Under the sponsorship of the President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri, the Office of the Minister of State for Women Affairs (OMSWA) was officially launched this morning at the Grand Serail. The “Technical Support to the Office of the Minister of State for Women Affairs” Project between the ministry and the UNDP was also signed.
The Minister of State for Women Affairs, Jean Oghassapian, delivered the following speech:
“We are honored today, two months after the formation of the government and the introduction of the ministry of state for women affairs, to launch this ministry by defining its goals and responsibilities, stressing our absolute seriousness to improve the situation of women in Lebanon.
In fact, the establishment of a new ministry in a record time represented a great challenge because such an establishment needs the preparation of an infrastructure that takes into account the international standards set forth in new ministries. We should commend, in this respect, the close follow up and support of Premier Saad Hariri in all phases, the collaboration with the United Nations Development Program in Lebanon, which helped to lay the foundation of the ministry, and the cooperation with the National committee for Lebanese women affairs and all associations and institutions concerned with women causes, to develop a road map for the work of the ministry that covers all the gaps faced by the Lebanese women.
Based on this, we defined the following goals: Ensure equal access of men and women to all civil, economic, social, cultural and political rights; empower women, enhance their potential and develop their capabilities; and integrate women’s rights in the national sustainable development process.
These goals put major responsibilities that the ministry will work to achieve by:
1- Enhancing the participation of women in politics and decision making positions by initially working on including a women quota in any electoral law, and to have this quota in seats and not candidacies.
2- Empowering women and promoting their professional and financial capabilities and eliminating unemployment and poverty
3- Eliminating violence against women through the adoption of relevant laws
4- Providing basic and continuous education
5- Ensuring equal access to health care and improving reproductive health for women
6- Applying the principle of equality in legislative texts by amending unfair laws against women
7- Implementing international agreements starting with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) that aims at eliminating all forms of discrimination against the woman, and that was ratified by Lebanon in 1996
8- Taking the necessary steps to involve women in peace processes and protecting them in conflicts
9- Eliminating the stereotyped images in media and advertisements
10-Supporting women’s participation in environment planning and protection
11-Strengthening the capacities of the organizations working in the field of women’s rights
We also launch today the ministry’s website as an essential tool to display the strategy and the achievements of the ministry, and also for communication with all official institutions, and local and international organizations that deal with women affairs.
This will be the roadmap towards gender equality in Lebanon and we hope to cooperate together to achieve it”.
The UNDP Resident Representative, Philippe Lazzarini, delivered the following speech:
“I am very pleased to be here with you today. The establishment of a ministerial portfolio to address women affairs is a timely decision taken by Prime Minister Hariri and his cabinet and constitutes an important development.
It comes at a time when Lebanon’s women still face discrimination and inequalities and so unfortunately still do not enjoy full and unconditional parity. While globally the gender gap in fields such as health and education has almost been closed, Lebanon still has to address a range of challenges related to women’s social, economic and political participation.
Despite being ahead in so many areas such as higher education, with more than 55% of female graduates, and its privileged situation compared to many Arab counterparts, it still lags behind when it comes to gender equality. This is a Lebanese Paradox. Allow me to provide some key examples:
Lebanese women are not entitled to the same personal status and marriage rights as Lebanese men. Women’ rights are much more restrictive in terms of divorce, child custody, and inheritance, which are subject to decisions by the religious courts. Equally important, and despite the Lebanese Constitution and International commitments, Lebanese women are still unable to pass over their nationalities to their children and foreign spouses, while men enjoy both rights. This legislative gap not only affects the concerned women, but impacts the entire household. Can you imagine that a boy born in Lebanon with a Lebanese mother having been brought up in the country, cannot attend public school, benefit from free healthcare, join the national soccer team, and later access the job market without a permit, just because of the law?
It is also not acceptable nowadays to witness gender based violence. Every year there is at least 15 known cases of women dying. It was not until 2014 that a law was passed by Parliament to protect victims of violence, and we should join efforts to follow the line of similar laws and look into enforcement mechanisms.
In the economy, Lebanese women represent only a quarter of the country’s labor force. Less than 20% of companies are owned by women, and female presence in company boards unless family owned (or social enterprises), is almost null. Female entrepreneurship is still relatively low. Most of women-owned businesses in the country operate in the informal sector, and therefore it is less common for women to access financing from banks.
The same applies to political participation, despite the fact that Lebanese women were granted the right to vote in 1952, 20 years before my own country (Switzerland). Lebanon has one of the lowest shares of women in parliament in the world, with only 3.1%, compared to an average of 15% in Arab Parliaments. It is frankly striking that such a wealth of competent and educated women is not yet able to significantly influence public life.
Research has shown that gender equality is a stronger predictor of a state’s peacefulness than its level of democracy or gross domestic product.
Where women are more empowered, the state is less likely to experience conflict. By investing in its peace and security agenda, Lebanon should make social, economic, and political equality a core priority.
We are now at a cornerstone of change here in Lebanon. The new government has made its key priority to restore trust with citizens. The ministerial statement focused on the promotion of women role in public life and in political participation. It also focuses on refining laws to eliminate all forms of discrimination. To succeed in this endeavor, ensuring the adequate inclusion, protection and representation of women will be key.
For all these reasons, the United Nations offers its technical support to the Minister of State for Women Affairs (OMSWA). The Project Document the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is signing today with the Lebanese government represents an opportunity and an entry point for the government to work closely with UN agencies to address technical and capacity gaps.
