The Lebanese Kandakas

Manar Zeaiter*

Alaa Salah, the icon of Sudan’s revolution, or the «Kandaka» as she has been crowned to denote the courageous Sudanese women who are taking part in the rise to injustice and the demand for democracy. We shall recall Alaa’s name well as she became a symbol even beyond the borders of Sudan. The icon embraces the march of the thousands of women kandakas who are rebels, fighters, hunger strikers, detainees and prisoners. It is a march of women in various parts of the strongholds of injustice and tyranny; women who have fought occupiers and resisted oppressors, women who took to the streets in demand of dignity and in pursuit of peace. But in the end, history has not done them justice, it has unseen their roles and denounced their contribution to peacebuilding.


This recapitulation draws from the recent Sudanese experience on the Lebanese scene at its various stages, as well as on the position of Lebanese women and their struggle at the different political stages.

The struggle of women began with the formation of the Lebanese entity in its political sense, i.e. the date of independence and the outbreak of the civil war in the mid-seventies when women had contributed to national liberation. This was followed by the period of open crisis from 1975 until the signing of the Taif Agreement, in which women had neither participated in its drafting nor in any of the subsequent attempts to implement it. During those years of war, many women had taken up arms and engaged in internal fights, others preferred to keep their distance and played an opposite role in preserving the remaining fabric of the Lebanese society. Others still took on the responsibility of the entire family during the absence of men and their preoccupation with fighting or their death or disappearance, while other women took part in the resistance against the Israeli occupation both during that time and later.

And after war had strained all fighting parties came the new agreement, the Taif Agreement, establishing the transformation or transition period in the format of the Lebanese political system and founded a consensus formula that retained the formula that was neither victorious nor defeated; it ended the war but did not achieve peace and stability to this day. This was a formula that did not engage the women who had lived that war, taken part in it, were affected by it and shaped it.

Following the Taef Agreement, the country witnessed political, security and military developments; the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the so-called million-marches, the departure of the Syrian Army from Lebanon and the division of the Lebanese people between two new axes, and the several ensuing assassinations and tensions including the events of the 2008 conflict. And to escape a new war, the Doha Agreement took place in Qatar; a prompt settlement that did not allude to the long-standing crisis in the Lebanese regime, and in which formulation women did not participate.

Since 2005, there has been a different political scene in the country, in the wake of regional wars that have fueled the division among the Lebanese, accompanied by conspicuous local stops such as the campaign to bring down the sectarian system in 2011 and the 2015 protests, or the so-called waste crisis. Today, this phase is still in place, and continues to frame the political course of the country and the fragile stability of the constitutional institutions. A path and stability in which women are present coyly, whether through participation in demonstrations or media recruitment or through the human rights and social work, as well as political work through the portal of political parties.

The absence of women from the Lebanese political scene at the time of bloody conflicts, or during the consequent stages, or during the stages of fragile stability, has its reasons that cannot be summarized.

On the general level, the Lebanese constitution has shaped the fragile political scene and the identity of this hybrid entity by rooting the sectarian identity at the expense of the national identity. This has been reflected in the features of the state and the different political spaces of parties, unions and social movements that have been adopting the logic of sectarian-based mobilization and lack a proper democratic practice. This reality has negatively affected the participation of women in political life and excluded them from playing their role in building a democratic entity and in laying the groundwork for sustainable peace.

Public space and private space usually overlap. Women undertake the primary responsibility for raising and caring for children and doing household chores. This division of roles between men and women has led to their ranking in unequal positions. This hierarchy has negatively reflected on the political roles of women, whether within the official structures of the state or within the various political spaces that adopt the standards of women's private space in their justification for the weak presence of women in the public life and the weakness of serious initiatives aimed at involving women and activating their roles.

In conclusion, during the various political stages, the Lebanese State has not formed a genuine political will to engage women in peacebuilding paths. It has neither implemented its international commitments of involving women in all peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction efforts nor of adopting a distinctive approach to the way in which peacemaking is conducted in order to meet the different needs of men and women in the fields of security and peacebuilding.

We are witnessing today, in the Arab region, the many experiences of women active in the peace-building processes of their countries; especially women in Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Tunisia and Syria, who participate in national dialogues, peace negotiations or transitional justice.

The question that remains is when will we witness a greater presence of the Lebanese kandakas in the process of building a modern democratic civil state? A state of equality in law and before the law. A state of protection against the various forms of violence faced by women and girls, both in the private and public sphere. A state whose women are active and not mere victims. A state that did not recognize the roles of its women and did not document their experiences and still, every morning, plays an anthem that sings: Our mountain and our valley, they bring forth stalwart men.


* Lawyer and women’s rights activist and researcher



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