Maria is a 45-year old Lebanese from Bourj Hammoud, east of Beirut. She supports a family of two children and an unemployed husband by working long hours cleaning a nearby school. She can barely make ends meet but she makes sure her children are enrolled in school and that they have food on the table. She raises them to be a positive force for the future of their country. Maria is one of thousands of unsung heroes who, though unnoticed, are making a difference in their families and communities.
When I arrive in a new country, I always make a point of getting introduced to women’s views and contributions. In Lebanon, it has been a delight to become familiar with the significant contributions women in this country make. More women are represented in the work force and more are receiving advanced degrees today than ever before. Yet I must wonder about the underrepresentation of women in Lebanese decision-making and leadership positions. With women representing less than two percent of Lebanon’s employers, only eight per cent of senior officials or managers, only four out of 128 Members of Parliament, and one minister in cabinet there is a lot of capacity that is not being used. There are a lot of voices that are not being heard when decisions are made on issues relevant for them and their country’s future.
Gender equality and meaningful participation are important markers for a representative, inclusive society. They are also about bringing the best possible potential and qualifications into Lebanese state institutions and providing the governance system in Lebanon with more diversity and resources. Strong and empowered women – leaders and experts in their fields – will contribute to strong state institutions that can benefit Lebanese society as a whole.
The parliamentary elections on 6 May represent an important opportunity to bring more women into office. Greater inclusion and participation will enhance trust and confidence and strengthen the legitimacy of Parliament and the Government. I am heartened to see the significant increase in women candidates for this year’s elections. I hope that Lebanese voters will take a serious look at the ideas and perspectives of these courageous women.
Democracy is, above all, about inclusion - and it is about participation of all citizens in making decisions that impact their lives, their taxes, their education, the environment, and labor rights. It is also about ensuring that rights are met. The equal participation of women is a basic human right. In addition, one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that Lebanon signed up to implement in 2015 calls for ensuring gender equality in all countries by 2030.
When UN Secretary-General António Guterres took office in 2017, he made gender equality and women’s empowerment a key priority. He underlined their importance for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustaining Peace Agenda to maintain peace and security, to promote inclusive, economic growth and prosperity, and to close the gender gap. This year, Secretary-General Guterres announced that for the first time in UN history, gender parity was achieved in the UN’s 44-member Senior Management Group. There is still more work to be done before the UN is a culture in which both women and men can thrive.
Gender equality can be achieved in Lebanon and for Lebanon. What is needed is the will, the courage and the action from women and men at all levels to make it happen. Lebanon’s parliamentary elections this year and the formation of the new government will be an important step towards that end.