The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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March 6, 2015

The Daily Star - International Women’s Day Celebrating 20 years of achievements, March 05, 2015

Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine

National events are taking place celebrating the occasion of International Women’s Day. Thursday, the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia Dr. Rima Khalaf is organizing a festivity entitled “Voices of Arab Women.”

Dr. May Chidiac, the president and founder of the May Chidiac Foundation, Wednesday held her institution’s annual conference “Women on the Front Lines.” This year’s gathering was designed to inspire women to pursue their passions, think big and turn their dreams into reality.

Last week, on Feb. 26, the founder and executive chairperson of the New Arab Woman Forum, Mrs. Nadine Abou Zaki, held her annual conference “Empowerment through Entrepreneurship and Innovation.” The conference was devoted to discussing the potential of women entrepreneurs, their challenges and role in fostering economic growth and employment.

The 2015 International Women’s Day, to be celebrated globally on March 8, will mark the 20th anniversary of the historic fourth World Conference on Women and the launch of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, when 189 national governments made a commitment to achieve equality, development and peace for women worldwide.

Global, regional and national events are taking place in all corners of the globe in the lead-up to the 20-year anniversary of the Beijing Platform. The platform focuses on 12 critical areas of concern, and envisions a world where each woman and girl can exercise her choices, such as participating in politics, getting an education, having an income, and living in societies free from violence and discrimination.

The International Women’s Day 2015 is a time to uphold women’s achievements, recognize challenges, and focus greater attention on women’s rights and gender equality to mobilize all people to do their part. It is also a time to ask: How far have we come after 20 years?

The International Women’s Day first emerged from the activities of labor movements at the turn of the 20th century in North America and across Europe. In 1909 the first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on Feb. 28. The Socialist Party of America designated this day in honor of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions.

In 1975, International Women’s Year, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. Since those early years, International Women’s Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike.

The growing international women’s movement has been strengthened by four global United Nations women’s conferences that took place in Mexico City in 1975, Copenhagen in 1980, Nairobi in 1985 and Beijing in 1995. These conferences have helped make the celebration a gathering point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas.

Since Beijing, countries around the world have revoked laws that discriminate between genders and adopted legislation against various forms of violence against women, including harmful traditional practices. The United Nation Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security, the millennium development Goals 3 and the sustainable development Goal 5 on gender equality are all important steps. Yet millions of women and girls still lack access to education, health care, justice, and economic opportunities.

The Arab region, has witnessed during the last 20 years significant changes that present both challenges and opportunities for women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Conflict and insecurity have excessively affected women, posing serious threats to their wellbeing and hampering their development prospects.

Meanwhile, many achievements and political changes in several countries have presented encouraging opportunities for improvement in women’s rights and offered greater chances for equal participation in decision-making.

One of the achievements to be highlighted is the establishment of the First Arab Women’s Summit in November 2000. The summit, a joint effort between the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development, the Arab League and the Egyptian National Women’s Council, paved the way to a holistic strategy to reactivate the role of Arab women.

It was from this summit that the Arab Women Organization emerged. The Arab Women’s Summit, with its eight forums, highlighted issues related to Arab women and politics, law, immigration, economics, sciences and technology, media, education and armed conflicts.

Another achievement is the Arab Women’s Day. During its ninth conference, held in Algeria in February 2000, initiated by MP Bahia Hariri, the Arab Inter-parliamentary Union declared the Feb. 1 to be celebrated every year as Arab Women’s Day. This date commemorated the decree granting Kuwaiti women their political rights.

This year Lebanon also will be celebrating 20 years of achievements toward gender equality. Lebanese women won the right to vote and stand for elections far in the 1950s. In 2014, 13 women held posts of director general in a state ministry and governmental institutions. In the same year, the bill for the protection of women and family members against domestic violence was enacted. More recently, women were able to extend their maternity leave and guarantee their positions at work. They were also able to revoke a provision that only allowed fathers to open bank accounts for their children.

Some other statistics reveal the reality of women’s status in Lebanon. According to the Inter-parliamentary Union’s index, rating 188 countries on women’s participation in national parliaments, Lebanon ranks at 136. In 2013, 51 percent of women registered to vote. In 2010, Lebanon ranked 88th out of 113 economies in the Economist’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Index. In 2009, out of the total labor force population, 22.8 percent are women. Out of the female labor force population, 10.4 percent are unemployed. In 2009, 14.1 percent of the working population in Lebanon were managers. Of these 14.1 percent, 10.7 percent of senior staff and managers were women.

The International Women’s Day is a day when women are recognized for their achievements. It is an occasion for looking back at past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potentials and opportunities that await future generations of women. We have a long way to go, so in getting there we must urgently tap into the capabilities and intelligence of women and their power to build bridges of trust within and among their communities. It is only through women’s full and equal participation that we can overcome the century’s global challenges.

Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine is the executive director of the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.

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