Lebanese Women on the Foreground in Times of War
Sahar Al Attar - 17/05/2008
“If women fully participated to the peace process, it would ease the maintenance and promotion of peace and international security” states UN Resolution 1325, by calling on Member States to empower women in decision-making on the level of conflict prevention, management and control. This Resolution was voted in the year 2000.
Six years later, under the bombings of Israel, Lebanese women have played a leading role, though once again not on a decision-making level. The majority of them has thus become twice a victim. Firstly as targets, being civilians, and secondly since they suffered, and still suffer, the consequences of choices they have not taken part to.
July 2006. Hezbollah captures an Israeli soldier at the border, in the name of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel and of a parcel of land that remains occupied. The reaction is immediate. During more than a month, the Jewish State bombs, relentlessly and indiscriminately, Lebanon’s towns and villages, killing 1191 civilians and injuring 4400 of which 70% are women and children. Almost a quarter of the Lebanese population is transferred.
The women of the South of Lebanon and of the suburbs of Beirut, though they’re trying to rebuild what they’ve lost, haven’t forgotten those 33 days of horror, as they were the main targets of the Israeli attacks. Fear, humiliation and a feeling of insecurity persist in their minds almost two years from the tragedy. Within the framework of a project for women’s empowerment in the affected regions, WEPASS the National Commission for Lebanese Women, has gathered some testimonials. “At 10.30 AM we heard a call saying we had to evacuate the village immediately, but there were not enough cars. We walked, carrying our children in our arms, until we found a bus that took us to Beirut” , remembers one of them. A young woman even had to carry her sick mother on her back.
Other women stayed under the bombs: “we spent 16 days hidden in an underground shelter with 20 people, of which one was pregnant. Towards the end, we had almost finished our supplies. We had to take the pregnant woman to a hospital in a nearby village on a tractor!” recounts Fayza.
The worst thing is that many were not able to choose whether to stay or leave: “My husband didn’t let me leave the village , tells Sana, whose baby only had a few months back them. I was so anxious that my milk dried up” . Fatima, on the contrary, wanted to stay to “resist against the enemy” , but her father didn’t let her.
Left out from decisions which involved their own lives, women then had to suffer the consequences and deal with the day-to-day crisis. “During and after the July war, women took care of most of the responsibilities , explains the Head of the project, Zeina Mezher. Their husbands often took part in the fighting and women were left alone with the elderly. At the end of the conflict, many men had lost their jobs and women had to take over, often working in handicrafts to ensure minimum revenue”.
The same scenario is repeated for the displaced families in the shelters. “Men were too proud to stay in line and obtain humanitarian aid, so the women did that while running after the children. The men were happy with watching the news on TV” underlines Ghida Anani, member of KAFA, an NGO against violence on women.
Many women still remember the discrimination they suffered in this experience, but they have also discovered a taste for independence. “After they lived those moments, women realised they could manage on their own. To some extent, they emancipated themselves” , adds Ghida Anani.
Women therefore played a key role in the crisis management and during the reconstruction phase, either directly or through their participation with NGOs. But apart from this experience, the women from the South and from Beirut’s suburbs, as for all Lebanese women, were and still are left aside in the decision-making process.
Who chose to give the pretext to Israel (who was obviously waiting for the right occasion) to attack Lebanon? This feeling of non-involvement is shared by many Lebanese people, both men and women, citizens of a democratic country in which a war was triggered without their consent. But even among the Hezbollah, don’t women represent 50% of the Shiite community that the party means to represent? How many women are in command within the party? Nobody knows, however no woman has ever expressed herself politically in the name of the party. And when we tried to get into contact with the women of the Hezbollah, we were denied unexplained access by the heads of the party.
On the national level, Lebanese women aren’t involved in politics either.
Today, Parliament accounts for 6 women on 128 MPs (4.7%) of which more than half are the wives or sisters of renowned political men. In fact, the only woman minister is the wife of a past president who was murdered.
But what would women bring to politics anyway?
“Women are more inclined than men on development issues and they have a lot to give in the field of social policies states Zenia Mezher. Especially during human catastrophes, they are more aware of the actual situation. Their participation to the decision-making process could therefore improve the effectiveness of the aid provided. Moreover they have excellent communication capacities which could help resolve situations of conflict”.
And what about prevention, through the promotion of culture and peace?
“We work a lot with women for the consolidation of civil peace and opening up to other communities” , answers Zeina. Now that the country is facing the worst political crisis since the end of the civil war and the tensions between Sunnis and Shiites is rising, openness is even the more necessary.
As for the peace with Israel, “it’s hard to talk about this with women who have suffered years of occupation and who have seen their villages devastated in a few hours. They believe that Lebanon is only defending itself”.
They wish for a “fair” peace with Israel, aimed at respecting and preserving the right to live freely and honourably. However, they don’t really believe this “fair” peace will happen. In the meantime they’re getting ready for any possibility.