Seminar about the Women

Seminar about the Women’s Question

“On the role of communists in the struggle for the parity and emancipation of women”

Intervention by Dr Marie Nassif-Debs, Vice General Secretary of the Lebanese Communist Party

Brussels, March 26, 2010 ,


To be able to discuss the outcome of the activities carried out by the Lebanese Communist Party regarding the cause of Women Equality and to identify the achievements and shortcomings of these activities we must first recognize the nature of the existing political regime in Lebanon and its effects on elaborating this cause or rather suppressing the role of women as an effective element in society.

Indeed the political regime in Lebanon is a class-infested regime; where the bourgeoisie holds the reins of power through its alliance with the residuals of political feudalism. In other words, the political feudal families have lost the economic and financial position as the owner of the lands and what and who is on it - but these families still exert political influence and feudal leadership without any materialistic control. This bourgeoisie hides behind a vertical division of society which allows its members to continue to exert their influence and to reproduce this fundamentally flawed and unjust system. What we mean by the vertical division is the sectarian and religious divisions that renders Lebanon a group of fiefdoms and princedoms and makes its political system like a confederate union between the 18 sects that constitute Lebanon; and at the forefront the main six sects (that is the Maronites, Roman Orthodox and Roman Catholic sects for Christians; and Sunnis, Shiites and Druze sects for Muslims).

The sects in general do distinguish between males and females; and do discriminate against women and even between one female and another. In this context, the sects have one thing in common: they all agree on the subordinate inferior role of women in society albeit to varying extents. They also agree on denying women any leadership role in society, especially in the political sphere and within the decision making circles. Furthermore, the Lebanese state, since its inception, has abandoned its right to legislate on any issues related to the Personal Status Law and instead granted this role to the various sectarian authorities. This in turn further complicates the struggle for women liberty and equality and renders a just solution more difficult to achieve.

Firstly, the Outcome of the Struggle Until the Last Part of the Twentieth Century

On the 24th of October 1924, the Lebanese Communist party was formed thereby beginning a novel type of political movement which relied primarily on the growing working class movement. In its founding manifesto, the party stressed, amongst its priorities of action, the cause of women which since then has attracted a significant part of its struggle and its associated literature. The Party believed, since its inception, that the sectarian problem in Lebanon must be resolved for the benefits of both men and women, through the separation of religion and the state thereby putting an end to the authority of the sects, whether regarding issues affecting the everyday life of citizens or issues affecting the political life within the country.

If we want to succinctly recapitulate the path that the party has taken since its inception, we would say that its members (both men and women) were at the forefront of those who called for national independence and who called for equality. In this context, we would like to point out the following important milestones in the path of struggle of our party:

  • In 1974, female communists founded the first public association to call for women rights and equality. The first celebration was on the 81 of March under the banners of the 'right of women to work' and 'equal pay for equal work'.

  • In the second half of the forties of the last century, and specifically in 1948, the Lebanese working class embarked upon a wide struggle to arrive at the declaration of the labour law which oversees the rights of workers and regulates their relationship with their employers and amongst themselves. The communists were at the forefront of this struggle and other related struggles to establish the right for the continuity of work. We are proud that our first female martyr, Ms. Warde Boutros, a worker in the Lebanese Importing Tobacco Authority (Regie), stood up to the brutality of the vehicles of the security forces and contributed to the success of the strike carried out buy her male and female comrades.

  • In 1951, and in conjunction with the struggle for a fair electoral law, Lebanese female communists, under direction form their party, were at the forefront of the battle for women's suffrage and other political rights including the right to be a candidate. This campaign later became a wide mass campaign as thousands of women from various political affiliations enrolled within it. The campaign continued until 1953 when women gained political rights including suffrage. The party also supported the struggle embarked upon by the lawyers syndicate towards a civil rights law regarding inheritance issues that would equate between males and females.

  • In the sixties of the last century, the activities of the communist party amongst women was characterized by several directions; as the communist stressed women's right for education and built upon their advances in the trade union movement in order to lay down a comprehensive program for women rights; amongst its most important pillars are: the right to work and equal pay, the right to organize into trade unions for female agricultural workers, in addition to the struggle to call for social benefits including provision of nursery services, and social and medical security.

  • Amongst the most important achievements of the female communists was their activities in various fields to firstly try to prevent the break out of civil war, and secondly to prevent its spread and escalation.

  • Another important contribution for female communists was their role in establishing the Lebanese Front for National Resistance against the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in 1982; and their subsequent role within it. There are many female communist martyrs and female communist prisoners which became very prominent in Lebanon starting with the martyrs Loula Aboud, Yassar Mroueh, Yousra Ismail and Wafa Noureddine and including the prisoner Souha Bchara and all her comrades.

Secondly, the Struggle after the End of the Civil War and Until Today

Soon after the end of the Civil War in 1990, the progressive women movement under the leadership of female communists, embarked on a struggle to abolish the laws that discriminate against women.   This struggle intensified after 1996, relying on the fact that the Lebanese state ratified the international treaty for the end of discrimination against women (CEDAW).

In this context, the establishment of the 'National forum to abolish discrimination again women' had a significant impact in pushing forward the progressive feminist struggle in Lebanon, and in achieving several important milestones, including:

  • Amendment of the labour law to corroborate and assert 'equal pay for equal work' in 1999

  • Amendment of the employment law towards equality in pensions and services, where the female employee became (as the male employee) able to provide medical security for her children and her partner (in the year 2000).

