1- Lebanon is not “one of the best places for a woman to be” – in fact, it is “one of the worst”. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2013, Lebanon’s rank is 123 out of 136 countries. Discrimination against women and girls – including gender-based violence, domestic violence, economic (in the labor market, women are still over-represented in lower paid sectors and under-represented in decision-making positions) and political (only 3% of parliamentarians are women) discrimination, reproductive health inequities, harmful traditional practices and laws – remains one of the most (if not THE MOST) pervasive and persistent forms of inequality. Afraid of scandals? This is not only a scandal, this is an abomination!
2- Lebanese society and most Western Asian societies place certain expectations on a being from the moment the sex of the child is determined giving more social/political/legal benefits to males than females, their performance judged by different standards than men’s, having to work harder to have their work valued as highly as a man’s. The self-image given to a female by society places restraints and creates a gap between males and females, thus creating the disproportion and inequality amongst them.
3- The way political parties operate is one of the major obstacles to the equal participation in democratic politics. Most parties sadly lack in the identification, selection and nomination of female candidates for leadership positions. Internal party cultures all too often reflect unwritten rules on male privilege and the use of power as a tool for domination by one gender. If they change the way they work, political parties can play a vital role as the vehicle for political gender equality. If not, we definitely need new political parties!
4- There is no shortage of potential female candidates. Many are the Lebanese women with enough experience, education and leadership skills. My colleagues at “Women in Front” have recently identified at least 100 Women Leaders who could easily be part of the political arena (Refer to the ‘Women Leaders Directory 2013’ – SMART Center and Women in Front). Women do not know less about politics than men. As humans, we are the product of our sex in a way, but much more, of our environment, life choices, experiences, acquired knowledge, etc.
5- Most feminists do not seek Matriarchy. Matriarchy would be as big of a problem as Patriarchy, just at the other end of the spectrum. Men and women, and individuals of different identities, should balance each other out, not suffocate one another.
6- Gender equality is a prerequisite for economic growth, democracy and welfare, and also the basis for the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in political, economic, social, cultural and civil spheres of life – a reminder for the skeptics and for those asking: why do we need gender equality?
7- Gender Complementarity (i.e. Sexes are different but equal) should not solely be adopted as a Gender Equality Model. This model generates equality by promoting symmetrical reciprocity o the sexes and highlighting gender difference symbolically and socially. It also institutionalizes gender separation in social, economic and political domains. Yes it does place core values on the interdependence between the sexes, identifies men and women for example as reciprocal partners with shared interests, both benefiting from their harmonious cooperation rather than as competitors with conflicting interests; but it tends to be symmetrical. Therefore, another model has to be seriously taken into consideration: the Gender Triviality model or the scarcity and social insignificance of the symbolic elaboration of ‘men’, ‘women’, and their relationships in a given culture… In other words, sex difference is socially and culturally insignificant because men and women are primarily considered as individuals and members of a community regardless of their sex difference. Gender equality is achieved effortlessly within such a social-cultural framework… ‘Same-thus-equal’. The Vanatinai islanders of the New Guinea provide a well-documented example of such a society, where both individual autonomy (strength, wisdom) and communal solidarity (sharing, generosity, nurturing) are promoted, and individuals who possess desirable characteristics often attain prestigious titles and roles through their hard work and generosity – see also the Aka of the Western Congo and the Okinawans at Henza. In Lebanon, an ‘in-between’ model could be implemented at all levels: that of Gender Unity. While recognizing certain differences between men and women (and other sex/gender identities), a gender-unified society minimizes the symbolic and social significance of these differences, and maximizes gender similarities. Sexes are defined as essentially similar and are bound to each other in value, interest, obligation, authority, and social status. Gender equality is thus fostered in the unity of the two sexes, rather than being achieved by a careful distribution of equal power and prestige between males and females (Further reading: Frameworks for Societies in Balance).
8- Families will not be “destroyed if gender equality is promoted and implemented! We will just have to develop effective work-family policies that promote gender equality by enabling women to become parents without sacrificing their engagement at work and encouraging men to work in ways that do not sacrifice their engagement as parents. Unfortunately, momentum for such reforms is hampered by the resurgent narrative that women and men (including most religious and political leaders) don’t want it.
9- Until we move beyond paying lip service to the principle of gender equality, real progress will remain elusive. Rocking the boat is sometimes the only way to get things done when attitudes are entrenched and discrimination is deeply embedded in a society. And by rocking the boat I mean: more awareness campaigns and knowledge production, education reforms, and creating more effective cooperative platforms between civil society’s individuals/groups/movements to demand the following: equal treatment legislation; equal economic independence; equal pay for work of equal value; equality in decision-making; dignity, integrity and ending gender-based violence; equal integration, and equal opportunities in all functions in society … – while keeping in mind that the need for female participation in the workforce and the measures set up to facilitate this (such as state-arranged childcare and family-friendly working hours) is a powerful motivator for a better political participation and political change – refer to the Scandinavian experiences. A Ministry for Gender Equality is also a must – including the portfolio of a Ministry of Women’s Affairs and beyond! This ministry would work on improving gender equality across all other ministries, would be responsible for the Government’s overall activities in the field of gender equality and would contribute to enhancing the national debate with concrete projects involving municipalities, private and public institutions, NGOs, etc.
10- Last but not least, Gender Equality does not kill the sexual desire/life! Contrary to Domestic Violence, Marital Rape, Sexual Taboos, etc. and certainly, when female sexuality is underestimated and dismissed! When we talk about “sharing duties” in the modern marriage, we rarely talk about the work that sexual pleasure requires, and whether that responsibility is being shared equitably, too.