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Frances GuyAmbassador to the Republic of Lebanon, Beirut
What to do for international women's day? As a female ambassador I feel that I should be making an effort to help encourage Lebanese women to take on more of a political role. But how best to do that without treading on sensitive toes? 2 years ago I held a lunch to try and get some prominent women to think about the alternative report on CEDAW (Convention to End Discrimination Against Women). It didn't really work. This year I tried a different tack, get together a wider mix of women of different ages all pushing the barriers in their own way and try and find one or two real action points for the next 12 months. As a diplomat my real aim though was to bring together some women who might not know each other and who could maybe benefit from each others ideas. We had a lively discussion. The very few women who are already elected on municipalities (we had two mayors present) shared some of their experiences.
Perhaps the most inspiring was a woman in the Internal Security Forces (police). There are only 2 Lebanese women in the whole police force. Her point was quite simply that there was no legal barrier to any woman joining any aspect of the security forces and that more women in the police and army could help deal more sensitively with issues like domestic violence. But could also send a very positive message about women in society. Here! Here! When I came here from Yemen, it was one of the more surprising aspects of Lebanon. The lack of women in the police. In Yemen there are women policemen, directing traffic, doing patrols and women noticeably in the army. Here - there are so few you can't see them. I understand that in part this is a legacy of the civil war where women played a vital part in keeping society going but could do that because they were not implicated in the fighting. But times have moved on. I would dare to say that a sign of Lebanon becoming a modern sovereign state would be women participating in the security forces.
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Just over two years, 1200 Lebanese lives, about 200 Israeli lives, 90 destroyed bridges (mostly rebuilt except the biggest), a number of destroyed factories (many closed down), one rocky economy, two countries in political crises, and the two kidnapped soldiers about whom the war in 2006 ostensibly started, are returned in sombre black coffins to Israel under the supervision of the International Red Cross. On the Lebanese side the crowds wait for hours in the hot sun for a sight of the five freed Lebanese prisoners. All the politicians gather at the airport to join in the heroes' return. Difficult to swallow entirely a hero who the Israelis accuse of bludgeoning a four year old to death. But there are too many innocent Lebanese children who died ( I think of that whole family in Qana) and too many innocent Palestinian children who keep dying for that to resonate too much in the Arab conscience. Still it sticks in the throat a bit. Something macabre too about the row of nearly 200 coffins covered in flags - Palestinian and Lebanese.
But the positive side is that another part of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 has just been fulfilled with this prisoner exchange. One excuse for further conflict has been removed. And in Lebanon we rejoice that celebratory gunfire has been replaced by celebratory fireworks. The noise is still a bit frightening when gunfire has been so recent but the reality is soothing. As are all the conciliatory words the politicians have started to use....