  • A preliminary, albeit insufficient, amendment to the penal law specifically articles related to the so called 'honor crimes' in 2002.

  • Drafting a law regarding the female quota within the leadership of political parties, and specifically in the Parliament, where female representation should not be lower than 30% (in 2004).

  • Drafting a law for female quota and minimum representation in the municipal councils (in 2004).

  • Drafting a law regarding the right of Lebanese women who are married to non-Lebanese to award the Lebanese citizenship to their children (in 2005).

  • Finally, regarding this most basic and paramount issue, drafting a unified law for personal status, which asserts the importance of moving towards a secular state and also asserts the importance of abolishing all kinds of sectarian divisions (2008).

Thirdly, in-between Demanding and Accomplishing

A lot has been achieved in the long course of our struggle. However, the communists have a lot of outstanding issues that remain to be achieved as well; especially since the amendment of the laws is insufficient unless it is accompanied by additional laws and mechanisms to transform the law into reality.

In this context we must also point out that the role of females in our party has only partially improved, which impacted negatively on the role of female communists within municipal councils. And in this regard we do not mention the parliament where until now our party has been unable to secure the candidacy of any of our nominees mainly because the electoral law divides the parliamentary seats between Muslims and Christians and nomination to the parliament take s place along sectarian lines. As for the ratio of female to male communists within the municipal councils, this has not exceeded 6% up to 2004; while preparations are currently underway to increase this ratio to 15 to 20% at least. Bearing in mind that our demand for the temporary female quota is 30% for two consecutive election rounds after which we are calling for a move for full equality (that is 50%) of representation).

Here we must recognize that the objective conditions cannot be solely responsible for the lack of progress of female communists into decision making circles within our party. The 'masculine' mentality and the abatement of the role of women in our party and the corresponding fallback of female membership to   10% as a result of the rise of fundamentalism beginning from the late eighties of the last century and until the Ninth congress which we held in 2004, constitute two main factors which negatively impacted on the number of female communists within both our mid-level and upper-echelon party associations.

The female membership has risen modestly to become now 12%. Furthermore, since our tenth congress, which was held approximately one year ago, we have witnessed a qualitative advancement in the presence of women within our central committee and the central supervisory committee. However this advancement remains limited and insufficient and requires more effort to build upon it; especially through the sectoral, mid-level and grass-root level congresses which are currently taking place and which should act as a model in this regard. This is particularly true in view of the important program, which has set objectives and milestones for action for both the current and mid-term future, and which was ratified and endorsed by our tenth congress. Indeed, the 'committee for action amongst women' was formed as a result of this program defined in our Tenth Congress.

Fourthly, Suggestions and Recommendations

What is lacking in our Lebanese Communist Party is the same as that which is also lacking in the international communist and working class movement: namely the transformation of the slogans of the eight of March regarding women issues, and before that the slogans of the October Revolution, into an effective work-program upon which our movement must base its struggle to achieve equality and abolish discrimination. This is as opposed to the situation now where a female minority is concerned with women issues and continues the struggle in this regard, without effective involvement from the party as a whole, in all its committees and sectors. Indeed it is not enough for a female communist to reach a leadership role within her party as long as the cause of women equality is not being addressed in a proper manner, and where it is often remembered once a year when the month of March comes; bringing with it the memory of those comrades who preceded us in this path of struggle. Therefore in order to maximize the benefit from this meeting, I would like to put forward a series of suggestions and recommendations, which may be summarized as follows:

  1. Reassess our role as female communists within the International Democratic Women Confederation (WIDF): what do we want it to be? How do we make its role and program more effective? How do we reorganize its leadership and regional committees?

  2. Put forward a tangible program to addresses and counter the negative impact of the international crisis in capitalism on the working women in each country and in our world as a whole.

  3. Adopt a solidarity program with women in third world countries (particularly in Africa and the Middle East) against the colonial wars, against poverty and backwardness, and also to resist and counter the negative effect of inherited customs and traditions.

  4. Put forward plans to intensify the struggle to resist the capitalist attempts to make the working class and particularly the poor, the weak and the new arrivals into the working class (i.e. women and youth) bear the burden of the international crisis in capitalism. Also put forward plans to resist attempts to renege on social security benefits for working women.

  5. Mobilize and call on all communist parties to put forward a program to ensure that women will reach a leadership role within all these parties and also will form a significant part of any legislative bloc of these parties. Emphasis in this regard should be placed on the female quota with a view to reach equal representation in the near to mid future.

  6. Make a list of all female communist martyrs which have fallen in the course of the struggle against capitalism, dictatorships and colonialism; and rewrite the history of our parties to eliminate any existing vagueness on the role of women within our parties.

Finally, I would like to thank the Greek Communist Party for thinking outside the box and not conforming to the adopted tradition regarding the eight of March, and I would also like to thank the Belgium Communist Party for hosting this meeting. Finally, I would like to reiterate: Let us transform the eight of March into a day of evaluation within our parties and movements and as a launching pad towards improving the humane concepts of humankind.

Brussels 26/3/2010

Dr Marie Nassif-Debs

Vice General Secretary of the Lebanese Communist Party