Female Shia candidates for the upcoming Lebanese parliamentary elections are denouncing Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah's pronouncement earlier this year that his party "does not have women for this job".
Iran-backed Hizbullah has not put forward any female candidates, with Nasrallah making it clear in a televised speech on January 4th that women are not welcome in the political arena.
Female Shia candidates told Al-Mashareq that Nasrallah’s statements go against the right of women to participate in public life, and that they plan to continue with their political campaigning regardless.
Of an initial 111 women who declared their candidacy for the May 6th elections, 86 remain in the electoral race, out of a total of 597 candidates.
Nine Shia women are among those running for office.
In Beirut's second electoral district, Salwa al-Khalil al-Amin is running on the Beirut al-Watan list, Neamat Hicham Badreddine on the Voice of the People list, and Lina Mohammad Ali Hamdan on the Beiruti Opposition list.
Olfat Hamza al-Sabeh is running on the Sawa for Baabda list, and Ghada Assaad Assaf is a candidate for Baalbek-Hermel on the Independents list.
In the south, in Tyre and Sidon villages, is Lina Hassan al-Husseini on the Together for Change list, and Inaya Ezziddine on Amal's Loyalty and Resistance list.
Abeer Ghaleb Ramadan is a candidate in Marjayoun-Hasbaya district on the We Can Bring About Change list, and Rima Ali Hameed is running in Bint Jbeil on the civil society list, We Are All My Homeland.
'I have the same rights'
Second district candidate al-Amin, a former political adviser to the Tourism Ministry, told Al-Mashareq that Nasrallah's statements "do not concern me".
"We, as Muslim women, and Shia women specifically, occupy positions in public administration" and in the academic, cultural and political arena, she said.
"Why are partisan women prohibited from running in parliamentary elections when they occupy decision-making positions?" she asked. "How are they allowed to carry party [membership] cards but are not allowed to run [for office]?"
"This is the question that is always on my mind as a Shia citizen," she said. "I have the same rights as others, and no one may dictate what I am allowed or not allowed to do."
"I say that it is not right to deny Shia women the right to exercise their patriotic and political rights, or their social rights, because the Lebanese constitution made them equal [to men] in terms of rights and duties," she added.
"By law, we are all equal in rights, and therefore no one may restrict the right of Shia women to run for office," she said.
'A victory for Shia women'
"Nasrallah's statement provoked and irked me a lot," said electoral candidate al-Sabeh, a law professor at Université la Sagesse and the Lebanese American University.
"We as Shia women are excelling and have the competence to run [for office] and exercise our democratic right," she told Al-Mashareq.
"It is not easy for me, as a Burj al-Barajneh native [in Beirut's Dahieh], to be a candidate," she said. "It is a challenge for me as an independent woman in a traditional patriarchal society that did not give women a quota."
"Our candidacy is a very important step, and is in itself a victory for Shia women, and a response to those who disparage their rights," al-Sabeh said.
"Shia women are running in the parliamentary elections because they are highly competent and are certain of, and believe in, their constructive role in society," said Shia activist and university lecturer Mona Fayad.
Nasrallah’s statement "is, in my view, not only unfair to Shia women, but also runs counter to true and positive Islam, which grants women their full rights", Fayad added.
"In what capacity does Nasrallah prohibit women from running?" she asked.
"Unfortunately, there is a segment of Shia who are hostage to him and his party, because their interests require them to be, but they will liberate themselves from him one day," she added.