Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Women and the elections


Aoun's FPM have caused quite a stir with this poster calling you to, "be beautiful and vote". So much so that they felt the need to write an article defending the campaign (in Arabic). The Feminist Collective stated 12 reasons as to why they found this billboard offensive, while Menassat wrote a story with the title "Be Beautiful and Vote" or "Be Intelligent and Vote Blank?" And +961 posted a great blog on the billboard war that this poster has sparked and the general contest that billboards have sparked.

This debate must lead to an actual discussion of women and the elections.

Of the 12 female candidates for this election only three are likely to be elected and all are attached to powerful families and/or male figures: Nayla Tunei, Bahia Hariri and Stridea Geagea. This will mean that the number of women in the Lebanese Parliament is likely to stay the same at three. IRIN articulated how bad this situation is by stating that this number was, " far fewer than politically restricted neighbors such as Syria, which had 30 women MPs out of 250; Jordan which had 13 out of 165; and Egypt which had 31 out of 718."

A quota for women?

Aoun has been criticized by the fact that the FPM are not fielding any female candidates. Aoun responded by stating that he had asked three women to run "but they apologized saying they were not ready.” Aoun went on to defend his record with regard to women's rights stating that he supported the draft law wanting to establish a quota for women in Parliament and that “women should have 50% of the parliamentary seats, not 10 or 20%.”

In an interview with Now Lebanon Nayla Tueni stated she was against a quota. "I’m not with the quota for women because it’s like you’re putting limits for women. It’s not ideal to say, for example, “You only have 15 seats for women.” I’d like to see a much bigger number of women in parliament, and there should be.

The debate as to whether a quota should be established or not for women certainly needs a to be continued and focused on a lot more. While, Lebanon may have a better situation for women in the job market the parliamentary representation of the expected 3 out of 128 is abysmal; women do after all make up 52% of the population.

The 12 female candidates for this elections are:

Ghada al-Dandashi Sunni, Tripoli
Hoda Sankari Sunni, Tripoli
Regine Kantara Maronite, Tripoli

Sethrida Geagea Maronite, March 14, Bcharre

Ibtisam Saadi Sunni, Baalbek-Hermel

Magda Bridi Catholic, Zahli

Norma Ferzli, Greek Orthodox, West Bekka-Rashaya

Therese Rizk Allah Maronite, Baabda

Gilberte Zouwien Maronite, FPM, Kesrwan

Nayla Tueni, Greek Orthodox, March 14 affiliated, Beriut 1

Ghenwa Jalloul, Sunni, Beirut 3

Bahia Hariri, Sunni, March 14, Saida

UPDATE: This billboard appears to be getting more and more popular as the English paper The Times included the billboard in its picture of the day.


  1. First, I must say I found amusing an add-poster by a clothes brand in Lebanon picturing a beautiful girl saying "Elections... do I look like I care?" With only 3 women in parliament in a country where women make up 52% of the population, it seems women are disinterested in politics and unable or unfit to participate.

    Second I would like to add that I did not find Nayla Tueni's response very convincing and her interview as a whole was quite tasteless and uninspiring. In particular, I find her argument that a 15 seat quota for women is limiting weak, especially in given the extremely small number of women in parliament. The reason why we should be avoiding quotas is because quotas restrict the electoral process and render representation more complex in a country where balancing between different communities is already difficult enough.

    What Nayla Tueni should say is that she would like to see more women engaged in politics out of their own free will. She should say that the structures should be laid down to allow for more women to learn, care and participate in the political arena.

    I don't see how Nayla Tueni believes that in a county like Lebanon women in parliament would magically, from one day to another, rise to 20 or 25 seats. In my view, she ought to touch upon the issue of equal opportunities for women and women's participation in society rather than stress how "limiting" a 15 seat quota is.

    Thanks for reading

  2. Thank you Dean for this article, it is indeed very interesting and maps out campaigns and counter-campaigns around this issue. What I would be interested in I think is to find out what do the women who are "outside the feminist milieu" think about this?
    Somehow I think that if most of that community regard it as “funny”, then the campaign (demeaning as it is) has been successful, to some extent, in achieving its objective.
    In a country where men take loans to buy cars and women to do plastic surgeries, this campaign has succeeded in, once again, putting a pretty face on a billboard and calling that the "feminine voice".
    As the woman in "Sois Belle et Tais Toi" looks completely oblivious to the discrimination against Lebanese women in civil status laws, nationality laws, economic opportunities, political participation, power relations and domestic violence ...The woman in the Magma billboard (Elections, Do I look like I care) does "look" much smarter.
    Until real agendas get developed for dealing with these issues, I am voting for the woman with the attitude. Magma it is.

  3. In my opinion, the only sincere line for this add is: "Regardez comme je suis belle et desirable. J'ai n'ai rien a voir avec les elections, mais les gens qui me payent ont tres peu de scrupules". I agree with Elsa Salameh's comment. Commercial adds are not bound to political ethics, they are just commercials. And it is true that nobody deserves politically the vote of lebanese women.
    On the other hand, it is ok to put together a daring campaign -some have called it "cheeky"-, and it surely pays. At the price of revealing the worrisome ideological promiscuity and lack of scruples of the campaigning party.

  4. I think this just made the campaign a little more interesting. Elsa, right behind you in everything you said but if the women don't care until there is some real attention given to these (more, for me) important issues then where does that leave them? Still on the sidelines, limited to fashionista ideals, principles and morals. They'll only LOOK smart. It might be smart and rebel-like to abstain but somewhere in that poster there is the reinforcement that women would be smarter to keep out and stay in a line that best suits (haha) them accordng to patriarchal and social constructions.