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Lebanon’s Groundbreaking Election Ended with Little Change for Women

Earlier this month, Lebanon held its first parliamentary election since 2009.

It took nine years for the country to hold an election because its parliament voted to extend its tenure three times since 2009, causing many Lebanese people to consider their government corrupt and effectively useless.

Photo by Jan Zhukov on Unsplash

This parliament is highly occupied and influenced by members of the Islamist political group Hezbollah. Lebanon has long had a history of unrest, violence, and religiously-based legal systems.

This new election was a significant turn away from tradition, though, because there was a newer, more modern generation joining the pool of voters, as well as a record number of women candidates running for parliament positions. However, Hezbollah did not offer any women candidates, indicating just how conservative and male-centric the group can be.

“We in Hezbollah don’t have women for this job,” the party’s secretary-general Hasan Nasrallah said in a speech in January.

Even though Hezbollah is not spearheading the push for change in the government, the change in demographics for both voters and candidates brought new topics to the forefront of political discourse. These topics include ending child marriage, decriminalizing homosexuality, integrating secular laws, and improving rights for women.

One issue for women that they were specifically trying to change is finally allowing them to pass their nationality down to their children. That privilege has long been reserved just for men, a fact that many younger Lebanese citizens find unfair as it can leave them stateless.

This new demographic was also pushing to abolish child marriage by creating a minimum legal age for when people can get married. Their goal was to set the age to 18. Historically, Lebanon has not indicated an age at which someone can legally marry because its government allowed several religious groups in the nation to decide for their own people with personal status laws. These groups often allow girls under the age of 15 to get married.

Though the campaigning period before the actual elections may have looked promising and certainly brought attention to topics that are important for children and women, the election was overwhelmingly won by Hezbollah’s candidates. Hezbollah and its allies, such as a Maronite Christian party called the Free Patriotic Movement and a few independents, now hold 67 seats which makes up a majority of parliament.

There still may be some hope for Lebanon, though, because a total of six women also won parliamentary seats – despite over 80 running. This is two more women than there were in the last parliament.

While Hezbollah has a tendency to push women’s rights to the back burner of its agenda, it will be interesting to see if the six women that sit with the group can use their voices and opinions to fight for their fellow women.

Featured Image by Patricia Jekki on Unsplash

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