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Women in political and public life.



1. Legal Framework


1.1. Women and the Lebanese Constitution

The Constitution was issued on May 23rd 1926 and underwent several amendments. The major ones are: those of 9/1/1943, at the time of independence, after a period of French mandate, and the ones of 21/9/1990 pursuant to a constitutional law based on Taef Treaty that has put an end to the Lebanese war. The Lebanese constitution is at the top of the Lebanese laws hierarchy.


The constitutional provisions constitutes a fundamental legal support for women’s rights in two paragraphs of its clauses: Paragraph "b" in which Lebanon is bound to the Charter of the United Nations, its covenants and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, provided that the state should incorporate these principles in every field and domain without any exception; and paragraph "c", where it is set forth that Lebanon is a democratic parliamentary Republic, based on the respect of public freedoms, on top of them the freedom of opinion and belief, on social equity and on equality in rights and obligations between all citizens without any discrimination or preference.


The principle of equality is also stated in article 7 of the Constitution. It is stipulated that: “All Lebanese citizens are equal before the law, they enjoy equality in civil and political rights and they assume duties and responsibilities without any difference between them."


Article 12 of the Constitution states as well that: “Every Lebanese citizen has the right to be in charge of public functions. No distinction shall be made except in respect to merit and qualification according to the conditions set forth by the law."

As for article 21, it stipulates that “every Lebanese citizen aged 21 years old has the right to be elector provided, however, that he (or she) fulfills the conditions required by virtue of the Election law ". The election laws have not made any distinction between women and men since 1952


1.2. Women and International conventions:

Lebanon is a founder and active member in the United Nations Organization and bound by its covenants and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The international conventions ratified by Lebanon and affecting women’s rights:

  • The convention concerning women’s political rights issued in 1953 and ratified by Lebanon in 1955.
  • The convention issued in 1960 by UNESCO regarding non-discrimination in the field of education and ratified by Lebanon in 1964.
  • The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that was issued in 1979 and ratified by Lebanon in 1996. Lebanon made reserves in respect of Article 9 paragraph 2, article 16 clause 1 paragraph c and d and article 29 (see annex 1).
  • Lebanon has also ratified the conventions issued by the International Labor Organization (ILO) that concern women directly.
  • The convention about engaging women in the labor underground of 1937, ratified by Lebanon in 1946.
  • The convention on the policy of employment of 1964 ratified by Lebanon in 1977.



2. Women and the right to vote

In 1952 a number of Lebanese feminists and leaders of the campaign for women's rights met and agreed to unify their efforts in an association. The aim: to lead and give direction to the Lebanese feminist movement.

They formed the Assembly of Lebanese Women's Associations (later known as The Lebanese Council of Women) by merging the Lebanese Arab Women's Union (instituted in 1929) and the Lebanese Women's Association (instituted in 1947).

Their first victory was the adoption in 1953 of a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote and get elected. This was the culmination of many decades of activism and struggle by women's rights organizations and their allies.

And this was the beginning of over fifty years of struggle to establish the same social, economic, and political status for women as for men, and to guarantee that women will not face discrimination on the basis of their sex.


3. Women officials at Public Level


In 1996, following repeated claims from NGOs for women’s representation on a high level, a decree was issued to form a national committee presided over by the first lady and with the membership of nines ladies. In 1998, the law no. 720 was passed, establishing the national organization for women affairs constituted by the said decree, presided over by the first lady with the membership of 24 ladies and an executive bureau of eight members.


This law elevates women’s official representation, links the organization directly to the prime ministry and grants it executive and coordinating attributions and a special budget in order to plan a national strategy and work towards its enforcement.




4. Women in Political Life


4.1 Women and political parties.

The percentage of women members of political parties is still very low and, in the best cases, it doesn’t reach more than 20% of men’s number. As we have already mentioned, women’s participation in politics, in Lebanon, still suffers from men’s influence on the exercise of women’s freedoms and political choices.


