The new Lebanese government, formed after months of wrangling between political forces and parties, has a problem: it has no women members.
President Michel Suleiman said during the government's first meeting on Wednesday (June 15th), "There is a gaping hole in this government in that it lacks female representation," adding, "This must be compensated for in various areas, especially the law of parliamentary and municipal elections and appointments to boards, governing bodies, and top positions, based on a quota we would agree on."
The Parliamentary Committee on Women and Children submitted a proposal in 2010 to introduce a quota for women to the election law in order to improve the proportion of women in elected office.
A number of activists and Lebanese officials condemned the absence of female representation in the new government.
Mona Ofeich, former Minister of State in the previous government, told Al-Shorfa, "The Lebanese woman is a citizen with rights and responsibilities that are as integral as those of men to all aspects of nation-building."
She noted that articles seven and 12 in the Lebanese Constitution provide for equality between men and women and call for a quota for women in government similar to the sect and denomination quotas applied in the formation of governments.
Ofeich holds the heads of parliamentary blocs and parties responsible for the lack of female appointees. She said, "Had each of them nominated one woman, the government would have included no less than five female ministers."
Ofeich called on political parties to implement the president's guidance by increasing the participation of women in other aspects of governing, especially since Lebanon signed treaties and international agreements pertaining to equality between men and women and the elimination of gender discrimination.
Women in Lebanon constitute more than 50% of the population, but they were unable to achieve representation in parliament greater than the 4.7 percent they posted in 2005. This figure dropped to 3.1 percent in 2009.
In the executive branch, two female ministers were appointed to the cabinet for the first time in 2004, but women were thereafter limited to one token portfolio out of 30 in successive governments until 2009 when two female ministers were appointed.
Hayat Arslan, a political and human rights activist, expressed surprise at the exclusion of women in the current government, saying that their inclusion does not conflict with the difficult conditions in the country and the region "because [women] are not made of glass and are capable of coping as well as men".
She said that in larger countries such as the United States, France and Britain, women occupy high positions in the ministries of foreign affairs, defence, and even prime minister under the harshest of circumstances.
"Lebanon was the first Arab country to highlight the role of women, who in 1953 won the right to vote in parliamentary elections," Arslan said. She added, "What happened today constitutes a disregard of the right to equality between human beings, a clear attack on the rights of citizenship, and a violation of the constitution."
Arslan demanded the resignation of 14 ministers and their replacement with female cabinet members.
Marwan Fares, a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Women and Children, called for rectifying the imbalance by appointing as many women as possible to the position of general manager in several ministries in addition to the foreign service and the judiciary.
He told Al-Shorfa, "What happened does not reflect the image of Lebanon, which has observed the equality of men and women since its inception in terms of candidates and election, because women do possess the ability and competence to manage the affairs of state."
Samer Abdallah, co-ordinator general of the Nahwa Al-Muwatiniyah organization, said that what occurred was "disgraceful political bargaining at the expense of women."
He told Al-Shorfa, "Lebanese political parties are incapable of nominating a woman to a [government] post and do not empower women to be active participants in society."