Wed, May 25, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Lebanese women struggle for a voice in government

MARGINALIZED Despite being the most liberated women in the Arab world, only a handful of females dare to run for positions in the 128-seat parliament


"In countries like ours, women enter politics in mourning clothes."

Christian opposition MP Nayla Moawad, who made the comment, is one of a few women running for a seat in Lebanon's male-dominated parliament.

She was propelled onto the tribal political scene by the 1989 murder of her husband, president Rene Moawad.

Most female candidates for the four-stage polls that open May 29 are, like Moawad, linked to male political figures.

Bahia Hariri, who will be running for the fourth time in south Lebanon, is the sister of Rafiq Hariri, the five-time former reformist prime minister murdered last Feb. 14.

A UN goodwill ambassador and respected activist who has devoted her life to improving women's conditions in Lebanon and other Arab countries, Hariri, 53, insists on introducing herself as "the sister of the martyr."

Ghinwa Jallul, a professor of computer sciences, ran for parliament for the first time in 2000 on Hariri's ticket in Beirut and is competing again as a candidate for the late premier's Future Bloc.

"I have no political heritage. I came from a pragmatic background," the 42-year-old and mother of three told reporters in her family home as her nine-year-old sought her attention and permission to go out play with friends.

Three months after Hariri's death, Bahia and Ghinwa still wear black clothes in sign of mourning in keeping with tradition, although as women they have long broken ranks with the conservative ways of their country.

Along with Moawad, they are stalwarts of the anti-Syrian opposition which, along with international pressure, helped drive Syrian troops from Lebanon last month.

They are the only three women deputies in the outgoing 128-seat parliament.

All are widely expected to be re-elected, and will likely be joined by Solange Gemayel, widow of slain president and former Christian warlord Bashir Gemayel, who was killed in an explosion in 1982.

A newcomer to politics, Gemayel is running uncontested for the Maronite seat in Beirut, on the list of Saad Hariri, the slain ex-premier's son.

"We hope the Lebanese will become again Lebanese. We hope to put the past behind us," she said.

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