Beirut A seductive woman looks out from the billboards that line Beirut’s highways proclaiming, “Be Beautiful and Vote,” one political party’s appeal to women in this beauty-obsessed nation’s upcoming parliamentary elections.
Women’s rights activists have fumed that the ad is demeaning. An opposing party has put up billboards with a more feminist message, “Be Equal and Vote,” though featuring, of course, an equally sexy model. A lingerie brand jumped in with its own mock election ad: a woman in silky underwear urging, “Vote for me.”
Lebanon’s election campaign is full of women — except where it counts.
Only a handful of women are among the more than 580 candidates vying for parliament’s 128 seats, and after Sunday’s voting, the number of women in parliament is likely to drop to four, down from the current six.
Lebanon may look like one of the most liberal countries in the conservative Middle East but patriarchal attitudes still reign, women activists say.
Women’s poor showing also reflects a wider problem: Although Lebanon has the trappings of a modern democracy, its politics are dominated by former warlords and family dynasties. Often only each clan’s appointed heirs — usually men — stand a real chance of getting elected.
And most women in politics have their posts because they are the wives, daughters or sisters of assassinated figures from those same dynasties. Two of the six women now in parliament are not running for re-election, letting their sons and family heirs take their seats. A third is also dropping out.
The remaining three women lawmakers, all from political families, are likely to get re-elected. A fourth woman is also considered a probable win: another legacy figure, journalist Nayla Tueni, who is seeking the seat of her father, Gibran, killed in 2005 by a car bombing.
Some feel the feudal-style politics are keeping Lebanon from ever advancing.
“This is a regression not just in the woman’s role but a regression of Lebanese political life in general,” said Hayat Erslan, who heads the Committee to Energize Women’s Role in National Decision Making.
Some of the prominent families in politics, like the Gemayels and Jumblatts, have been around for decades, and many of them led militias during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.
In Sunday’s election, a wave of young scions of the big families are running on the legacy of assassinated or deceased family members, making them favorites to win.