Parliamentary Response to Crisis: Lebanon needs women’s leadership as women bear the brunt of Covid-19

Written for GPG by Associate and former MP and Scottish Government Minister Margaret Curran.

Adapting to the situation we are left in due to the Covid-19 crisis is crucial for companies across the globe. GPG is intending to extend and expand what we have always done by continuing communication, providing advice, guidance and mentoring to our partners whether we are in-country or not.  Our Parliamentary Response To Crisis series is designed to gather together the thoughts and experience of parliamentary experts on the current Covid-19 pandemic, the response of governments and what comes next. 

“A horrifying global surge”, the words of the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. Not in reference to the pandemic itself but to one of its dreadful consequences, the rise in domestic violence reported throughout the world. In Lebanon, surveys indicated that before the pandemic 31% of women had experience of intimate partner violence. Now, according to KAFA, a Lebanese organisation that deals with domestic violence cases, many of the calls it has received since the lockdown have been from women seeking help for the first time. In fact, calls complaining about domestic violence have doubled.

The gender impact of COVID 19 must be recognised, according to Lebanese women’s organisations. Between 75 and 80% of healthcare workers are women and inevitably the burden of homecare during the lockdown has fallen on the shoulders of women.

Furthermore, all of this follows a major economic and political crisis in Lebanon, which has put pressure on households. In October, when widespread protests erupted, 33% of the population lived below the poverty line. Now almost half of Lebanon has fallen below that line. Public debt is estimated at 150% of GDP. The economic crisis led to the devaluation of the national currency, and reduced the availability of essential goods, including medicines. Many families were forced to reduce the amount of food they ate, and this has led invariably to greater stress and pressure on those families.

Lebanese women are bearing the brunt of the Covid-19 crisis and the economic crisis. But they do not have the political representation that would allow them to articulate their challenges and seek political solutions. It was notable that, as the protests erupted throughout Lebanon, women played a prominent role – a remarkable fact, given the exclusion of women from political representation and leadership is a defining weakness of the current political system. Women make up only 4% of current MPs and according to the gender gap index, Lebanon ranks third to last in the MENA region, only Syria and Yemen have a worse gender ranking.

The recent appointment of six women to Cabinet positions indicates some progress. It suggests a degree of recognition that the political exclusion of women needs to be addressed. Women’s political leadership brings opportunities to political parties and possibilities of political and economic regeneration. The benefits of increasing women’s representation are well documented, leading to greater political confidence and improved economic performance. Given the scale of the challenges, women are needed in to rebuild recovery in Lebanon. This is demonstrated on a daily basis, for example, in the Beqqa Valley women have been developing community services over many years and have now stepped in during the pandemic. There are further examples throughout Lebanon of women’s leadership at community level. Now Lebanon needs that leadership for political renewal. Involving women in political decision needs to be an urgent priority.

That is why international programmes to support the political leadership of women must find a way through this crisis. Global Partners have been working to support women’s leadership in Lebanon for many months, during the economic crisis and the protests. The capacity and contribution of women in the political parties and beyond is obvious. Across the political spectrum and the different confessional interests, there are women ready and able to step up.

Global Partners are now delivering programmes for women’s leadership online and in the reality of current politics. Women in political parties and beyond are responding because of their commitment to the rebuilding of Lebanon, and their commitment to the women who are holding families and communities together in this time of crisis.

Margaret Curran is an international consultant working on women’s political empowerment in Lebanon and throughout the world. @margaret_curran