Women’s quota on the agenda, but for later

The Daily Star

Ghinwa Obeid

Women's rights

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With talk of an electoral law agreement in the making, the issue of a women’s quota is back in the limelight as several lawmakers rallied behind a demand for a set minimum for women’s representation. After several delays, a new proportional vote law reached by the country’s leadership last week is under discussion, and rival factions are reportedly working to sort out last minute details. But is a quota for seats held by women on the table? “The issue is being seriously discussed. Of course there is no final agreement on the percentages,” Minister of State for Women’s Affairs Jean Ogasapian told The Daily Star. Ogasapian said Monday, via Twitter, that it is the duty of the various political factions to commit to a women’s quota, which had been mentioned in the government’s policy statement in December. “This is a necessary thing that has to exist alongside citizenship and justice. This is a right,” Ogasapian said, underscoring that such a quota should only be required for a transitional period. Ogasapian said that he is hoping for the best, despite noting that political will on this issue isn’t entirely there. “Political will is present among some of the factions and not all of the groups, while awaiting agreements.” Several rights groups and organizations have long lobbied for a quota arguing that a minimum 30 percent of seats should be filled by women in parliamentary elections. Their request stipulates that this quota should be focused on parliamentary seats and not merely on electoral lists. In the current sitting Parliament there are four female MPs out of 125 elected officials. Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s 30-member government includes one female minister, Minister of State for Administrative Development Inaya Ezzeddine. Hariri previously expressed support for women’s representation – a stance that was reflected in the government’s policy statement when he formed his Cabinet in December – and for the introduction of a women’s quota. Change and Reform bloc MP Ghassan Moukheiber expressed optimism Monday, stressing that political decisions were key factors that might prevent a women’s quota from being adopted. Moukheiber explained that the subcommittee – part of Parliament’s Administration and Justice Committee – that is studying the draft legislation designed to amend the electoral law has been focusing on the women’s quota issue. “And they are waiting for an agreement on an electoral law because the quota system differs from one electoral system to another,” Moukheiber told The Daily Star. “I think we need to have the quota system, but the public discussion hasn’t reached an agreement.” The discussion over implementing a quota, however, includes both supports and opponents. Some believe that having a quota wouldn’t be good for women. But a UNDP circular on the matter, released ahead of the May 2016 municipal elections, suggested that quotas shouldn’t be perceived as a negative move, or a means of discriminating against women. Rather, a quota should be seen as a means of introducing women’s participation into political life and decision-making positions. The U.N. circular also pointed out that, according to international consensus, quotas should be temporary measures designed to boost and embed women’s participation. Despite some optimism, Future Movement MP Mohammad Qabbani dismissed the idea that a woman’s quota was being considered as part of the new vote law talks. “It doesn’t seem so,” Qabbani said. “This doesn’t mean that some electoral lists won’t include women’s quotas, but now it is a new system ... and so it doesn’t seem that there is a quota for women or [members of] the diaspora,” he told The Daily Star. Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil had been calling for the Lebanese diaspora to be assigned six MPs to represent them in the parliamentary elections. Democratic Gathering bloc MP Akram Chehayeb told The Daily Star that recent discussions among politicians have been focusing on the new electoral system and not much on the reform aspects of the law. “At this stage, all political thinking was concentrated on the shape of the electoral law, how to [agree] on electoral districts and ... how we are going to elect [representatives],” he said. “And I don’t think that anyone was talking about the quota.” Lebanese Forces Secretary-General Chantal Sarkis also said that current discussions were not focused on women’s quotas. But she did not deny that the issue is on the agenda. Sarkis said that discussions have been focused on three main things: the electoral districts, preferential vote and ranking of candidates. “I think once discussion on these points has ended, they will discuss the quota issue,” Sarkis told The Daily Star. “It’s on the agenda.” She admitted that some are for the quota and others are against. “In general, there is no agreement,” Sarkis concluded.

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