men.

    January 13, 2014

  • GA

    which lebanon you are talking about ?, there are 2 lebanons , until this is solved :any laws improvement is blocked

    January 13, 2014

  • hhhaaa

    I really do not understand the relationship between the photo and the content of the article. If women's rights is about showing your underwear, then there is a long way to go for this country to really become civilized!

    January 13, 2014

  • Sila10

    A little note to add: Those women mentioned here regardless of their nationality who worked as helpers/maids under the tutelage and coaching of the Lebanese ladies, should be greatly thankful to them in immense gratitude, as it is thanks to all the Lebanese ladies who hired them and gave them a decent job, a warm home and a good salary to send back home to build their house, educate their children and save for their pension once they return back home! I salute those caring and brilliantly enduring Lebanese ladies!! Many of those countries you mention here are in fact far from being third world countries!! They are now way far ahead of Lebanon indeed!!

    January 12, 2014

  • Alissar

    the unwillingness to participate in the political world is not an act to blame on women. it is a personal choice and each is free to choose whatever path they want to take. if you mean that we are not raised to be politically involved, we should go back to the education system from parents to schools and universities and everything that goes in between. as for the hereditary system, it is not really a system. it is actually the vote of the people. we are passive people in general, we would go with the options given to us and wouldnt bother adding to them but we would feel free to nag without actions. i honestly am clueless about the women's right in Lebanon, if you can lead us for a better voice in terms of our rights, we will be glad.

    January 12, 2014

  • Sila10

    The mindless herds of goats mentioned in your noteworthy article are in fact as you truly describe all petty men! The Lebanese my dear are truly to that very image you portray! Very sad and shameful description indeed, a tragic social miscarriage, and a huge let down born by all the Lebanese and this poor nation. Any well educated woman with a bit of brain and the freedom to choose her future fate will never look back twice!! That is why you have so few worthy Lebanese women meddling with the dirty and dangerous political Lebanese squabbles! Just look at the fate of the courageous Ms May Chediac!! No wonder few women, let alone a Lebanese one would ever want to be in her most horrifically injured shoes!!!... We are all bleeding, yet many are not willing to go through a bitter and ruthless sacrifice which will only end up being like so many gone before: Unfortunate collateral damage, a trivial statistical number, never to be recognized in the Infamous history of Lebanon & its lost people!..Petty the nation indeed...

    January 12, 2014

  • nasrinshahabushakra

    Glad that this was you publishing this and not myself! More power to you and I am grateful to you for publishing the above. I am headed to your site now. Again, thanks so much for sharing!

    January 14, 2013

  • Steve Carter

    I agree, Nayla Tueni is a ... , Gilbert Zwein is always on vacation and Strida Geagea is a ...

    January 11, 2013

  • Inspirational

    Men would not give up their priviliges, women have to seize their rights.

    January 11, 2013