Women in Lebanon: Political Actors who Must Be Heard, Recognized and Represented

8 Apr 2020

Women in Lebanon: Political Actors who Must Be Heard, Recognized and Represented

Women in Lebanon: Political Actors Who Must Be Heard, Recognized and Represented


Gender Experts at the Office of the Special Coordinator in Lebanon Share Perspectives

Twenty years after the adoption of resolution 1325 on women, peace and security (WPS) - the first formal recognition of the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction - the numbers show that we’re still far from achieving gender equality in this fundamentally important area. According to the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR), from 1992 to 2018, women made up only 3 per cent of mediators, 4 per cent of signatories and 13 per cent of negotiators in major peace processes worldwide. And as of August 2019, only 41 per cent of UN Member States had adopted national action plans on women, peace and security and just 22 per cent of all plans included a budget at adoption, according to the Secretary-General’s 2019 report on Women, Peace and Security.

Previously, we looked at how the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA) ensures that their work in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan always includes a gender perspective and strives to promote the systematic and meaningful participation of women.

Today, we feature  how the Office of the Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL) works  towards the implementation of the WPS in that country. We spoke to UNSCOL’s gender experts, Stephanie Koury, Chief of Staff, Lars De Gier, Political Affairs Officer and Maja Felicia Falkentoft, Associate Political Affairs Officer.


After 20 years of the WPS agenda, has there been change on the ground in Lebanon?

Stephanie Koury: Even though women in Lebanon have historically been active in political life – across civil society, academia and political parties, in conflict resolution and in building dialogue - they have been underrepresented in the country’s formal political processes and decision-making structures. Lebanon holds one of the highest overall gender gaps in the world – ranking 145th out of 153 countries according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 – and has one of the lowest rates of women’s political participation – ranking 149th out of 153 countries. In the country’s 2018 elections, six women were elected to Lebanon’s 128-seat Parliament, a mere 4.6 per cent.  

The Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda calls on all Lebanese actors to acknowledge and support the importance of women’s representation in formal and informal political, peace and security deliberations, which are fundamental for the stability of the country and the region. The agenda provides a framework for the long-term stability and security of Lebanon and serves as a building block for the attainment of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, and the formulation of specific national action plans.

In September 2019, Lebanon adopted its first National Action Plan (NAP) on UN Security Council resolution 1325, committing to concrete action to promote gender equal legislative frameworks and advocacy efforts to amend, adopt, and implement at least ten laws and decrees supporting gender equality – among them the child marriage bill, the nationality law and the anti-trafficking law – and prevent gender-based violence, exploitation and other forms of discrimination across a range of areas, including politics and governance, security and defense and the economy.

On 17 October 2019, five weeks following the adoption of the Action Plan, a popular uprising started in Lebanon. Women played a prominent role both in leading the protest movement and in de-escalating tension between protesters and security forces, demonstrating that they are political actors that must be heard, recognized and represented.

Interestingly, the significant participation of women in the popular uprising appears to have resulted in the appointment of six  women ministers in the first 20-member government formed following the uprising, including a woman Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defense – for the first time in the Arab World! –and a woman Minister of Justice. Aside from the historical  increase in women’s  representation in Government, the Cabinet’s Ministerial Statement included a commitment to implement the NAP, accommodating a central, unifying demand of Lebanon’s protest movement to improve women’s rights in Lebanon. The commitment to women was further underscored as the President of Lebanon, in reaction to the uprising, called for a new personal status law to ensure equal rights between men and women.  

Even before that, in 2018, Lebanon committed to increasing recruitment and representation of women in Lebanon’s armed and security forces at the Rome ministerial conference under the auspices of the International Support Group for Lebanon. This commitment was incorporated into the security institutions’ strategic development plans, with the result that the armed forces succeeded in recruiting 3,000 women across units, including combat and air force, increasing the number of women employed from 1,000 in 2017 to 4,000 in 2019.


What does the gender adviser do in your office?

Maja Felicia Falkentoft: While UNSCOL does not have one dedicated gender adviser, several colleagues in the mission work together in close coordination with UN Women and UNDP to support the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda and ensure that gender is mainstreamed across substantial, including political and public, activities and internal organizational actions. Key activities include reporting on political developments relevant for women’s rights and the implementation of resolution 1325 in Lebanon, supporting advocacy to advance women’s rights and political participation in Lebanon, and ensuring that UNSCOL’s internal budgetary, staffing, as well as public reporting and messaging is gender sensitive.


Can you give an example of some of the efforts that you and your office are undertaking to include women at different levels?

Lars de Gier: UNSCOL supports the inclusion of women in its internal organization and in its outreach. Internally, UNSCOL always seeks gender parity in line with its Gender Parity Strategy, which applies to international and national staff. The mission’s gender balance is currently at 46 per cent women and 54 per cent men among international staff. For national staff, we count 12 per cent women and 88 per cent men. This disparity is mainly because of the low number of women in the mission’s security section. UNSCOL is taking special measures to help close this gender gap among national staff.

Maja Felicia Falkentoft: In terms of political outreach in Lebanon, the Special Coordinator and UNSCOL staff always take note to have meetings with and support representation of women at all levels and across sectors, including in state institutions and the security branches, political parties and civil society organizations as well as through collaboration with the international community in fora such as the International Support Group for Lebanon.


What do you see as the greatest opportunity in this field?  

Lars De Gier: The October 2019 uprising, which had the elimination of discrimination against women as one of its most unifying and prioritized demands, generated a renewed momentum for women in Lebanon to advocate for their rights. In this way, Lebanon follows regional peers like Sudan and Iraq, where nationwide protests have also been marked by historically high levels of women’s participation. 

Women’s political participation in popular protests and society at large is good, but no real long term, sustainable or just progress can be made on the WPS agenda, or on women’s rights in general, without ensuring the inclusion of women in formal political processes and decision-making structures. For Lebanon, the road to ensure higher levels of women’s participation and representation in formal political processes could be paved with initiatives such as those proposed in Lebanon’s NAP, including the development and  adoption of electoral laws and gender quotas of at least 30 per cent to increase the percentage of women elected,  and, as Stephanie mentioned before, the adoption and implementation of the ten laws and decrees proposed in the NAP to support gender equality, including the child marriage bill, the nationality law, and the anti-trafficking law.