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Lebanon Looks Ahead!? But leaves women behind…

Forbes Middle East recently released a fat issue called Lebanon Looks Ahead – with a picture of PM Saad Hariri on the cover and a quote: “Lebanon has all the advantages to be the region’s top technology hub”.

Firstly, I’m dying to explore the irony of this statement, given that most people here live without 24-hour electricity. I think we stand a good chance of being a “technology hub” if said technology is fueled by a generator that sits in the middle of the sidewalk, gasping and sputtering day after day. Far too many of us remain in the dark – literally and figuratively.

But what I want to say is this: Lebanon looks ahead, perhaps, but women are once again left behind. What’s needed from this snarky feminist is, well, obviously, a feminist perspective on this issue. What, from a woman’s perspective, does “looking ahead” actually mean?!

The articles talk about movement toward “reform” and progress “to provide the country’s citizens with more stability and a better quality of life”. How do we plan to do this if over half of our citizens – females – are left behind? There is no progress without equality for ALL Lebanon’s citizens. There is no “quality of life” unless we grant women full and equal rights and safeguard their fundamental freedoms.

And let’s not even start with our other infringements on human rights and social justice. We have a lot of work to do before Lebanon can not just look ahead, but move ahead.

While I don’t want to undermine this solid effort, the issue paints an overly-rosy picture, and reference to women is overwhelmingly tokenistic, reinforcing existing power structures. The reality is not-so-rosy.

The women who’ve landed in this issue also fail to address our inequalities head-on – even when given an opportunity to do so. Instead, women tell other women to arm themselves “with grit, form support networks and work twice as hard, focusing on the challenges that lie ahead”. This Lean-In philosophy won’t resonate with the majority of the country’s women, who still fight every day for choice, for voice, for access, for opportunity. And yes, they already work twice as hard.

Why not address our realities?! We cannot ignore them – or can we?! Lebanese women are drastically under-represented in every aspect of politics, leadership, decision-making. Look at the last parliamentary election in May of this year. Even our Minister for Women is male.

We are an under-utilized economic force, more often that not relegated to feminized sectors and the informal economy – without adequate remuneration or protection.

Lebanese women are denied basic rights due to personal status codes, leaving religion to decide their fate – marriage, divorce, inheritance, children, and so on. Child marriage remains legal. Marital rape remains legal. And marrying-your-rapist only became illegal last year – but is probably still happening.

Forbes does grant us a section on women: the top 15 most “powerful” Lebanese women – where “power” is defined as holding a high position: CEO, Partner, President, General Manager, and so on. This is one way to measure power, but not the only way. Where are the activists? The influencers? The educators? The role models? The pioneers? The thinkers and writers? Do they not hold any power? I don’t buy the idea that power is merely economic – despite the dominant narrative.

Lebanon Looks Ahead is not wrong, per se, but without real women and real issues, it will remain woefully incomplete.

#ForbesMiddleEast #GenderEquality #Lebanon

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