Although most of the Lebanese parties have assigned to women independent sectors to look after the issues related to them in order to motivate them to join the political work and although women’s access to leading posts in political parties is still inferior (women’s membership in politburo is not considerable as it doesn’t exceed 5%) yet women’s presence is very weak in all political parties without exception, even if some of these parties are strongly backed up by women like Hezbollah and the Lebanese Communist party.


Maybe the weak participation of women in political parties is primarily due to the fact that most of these parties have designated special organizations for women within their mass organizations, which leads to the exclusion of women from direct political work (Hezbollah’s women, Phalangist party women, Progressist socialist party women and women’s rights committee for the communist party).


4.2. Women in the executive, legislative and public powers

Women enjoy the same capacity as men concerning candidacy for posts occupied by means of election or examination. Nevertheless, it seems that there are customs preventing women’s access to public leading posts. Despite the fact that Lebanon was a precursor in acknowledging the right of electing women, after the struggle led by the pioneers of women’s movements in 1952, this achievement has not been confirmed in the political representation and women’s access to the parliament remains rare in terms of number and method.


Women have acceded to the parliament by subordination to men. The first woman to get to the parliament was Mirna Bustani in 1963, superseding her deceased father and in completion to his term of office. In 1991, Nayla Mohawad was designated after her husband, René Mohawad, the elected Lebanese president, was killed. During the elections of 1992 nine women only ran as candidates for the elections and ten ladies stood as candidates for the elections of 1996, in both cases, three had succeeded.


It is relevant to notice that women’s relative participation in power has increased. In 1998: 78 women were elected in municipal councils and 40 women were elected mayors all over the Lebanese provinces, whereas during the previous elections of 1992, 5 ladies were elected as members in municipal councils and 2 were elected mayors. The parliamentary election experience has motivated organizations to promulgate a national project for the purpose of encouraging women to stand as candidates for local authority election. Indeed, in 1998, 353 ladies ran as candidates for election all over the provinces among which 139 candidates were elected.

Only in November 2004, for the first time in Lebanon's history, the Lebanese cabinet included two women Mrs. Layla Al-Solh was appointed as minister of industry, and Mrs. Wafa Hamza as minister of state. However, that government resigned on 28 February, two weeks after the assassination of ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri.


At present, six women hold the position of parliament members out of 128; one woman holds the position of Minister of Social Affairs.


It is relevant to notice that the Constitution opens up wide opportunities to the president and ministers who believe in equality to drive forward women’s process. Women still suffer from the obstacles among which the major ones are related to family, religion and pecuniary problems, in addition to the reluctance on the part of candidacy lists and political parties to adopt women. The problem does not lie in the constitution or law but in the discriminating prevalent customs.



Annex 1



Obstacles encountered in full implementation of CEDAW convention


Lebanon has made reserves regarding article 9, clause 2 of CEDAW, concerning the issue of nationality.  The law is decree no. 15 dated 19/10/1925 and amended by the law of 11/01/1960 discriminates against women in:

Using consanguinity solely: Every person born from a Lebanese father is deemed Lebanese no matter where he (she) was born. Thus, the Lebanese law restricts consanguinity to the father.

Discriminating between mothers Lebanese by origin and foreign naturalized mothers: The Lebanese law entitles foreign mothers that have acquired the Lebanese nationality, the right to grant it to their underage children if these mothers remain alive after their husband’s death. Whereas it doesn’t grant this right to mothers who are Lebanese by origin.

Reacquiring the Lebanese nationality: Legislation makes Lebanese women’s rights to reacquire their nationality lost due to their marriage to foreigners – Whose country laws forbid double nationality – contingent on the foreign husband’s approval. This issue constitutes a minimization of women’s rights.


The partial amendment of article 562 of the penal code concerning what is called “honor crimes ". This amendment should be considered half an achievement as although it amends the conditions of benefiting by the articles, it preserves the principle of honor crimes.

