كلمة النائب سامي الجميّل في مؤتمر "حوار البرلمانيين الشباب العالمي حول قضايا المؤتمر الدولي للسكان والتنمية" في تايلاند
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, fellow parliamentarians.
I am both honored and happy to be with you here today not only as a representative of my country, Lebanon, but equally as a colleague, to discuss an issue of significance to our respective political orders and parliaments: Gender Equality.
Women began striving for their rights centuries ago. They have been struggling for a long time to attain the same rights and opportunities as men, in what have always been fundamentally male-dominated societies.
This struggle has led to substantial progress in the 20th century, mainly during its second half. Women now play an important role in all areas of social, political, economic and cultural life. The Nobel prizes awarded to them in the fields of peace, chemistry, physics and literature, to name a few, are indisputable proof of their extraordinary contribution to social progress. They occupy important posts in a growing number of corporations, universities and think tanks, in the media and in other fields which were formerly the unquestionable bastions of men.
Today, women have the right to vote in nearly every country in the world. They have shown that they are not only responsible voters but also highly talented leaders. Many women have become heads of state or prime ministers of their countries, proving that politics at the highest level is no longer the exclusive privilege of men. In addition, women occupy prominent positions in international and regional organizations. In fact, in our contemporary global world, there are almost no professions or fields that can be regarded as exclusively male or female.
Despite the undeniable progress in the advancement of the human rights of women during recent decades, there are still many obstacles to full gender equality.
Women and men are still not equal in terms of employment and salary. According to data from ILO Year Book of Labor Statistics, women worldwide are paid an average of 30 to 40% less than men for equal work. In the field of education, and in accordance with UNICEF’s Facts and Figures, out of an estimated 130 million children (aged 6-11) in the developing world who do not have access to primary education, 73 million are girls. The political sphere is no better. Based on numbers from the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), women occupied around 12% of parliamentary seats around the world in 1997, compared to a slight increase of 16% in 2008. Women are also the primary victims of economic crisis and unemployment and are too often victims of violence, armed conflict, acts of terrorism and cruel traditional practices which endanger their health and lives.
So where does Lebanon stand with respect to gender equality?
While Lebanon has ratified the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1996, the Lebanese state still has a long legislative march to walk in order to match theory with practice.
For instance, and in accordance with article 4 of CEDAW, no “special” and “temporary” measures aimed at accelerating “de facto equality” between men and women has been taken. Hence, Women Quota, which is perceived as a special and temporary action, has been shelved notwithstanding that civil society actors continue to highlight it as a main pillar of electoral reform. It saddens me to say that today women occupy less than a handful of seats within the Lebanese Parliament; a total of 4 out of the 128-seat assembly. Similarly, under the current cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, women received not one single seat out of the allotted 30-seat cabinet. By contrast to the previous cabinet of PM Saad Hariri that had 2 women ministers represented.
Lebanon has also expressed reservation to article 16 of CEDAW— dealing with family and marriage. This is because in Lebanon, issues of personal status are left to each religious community to administer. This leads to a great disparity and discrimination in handling matters of divorce, inheritance and custody between and among sects and confessions; especially in the absence of a civil code.
Lebanese women married to foreigners are still barred from passing the Lebanese nationality, not only to their husbands, but equally to their children who have to renew a residency once every five years.
Even the Penal Code discriminates. The evidence required over some cases can be greater with respect to women than those required by their male accomplices.
Domestic violence is still unchecked in Lebanon and no law specifically targeting it is in practice yet. A promising law submitted by the Ministry of Justice has been hampered at the Council of Ministers for religious considerations and referred to a parliamentary committee for a review.
The above is but a sample of what we come across in Lebanon. As a Member of Parliament, I have taken it as my duty and role to address these excesses ever since I assumed office in June of 2009.
Throughout my tenure thus far, I have presented several draft laws aiming at accelerating de facto gender equality in line with the spirit of CEDAW. Notable among these are the draft laws on introducing a 30% women quota in the Municipal & Parliamentary Electoral Laws. And in line with my campaign platform, I will continue to work on making civil marriage an option Lebanese can abide by. It rests on no logical grounds that the Lebanese state recognizes civil marriage that is undertaken abroad but refuses to legalize it domestically.
Amongst the solid successes that were registered was the adoption by the Lebanese Parliament of the draft law I presented on repealing honor crimes from the penal code. That was adopted as law in August of 2011 and its significance lies in ending decades of impunity for men who murdered their wives or sisters and labeled it as an honor crime committed in the name of religious honor; thus getting away with a lax sentence of a maximum of three years.
While sometimes the pretext of cultural diversity is used to justify inequality between women and men. It should be recalled here that the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights at Vienna affirmed that “while the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Perhaps we as parliamentarians understand more than anyone else, how much legislation by governments and parliaments is needed to ensure the success of the drive to eradicate discrimination against women and win genuine equality for them. Inequality between women and men and discrimination against women must not only be redressed through legislative measures but also by raising public awareness, in order to overcome traditional attitudes and prejudices inherited from the past. That is why human rights education plays a leading role in promoting universal respect for the rights of all— women and men and that is why we should also lead by example on the educational front.
In my country, women constitute around 53% of the total population. I doubt that any country can dub itself “democratic” when half of its people do not genuinely partake in the decision-making process and are still discriminated against. Let us evolve from “equal opportunity” through the texts to “equality of result” through practice. Thank you.