Senior Staff Writer
On the second day of KIP’s conference, a panel presentation titled “Representation and participation: Marginalized groups in the Lebanese political sphere” was given as part of session 7 in Room 216 at OSB.
The panel included Assistant Professor in Public Administration at AUB Carmen Geha, Ph.D., women’s rights activist and researcher Krystel Tabet, Assistant Professor in Social Psychology at AUB Reem Saab, Co-Founder of Women in Front Nada Anid, Associate Professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at University of Illinois Nadine Naber, and Executive Director of Arab Foundation for Freedom and Equality Georges Azzi.
The panelists shed light on the different marginalized groups in the Lebanese political dynamic, specifically women and individuals with non-conforming genders and sexualities.
In tackling the issue of power sharing in a sectarian system, Tabet and Geha highlighted the aspects that hinder women’s representation through an intersectional women’s narrative.
The masculinity of power sharing politics, ineffectiveness of social institutions, non-feasibility of a political career for women due to financial and social reasons, and the patriarchy in the Lebanese sectarian political system all work against women’s representation and participation in politics.
Following up on the issue of political participation, Saab presented findings from a research conducted by her and her team that looks at the gender gap in political participation in Lebanon emphasizing the importance of political participation as a precursor for political inclusion.
The presentation focused on the aspects affecting women’s political participation, specifically level of education, employment, and interest in participation, participation being in the form of voting, political membership and so on.
Lower participation of women in the labor force was found to explain their lower political interest, and hence lower political participation.
In a different framework, Anid’s presentation tackled the issue of the gender gap in political participation through quota. In this line of thought, lobbying for quota is an effective method for increasing women’s participation in politics since there is no national strategy being implemented at the moment to end gender discrimination in the political sphere.
One point made by Anid is that the matter isn’t prioritized due to the constant political unrest in the country, along with the fact that there are some opposing political coalitions that are standing in the way of political gender equality, despite the presence of other coalitions who are supportive or mildly in favor of it. Otherwise, technical solutions aimed at including a gender quota could easily be implemented.
The focus of the panel then shifted to sexual minorities with Azzi discussing the different political and social barriers that stand in the way of LGBTQ+ individuals. On the political front, there are several NGOs combating LGBTQ+ acceptance, silencing their voices on social and political matters, whereas on the social front, Lebanese society doesn’t seem to be ready to tackle this issue. Azzi stressed on the fact that sexual minorities in the Lebanese society are allowed to exist as long as they stay voiceless.
The final panelist to present was Baker, who joined the panel via Skype, to tackle the role of intensified political crises in impacting the concepts and practices of hetero-patriarchy, as well as the possibilities for social transformations led by women and marginalized sexual minorities.
The events between summer 2015 and December 2016 were used as they included the garbage crisis and the “You Stink” protests.
The period of political unrest produced opportunities for women and LGBTQ+ individuals to participate in social movements aimed at ending gender and sexuality based oppression to start, which allowed for an intersectional feminist theory and practice to develop in Lebanon with components such as producing feminist safe spaces and increasing women’s participation in political and social change, among many others.
The panel presentation attendees left having gathered a cohesive body of work presented by each of the five panelists.
“I’m an activist and it is sometimes difficult to be in political spheres as a woman and to engage in these things. Women are usually not taken seriously in politics, and that’s something that I want to see changed,” explained psychology student Marilyn Chahine when asked about the reason for her attendance.
The multidisciplinary approach to the issue of marginalization in the Lebanese political system falls in line with KIP’s goal of knowledge sharing and “advocating and supporting cross-sector communication, collaborations and partnerships in support of advancing equity around gender and sexuality,” as stated in the conference catalogue.
“It’s been a great conference. One of the special things about it is that it brought people from many different sectors together to talk about a really important issue. The fact that you had people from [so many different backgrounds], is vital in advancing women’s causes and all of kinds of causes related to sex based discrimination, LGBT issues, and so on,” Saab told Outlook. “Conferences usually attract academics, but such conferences have an impact on the audience ultimately in terms of how much the meeting between academics helps enrich the academics’ ideas and then ultimately this feeds into the publication of the final research project which then somehow gets disseminated to the public…for me this is one of the most powerful ways to help shape public discourse and academic work as well.”
Currently in its second year, having begun in September 2015, the KIP project will continue working on the advancement of gender and sexual equity until September 2017.