The law no. 7 passed on February 20th, 1999 and published in the official journal on 25/2/1999 abolished the provision of article 562 and replaced it with a new provision. This amendment nullifies the permissible plea and dubious situation, yet it preserves the principle of killing women by family men members, which is incompatible with article 2 paragraph (g) of the convention. When considering such a crime, the judicial authorities should not apply this article, according to article 2 of the procedure law that makes international conventions predominate internal laws.



The achievements carried out in Lebanon

In 1974, the administrative measure of the Department of Internal Security that prevented women from getting a passport without their husbands’ permission was abolished. In 1993, women’s capacity in testimony in land register was recognized. In 1994, married women’s capacity to exercise trade without their husband’s permission was recognized. In 1994, the right of women officers working in the diplomatic corps and married to foreigners to keep on doing their tasks without transferring them to central administration was acknowledged. In 1995, married women’s capacity to life insurance contracts was recognized.




Annex 2


La participation de la femme dans la vie libanaise.


Selon une étude du PNUD, la femme libanaise représente aujourd’hui  29% du marche de travail libanais (en première position dans le monde arabe), Alors qu’elle n’occupe que 4.7%   des sièges du parlement.


Les taux d’analphabétisme sont passes de 37% en 1980 a 19.7% en l’ an 2000. Ce taux est de 8% parmi les jeunes.

50% des étudiants universitaires sont des femmes.

25% des femmes actives travail dans le secteur des métiers scientifiques et techniques supérieurs. Elles ont trouve des opportunités de travail dans les secteurs médicaux, légaux, artistiques et commerciaux sans malheureusement accéder à des postes à responsabilités dans ces domaines.

Exemple : 90%  des employés de banques sont des femmes mais aucune n’en est directrice.





Annex 3

The Lebanese council of women





The Lebanese Council for Women (LCW) is a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1952 and instituted under Lebanese authorization license number 3753 – 6/11/1953

Since its inception LCW has stood for two constant basic believes

  • A unified, sovereign, and independent Lebanon
  • A Lebanon where all citizens -men and women- have equal rights and opportunities

LCW is an umbrella organization that groups today about 170 NGOs spread geographically over the six Lebanese districts; Beirut, Bekaa, Nabatyeh, Mount Lebanon, North Lebanon, and South Lebanon. They embody Lebanon’s religious, sectarian, and ethnic diversity.


One of LCW constant objectives is to call for the ratification of laws that promote a more active participation of women in political life.

The Council believes that women ought to be considered as a minority whose rights need to be protected by a system of proportional representation in administrative and elected bodies the same as other Lebanese minorities.



Protective legislation for women has been a controversial issue throughout the history of the women's rights movement. Opponents of protective legislation have argued that special rules for women would inhibit women's struggle for equality with men and upheld stereotypes of women as weak and defenseless.

Yet it is a fact that throughout much of our history, deep-seated cultural beliefs allowed women only limited roles in society. Historically, Lebanese women have been denied their civil rights in suffrage (they were unable to vote until a 1953 constitutional amendment), employment, and other areas.


Although women have gained significant legal rights, and made gains in certain trades and professions, including financial services, medicine, and law, but problems remain in many areas and women's share in governmental decision-making remains limited.


Given that the state has a positive role in ensuring all citizens equal protection under the law and equal opportunity to exercise the privileges of citizenship and otherwise to participate fully in national life, regardless of race, religion, sex, or other characteristics unrelated to the worth of the individual, the Lebanese state is called upon to remedy the effects of past discrimination against women.


This can only be achieved in a timely manner by giving women the protection that sectarian minority groups get according to the Lebanese constitution, a proportional representation in elected bodies.


It is true that minority groups are usually groups of people sharing common ethnic, racial, or religious backgrounds, especially when constituting a comparatively small proportion of a given population, yet differences between diverse elements of the population can become more pronounced, causing inequalities through discrimination thus forming minority groups based on gender or any other human specificity.

Lebanese women fit this definition and ought to call on the state to ratify reverse-discrimination laws.


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