I am all the more happy to be present here today, as it gives me the opportunity to make a call for action. A call for us to work together with the Government to provide the space for Lebanese women to run for elections, by adopting as a temporary measure a women quota. There is no reason why there should not be a quota for women, who are the largest under-represented group. Together, we should push for legal reforms to also ensure their active engagement in all sectors of the economy and society. We should aim at protecting women from violence. We should ensure proper access to health and education for all girls and women. It is through the establishment of partnerships, and making use of all talents and capacities that we can restore trust and create lasting change”.
The UN Special Representative for Lebanon, Mrs Sigrid Kaag, delivered the following speech:
“I have the privilege of actually being very brief, having listened to an excellent vision statement and a plan of action by the minister and my colleague Philippe Lazzarini. It is all about “he” for “she”, and I can only congratulate once more, President Aoun, Prime Minister Hariri for having taken the decision to appoint a man to this ministry.
This is more than a male colleague qualified for this ministry; it is a symbol, a signal, about men sharing the responsibility of driving change for women and women’s leadership, participation and representation in society.
Without the men and the gentlemen in the room, change will not happen, politically, socially and at home in the family. It is a shared responsibility, but also a shared opportunity, and it is a huge role, not only because girls do very well in school, globally but also in Lebanon. They are tough graduates; they are competitive, innovative, multitaskers. But in the political space, we see that absence. You know that there are only 4 MPs to date. We have seen the municipal elections from our perspective, supporting women’s organizations, women who have been campaigning, lobbying and training. But ultimately we only saw 5 % of women elected in the municipal ballot. But the totality of women was only 7% as participants. So we can do the more, the plan is very clear. Politics at the end of the day is where decisions are made. My message is two-fold. I would like to echo the call for action by the minister and Philippe Lazzarini. Let’s focus on the change, let’s look at the parliamentary elections. We are not sure which formula Lebanese leaders will agree on, nor which framework. But let us make sure that women remain at the heart of whichever compromise you agree to amongst yourself.
We will be there, supporting you through technical assistance, politically when relevant and appropriate, and in so many ways. It is not just the quota. If the quota will not be achieved, every party can increase the number of women on the electoral ballot, one does not need a quota, it is a reflection of political will.
Lebanon is not alone, my own country has elections on the 15th of March. I am also looking at every list for where women are. Globally, everybody can do better. But I firmly believe in Lebanon, in its diversity, in its strength, resilience and its ability to lead the way once more, to punch above your weight in a region that needs it so much. Lebanon can and will shine and women are part of that picture, 50/50 , moving forward”.
Prime Minister Hariri delivered the following speech:
“When we decided to dedicate a ministry of state to women’s affairs in Lebanon, we did not think of serving the Lebanese women but of serving the Lebanese society as a whole. Empowering the Lebanese women economically, socially and politically and removing the obstacles that stand in their way in all areas, means in fact empowering all of Lebanon, and removing obstacles that hinder our country, our economy and our society as a whole.
Ensuring women’s right to equality in culture and education is a guarantee of the rights of our children, grandchildren and all the generations that will follow. When we talk about fighting the poverty of women and empowering them economically, we would be fighting half of the poverty in our society and achieving a big leap in the ability of our country to produce, initiate and create jobs opportunities.
When we modernize our legislation to eliminate violence against women, we would be eliminating half of the violence in our society, and contributing to breaking the cycle of the other half, by diminishing the hidden violence that feeds the violence models in the eyes of today’s children, who are our future.
History recognizes that our country has contributed to writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, almost 70 years ago, with women’s rights in its core. It is no secret that empowering women has become one of the international standards for measuring the advancement of nations. Today, almost 70 years later, we remain behind in this standard, despite the aspects of modernity, development and openness that abound in our country.
Women in our country represent 54 percent of those who belong to the level of higher education, but they represent only 28 percent of the labor force and 3 percent of the members of Parliament. In short, the mission of the Ministry of State for Women’s affairs is to correct this imbalance, and we are committed to support this mission.
I said on more than one occasion that I consider women’s quota an essential condition of the new electoral law that we are trying to reach. I also intend to implement a recommendation issued during my first term as Prime Minister in 2010, to include women in senior positions and boards of directors in the state, after this recommendation remained seven years in the refrigerator of the fear of change and of cultural and social obstacles.
If Lebanese women, who represent half of our society and paint through their role the form of the other half over generations, have been able to achieve scientific, cultural and economic successes in all fields despite the discriminatory laws, customs, traditions and legacies, then imagine what they can achieve, what we can all achieve as a society, a state and a country, if we cooperate to eliminate discrimination and overcome these obstacles and legacies. This task requires us all to cooperate with this new ministry. On behalf of all of you, I thank the United Nations Development Program, and I must thank the National Commission for Lebanese Women, civil society and its women’s organizations on all their achievements so far. The Ministry of State for Women’s Affairs will build on these achievements in collaboration with the Commission, civil society and all energies.
This is the greatest investment in our future. An investment requires the mobilization of everyone. If tomorrow marks the beginning of the “Women’s Month” in the calendar of the United Nations, then the Lebanese women’s time in all fields has started in our calendar. And it is not just the time for quota, but also for all the reforms pertaining to Lebanese women.”