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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 February 2019

Raya Al Hassan's appointment is a vital step towards gender equality

The Lebanese interior minister should be an inspiration to the entire region

Raya Al Hassan reviews an honour guard on her first day as interior minister in Beirut. AP Photo
Raya Al Hassan reviews an honour guard on her first day as interior minister in Beirut. AP Photo

On January 31, Raya Al Hassan was named as Lebanon’s interior minister – the first woman to hold such a position in the Arab world. Women are under-represented in Lebanese politics and rarely become senior ministers, making this an important move towards gender equality in both the country and the wider region. Ms Al Hassan’s appointment sends a powerful message. While it is vital that women’s interests are represented at the highest levels of government, capable, experienced women must also be granted access to positions that have previously been closed to them. There can be no more stirring illustration of this than the photograph of Ms Al Hassan being saluted by an honour guard on her first day in the job.

In Lebanon, bold steps are being taken. The number of female candidates soared during last year’s parliamentary elections. A full 86 made it onto the lists, compared to only 12 in 2009. Unfortunately, this increase was not reflected in the final results, which saw only six female parliamentarians elected. It should also be noted that most ran as independents, while all but one of the successful candidates hailed from well-established parties. Traditional parties have not always encouraged women’s participation in politics. Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s appointment of four female ministers, however, sets a new precedent.

Some Arab countries have already introduced gender-based quotas. Jordan reserves 15 of the 130 seats in its House of Representatives for women. The UAE and Tunisia have established more ambitious measures. In Tunisia, the law guarantees equal representation, but women still struggle to reach the upper echelons of their parties. Meanwhile, Emirati women will occupy half of the seats in the Federal National Council – doubling the current quota of 22.5 per cent – after this year’s elections.

In a recent interview with The National, Ms Al Hassan said: "I need to act as a role model and prove that women in positions that are usually held by men can do the job as well, if not better, than men." Her success should inspire us all to create societies in which accomplished women who occupy positions of power are no longer the exception, but the norm.

Updated: February 12, 2019 06:44 PM

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