20 April, 2015

Madame Parliamentarian: female legislators in the Arab world

Today I had the honour to host the event “Madame Parliamentarian: female legislators in the Arab world”, a film-screening & discussion organised together with the European Institute for Security Studies in Brussels and Paris.

Today’s discussions were aimed to promote the women rights in the World, the role and the empowerment of women in politics especially in the Arab World. Another goal was the promotion of culture and peace in the World.

The event would not have been possible without the ideas and the help coming from Mrs. Florence Gaub, Senior Analyst at the European Institute for Security Studies. A special contribution to the success of the meeting came from Mr. Ambassador Rami Mortada, who brought Mrs. Tracy Chamoun, as speaker to our event.

We also enjoyed the presence of Mrs. Patrice Bergamini, Head of Division, Regional Policies for Southern Mediterranean at the European External Action Service.

Of course, in the middle of the whole discussion was Mrs. Rouane Itani, the film Director and producer of “Madame Parliamentarian”, a short documentary film depicting women’s active participation in Lebanon’s political life which explores the reasons behind this situation and examines solutions adopted by other countries to increase the number of women in political leadership.

Rouane Itani is a Lebanese American documentary filmmaker and video producer based in the U.S.A. that has worked in the media in the Arab world and the U.S. She is interested in human rights, cross-cultural issues, health and education.

Films bring diversity to the fore, while also underscoring the values, the feelings and the longings that we all share as human beings.

A motto of the discussion can even be the question: “Do we talk about ‘what the women do in politics’ or about ‘why politics must look for women’”?

The discussion about the role of women in politics in the Arab World can’t be separated from another one, namely “women in Islam” because the interaction between history, religion, culture and politics are defining this topic.

Women status in Islam is one of the most controversial topics.

On one hand there is the belief that they are oppressed and persecuted, on the other hand there are arguments according to which women in Islam have a specific culture and the right to grow into society in ways that differ from the western patterns.

It is at least interesting how a symbolic element (the hijab) is perceived different in the Occident and in the Arab World.

For the Europeans it represents a symbol of a society where the woman is a second degree citizen, meant to be submissive to the men and kept away from the public life.

In the Arab society, the same symbol represents the liberty of Muslim woman in the most genuine way: her religious freedom, her personal freedom, her dressing freedom, her freedom to draw the limits between the social and private dimensions of her life, to put the purdah (curtain) in between the two exactly where she wants.

Some 150 years ago, women rights in Islam were greater than those of women in Occident.
Today, if we look at one of the main indicators (number of women in the legislative power) we would be surprised, at least by the first positions in the top:

  • on first positions, with percentages close or even above 50% there are countries like Rwanda, Bolivia or Cuba
  • countries like Afghanistan or Iraq score higher than Great Britain or USA
  • still, the top ends with Iran, Lebanon, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen and Qatar
  • Romania is on 95, a step lower than Somalia but some 23 positions higher than Brazil which today has a woman president

There are visible limitations to the success of the classical approach in empowering women in politics, especially when the goals of social and political representation of women frontally clashes with cultural and religious traditions of some societies that have thousands of years of history behind them.

This is the place where less conventional approaches can intervene, bringing together the strongest arguments and motivations from both sides.

On one side there are the public and assumed declaration of political leadership, no matter the community they represent: a better life for its citizens.

Meanwhile, the human resource is recognized by any society as a base element in reaching the goal of a better life.

Here intervenes the argument of logic and efficiency: not using at all half of your available human resources (there are countries where woman representation in legislative power is 0,00%) is like someone would use just the right hand and would expect to get the same results as the one next to him that is using both hands.

A society that is equally using its human resources is not only healthier (the interests that are different are equally represented) but also more efficient. In such a society the leadership is represented by the most capable individuals, chosen only after competence criteria.

There is a clear, undoubtable interest of any society, including the Arab one, which does not contradict with cultural or religious traditions: offering a better life to its citizens. The starting point is a better leadership.

I strongly believe that a better leadership is deeply connected with a better representation of women in politics.

If such an achievement means, in the Arab world, wearing hijab, which will draw the line between private and family life on one side and the public life on the other, than this is the way.


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Ramona Mănescu is a member of the European Parliament from the European People’s Party (EPP), the biggest political group in the European Parliament, with 219 members from 27 EU Member States. Also, the EPP is the largest and most influential center-right political party at European level, which includes 78 member parties from 40 countries, the Presidents of the European Commission and European Council, 11 heads of state and government within the EU and 6 outside the Union and 14 members of the European Commission.