Lebanon: Hub for Gender Equality Reform

The Daily Star Lebanon

Lebanon may be used as a regional base for the spread of gender equality, a representative from the Council of Europe (CE), a Europe-wide organization concerned with the promotion of human rights and the rule of law, revealed Tuesday. “We are hoping to use Lebanon as a hub for stretching out legislation against domestic abuse across the region,” José Bota, chairperson of the Equal Opportunities for Women and Men from the parliamentary branch of the CE, told The Daily Star.

“If you get just one parliament to agree to approve the law, and to take action, then the region will have to come in line slowly,” Bota said.  His comments were made after the introductory session of a three-day event, “Implementing the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Violence (CEDAW) and ending violence against women,” jointly organized by the National Assembly and UN. “Combating violence against women is linked to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women,” said Bota. “Violence against women is a shared issue for all of us.” Bota is scheduled to hold talks with government representatives later on in the week to discuss the drafting of human-rights and anti-gender discrimination legislation. 

A draft law to protect women against violence, which has thus far been confined to the committee stages, is expected to reach the Parliament floor shortly following the summer break and has won backing from Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, MP Gilberte Zwein, a parliamentary representative confirmed. 
The completion of an additional “action plan” on human rights, which will include chapters on women’s rights, is also anticipated by year’s end, and, if accepted, will help to cement Lebanon’s legal commitments under international law. But Lebanon’s progress in this field, however, has been called into question. 

MP Michel Moussa, president of the Human Rights Committee (HRC), responsible for drafting the potential legislation, conceded that while “all rights are equally important … and the [UN] Charter is one and indivisible,” there was a need to “prioritize” certain areas of human rights, seen as the most urgent. He also reaffirmed the validity of retaining certain cultural “reservations” when adopting international law. Lebanon, like most Arab states, has ratified the CEDAW, but perceives it as biased toward Western ideals and has subsequently adopted the statue but opted out of certain clauses.

“We need to lift all the reservations,” said lawyer Huguette Gnacadja, a former member of CEDAW. “Lifting reservations for me is essential if you have ratified the convention. If we’re unable to implement, then they stay lip service, ink marks on a piece of paper.” 

Only implementing certain aspects of a charter “makes no sense and goes against the very content and intention of the pact,” she added. 
Sections that relate to marriage and inheritance laws are among the most sensitive as Sharia law dictates different rules for men and women. This is in contradiction to the CEDAW which outlaws all discrimination on the basis of gender, and obliges parties to repeal discriminatory laws and guarantee that there be equality in the fields of health, employment, and education. 

The US and the Vatican are the only developed states to have not ratified CEDAW. “We should be able to keep our national laws if they are better than international law,” said Affiat Mustafa, a representative of the Sudan delegation and a member of the Sudanese Parliament. “International law gives countries rights to continue your religion and culture and you are allowed to have reservations on things which counter your culture.” 

Sudan, which is not a signatory of the treaty, has recently made a big leap toward female empowerment thanks to the introduced electoral quota system which has swelled female parliamentary representation to around 25 percent. This compares to a 10 percent average for female parliamentary representation in the Arab region and only 3 percent in Lebanon. 
Empowering women politically is seen as a crucial, but not sole, step in promoting equality from the ground up and as a good way of enacting female-friendly legislation, such as laws against domestic violence. 

“Not ratifying all aspects leaves you open to more subtle, and indirect discrimination,” said Gnacadja. “These only become apparent when you have ratified and have a working knowledge of the convention.”

July 28, 2010