Women Political Leaders (WPL), a global network of female politicians, teamed up with Western Union, a leader in cross-border, cross-currency money movement, to encourage more girls to get involved in politics, with the goal of increasing female representation in political and governmental roles and driving greater diversity of thinking in policy making and governance.
Ramona Abdallah was one of just 20 women selected by G(irls)20 — an organization that places girls and women at the center of the G20 economic decision-making process — to be sponsored by Western Union to attend the Women Political Leaders Summit, the foremost gathering of female political leaders in the world, which took place earlier this month in Lithuania.
By Ramona Abdallah:
I grew up in South Lebanon, which can be a tough place for an aspiring feminist. But I was lucky. I had a very progressive father who believed in giving girls every bit as much opportunity as boys. Everywhere, he faced opposition and people were shocked that he let my sisters and me follow our dreams — but he did.
I could see that other women did not have such privileges, so I volunteered to support domestic violence victims. The laws are currently really unfair. Even if a man hurts his wife or daughters, he may go to prison for only a short time, if at all.
There is also discrimination in the workplace. I am trained as an architect, but, as I was going through school, I began to see that although more women were being educated as architects, they weren’t being hired when they got into the workforce. Maybe employers thought they could not supervise construction workers, who are still mainly men. So I started a group with friends called Architects for Change. Its main purpose is to focus on social integration in architecture. There are so many things architects can do besides designing buildings to make the urban life more livable. Since coming back from the G(irls)20, I’ve added another initiative to get women architects into the workforce, in part by helping them start their own firms.
At the WPL conference in Lithuania, I met lots of amazing people. What really excited me was meeting women members of parliament from other Arab countries. I went with the goal of wanting to make the political situation in Lebanon known to others. Only four percent of our parliament are women. This is partly because the system is not fair. Recently, a woman who was a journalist was elected. But then the authorities did a recount and said she hadn’t won the seat after all. It is really unjust how women politicians are targeted in my country.
I told the other women leaders and I think they were really shocked. Tunisia and Morocco have really progressive policies for women and I am hoping to connect them to the women in Lebanon. We have plans to work together moving forward.