New film “Madame Parliamentarian” raises important questions about the political participation of women in Lebanon

New film “Madame Parliamentarian” raises important questions about the political participation of women in Lebanon

Last week I attended the premiere screening of a new film by Lebanese documentary filmmaker Rouane Itani. Rouane is the founder of Aflama, LLC, an international video production and language services company that has created videos for a variety of clients in non-profit, corporate, educational, and broadcast organizations. “Madame Parliamentarian” is Aflama’s first independent original production.  The premiere was well-attended, and Rouane Itani herself, along with Stephanie Foster, senior policy advisor at the State Department, interacted with the audience for a panel discussion and Q&A afterwards.

I was not expecting to hear much more than I already knew: women are still poorly represented in major institutions of political power in the MENA. This is despite the fact that Turkey has had one of the two female prime ministers to date in the region: Tansu Çiller, who was in office from 1993-96 (the other was Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, in office from 1969-74). Çiller was not particularly remembered for her work on women’s issues, or for being particularly supportive of promoting the rise of more women to the heights of political power, and this is one of the questions that the film, and the Q&A session afterwards explored: why do so many women who come to power fail to push the agenda forward on issues of concern to women?

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Beyond the secularist vs. Islamist divide: gender justice before and after the Spring

Today’s political debates on the changes happening in the post-Arab SpringMENA, continue to employ polarizing language. Casting the major sociopolitical players of the region solely in terms of “secularist” and “Islamist” is guaranteed to obfuscate rather than illuminate shared interests and possibilities for working together to address some of the persistent challenges in the region that bear upon US interests. This is only one example of the use of divisive language, but it is among the most trenchant.  One of the reasons why it is counterproductive to understanding, and building effective alliances with, the parties that have come into power within the post-Arab spring regimes of the MENA can be illustrated by looking at how past and current ruling authorities, and the civil society organizations (CSOs) that operate within these countries, have tapped the power of women.

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Is strategic coalition-building the ticket to securing women’s interests in the post-Arab Spring world?

(post originally published June 19, 2012)

The UN declaration that Syria is engaged in a civil war.  Ongoing tensions between the US and Iran. This weekend’s Egyptian presidential elections (tentatively won by Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi). Last week’s decision by SCAF to dissolve the Egyptian Parliament, which was dominated by Muslim Brotherhood members.  The decision by SCAF to greatly limit the new president’s power, vesting part of it (legislation, budget) in their own hands.  These stories of life in the MENA have been the focus of major news outlets in recent weeks.  And who in the mainstream media is talking about where women fit into all of this (aside from being the victims of the Assad regime’s atrocities, the losers in Egyptian politics, and – well – virtually invisible in the current debates over what to do about Iran)?  Well no one, really, at least not in any sustained manner.  If past precedent is any indication of success, strategic coalition –building will be key to women’s particular concerns remaining front and center in the dialogues and debates about the shape of the post-Arab Spring MENA landscape.

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