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Drafting a New Story: Women's Rights in the Middle East

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Originally Published by the Daily Star Lebanon

By Simona Sikimic and Carol Rizk

October 26, 2010

BEIRUT: Women in Lebanon remain disproportionally at risk from conflict and have largely been excluded from the national reconstruction process, a United Nations report released Monday has shown.

The “Status of Arab Women: Means to strengthen the role of women in conflict resolution and peace building” study urges Lebanon to speed up the formulation of a national action plan that would “translate the political commitment to tangible actions.”

The study, focusing on Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine, was conducted on the 10th anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which recognizes the need to specially protect women from conflict and to include them in post-conflict reconstruction.

Spanning the 17 years since the end of the 1975-90 Civil War, the report assesses the improvements in female representation but finds that progress has been slow, with Lebanon mirroring the rest of the Arab world despite women playing a prominent role during the war and the country boasting a range of influential female civil-society groups.

“The reality of Lebanese women is no different than the reality of women in the Arab world,” the report said. “It is still being shaped by traditions imposed by a patriarchal culture because discrimination and violence are an essential part of the reigning social cultural values … [women] have remained in second place.”

Female underrepresentation leaves women unduly exposed to conflict, as illustrated by the 2006 summer war in Lebanon, where women constituted two-thirds of victims who suffered from water and medical shortages and trauma-related difficulties. The figure does not include those who were killed or directly wounded by the fighting.

“Although women’s experiences in times of conflict is different than men’s experiences, little effort has been made by the civil society and the governments … to ensure prevention, protection of civilian victims and participation of women,” the report said.

Women were also subsequently excluded from national dialogue and the 2008 Doha Accord, it said.

The government has since implemented the 2008 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which obliges parties to repeal discriminatory laws and guarantee equality in the fields of health, employment, and education. But Lebanon has opted out of key clauses pertaining to marriage and inheritance that continue to discriminate against women on religious grounds, seen as contradictory to the concept of gender equality.

The Lebanese government “should remove its objections to the CEDAW convention,” Afer Omer, the director of ESCWA’s center for women told The Daily Star. “Our studies have shown that this, relatively easy change, would go a long way to promoting the equal treatment of women.

“As the party which signed the CEDAW convention, the main responsibility rests with the government and they have to do more, but, civil society must continue to pressure the authorities as they are often the driving force for change.”

 

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