Raya Al Hassan has shaken up the ministry much to the liking of the Lebanese people. During her brief three-month tenure in the job, Lebanon’s Interior Minister Raya Al Hassan has broken one record after another, earning her an overnight army of admirers—and critics. Ten years ago, she was appointed as the country’s first finance minister, and now, as the region’s first female interior minister. A graduate of the American University of Beirut (AUB), Al Hassan is a member of Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri’s Future Movement.

Tearing Down Roadblocks

Al Hassan, 52, kicked off by tearing down concrete walls draped with barbed wire, surrounding her ministry at the Sanayeh neighbourhood in Ras Beirut. They were unnecessary, she claimed, creating traffic congestion and feelings of danger among residents of Beirut—a feeling that top officials were afraid and corroding themselves behind high fortified walls. They had been erected by her predecessor Nouhad Machnouk, a fellow party member in Hariri’s Future Movement. She then dismantled the roadblocks surrounding the home of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a ranking member of the rival March 8 Coalition. Eating up a large area of the posh residential Ramla Al Baydah neighbourhood, they had been erected five years ago, when Daesh, carried out a series of terrorist attacks within Lebanon.

Al Hassan was sending a powerful message to all heavyweights in the complex web of Lebanese politics, saying that she would spare neither Sunnis nor her own party nor Shiites of rival factions. She is now planning a visit to Dahiyeh, the Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut—previously off-limits for the interior ministry—making sure that its leaders also comply with her orders. “Removing these blockades, which serve little purpose today and create a false sense of insecurity have been roundly met with praise,” said prominent Lebanese journalist Timour Azhari of The Daily Star.

Her actions, he said, are seen as moving away from the security-centric policy that defined her predecessor’s term. Al Hassan’s self-stated intention, he said to Gulf News, was to “improve the relationship between the people and the state.”

Airport and Border Security

Travelers landing at Rafik Hariri Airport have said that officials are showing far greater efficiency since Al Hassan took over on January 30, 2019.

“It took me 20 minutes to pass through passport control, get my luggage, and leave the airport” said Christian Mansour, a Montreal-based Syrian dentist.

“It’s never been as easy and quick as it was now, and the Lebanese border officials have never been as welcoming. All of them wear big smiles across their faces.”

“We, as Syrian expatriates of tourists used to feel unwelcome in Lebanon,” added Ramez Dassouki, a Syrian student living in Brussels who uses Rafik Hariri Airport to reach Damascus because international flights don’t land in his city anymore. “They used to throw our passports around and snap at us, although we are neither asylum seekers nor refugees. This time, it was very different. They were extremely polite.”

This month, Al Hassan announced that twelve additional passport control counters will be opened by June 2019, in order to further help passengers, increasing their number from 22 to 34.

Civil Marriage

Last February, Al Hassan caused more waves by saying she supports the idea of civil marriage—a highly controversial topic that has been on the table of Lebanese lawmakers since the 1950s. Civil marriage is not available and people must be married through their respective religious affairs ministries. None of them agreed to take any action, fearing backlash from the country’s numerous religious communities.

“I personally prefer if there was a framework for civil marriage” said Al Hassan, adding: “This is something that I will try to open room for serious and deep discussion.”

“The Future Movement sometimes likes to put forward a more modern image,” said Mona Sukkarieh, co-founder of Middle East Strategic Perspectives, a Beirut-based political risk consultancy.

Speaking to Gulf News, she added: “This could go as far as floating ideas that could be perceived as too bold or too liberal by its largely conservative base.”

But on previous occasions, “it rarely had the courage to go all the way and challenge its conservative base and the religious establishment. It usually tends to put such plans on hold when the situation becomes critical, leaving the more liberal segments of society with a sense of unfinished business.”

“It is unlikely that this time around is going to be different,” she said.

Al Hassan has only “rekindled” the debate on civil marriage, said Azhari, without committing herself to registering civil unions “a power which she could exercise.”

“Here I believe Al Hassan will have to balance her reformist tendencies with her position as a top government official from the Future Movement Party, which seeks to represent Lebanon’s Sunnis. I think that ultimately she may choose not to push for civil marriage given the uproar it would cause from the Sunni religious establishment.”

While many Lebanese are happy with Al Hassan’s actions thus far, some say it is still too early to judge her.

Recent measures were a “good step” but more needed to be done, Wala Harb, an instructor at the Lebanese American University (LAU) told Gulf News.

“She should work on giving Lebanese women the right to give the nationality to their children, or for example, or apply laws regarding the violence that women are exposed to or improve their state in marriages and give them the maternity rights.”

Source: Gulf News

Lawmakers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, on Wednesday elected Jeanine Mabunda as head of the national assembly. Mabunda was the only candidate fielded for the position after her main opponent, Henri Thomas Lokondo, was disqualified. The main opposition boycotted the process citing political manoeuvering. The new speaker belongs to the Common Forum for Congo, FCC coalition, which is led by former president Joseph Kabila. She also got the backing of president Tshisekedi’s CACH coalition. She becomes the first woman to occupy the top legislative seat. She is the sixth substantive speaker and takes over from Aubin Minaku – speaker between 2012 – 2019.

“It is done!” she said in a tweet after she was duly elected. She had earlier in her address to lawmakers promised to work with all parts of the legislative chamber in the interest of citizens. Among other roles, she has served as Minister of Industry and advisor in the fight against sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers under Kabila’s presidency. She is also leader of the women’s league in Kabila’s party, the PPRD.

The lawmakers – 500 in total – had gathered since Wednesday morning to elect the president of the National Assembly. Jeanine Mabunda, who formerly chaired the Industry Promotion Fund (FPI), takes the role whiles she will be deputized by the ruling UDPS’s Jean-Marc Kabund. With the election of a leader for the National Assembly, the next important step being awaited is the nomination of a Prime Minister for the country, four months into Tshisekedi’s presidency.

The main opposition led by the Lamuka coalition had decided to boycott the vote to protest against the “majority coalition” which involves the supporters of President Felix Tshisekedi and his predecessor Joseph Kabila.

Lamuka’s candidate in the December 2018 polls, Martin Fayulu, still insists that he is the rightful winner of the first post-Kabila polls. He is widely regarded as having won the vote but a poll petition he filed was dismissed by the courts.

Source: Africa news

Mauritius is currently holding a Gender mainstreaming workshop, focusing on empowering women through cooperatives at the National Cooperative College.

Gender mainstreaming conform to the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Council formally defined concept, “Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels.”

During his workshop opening speech earlier today, Minister of Business, Enterprise and Cooperatives, Soomilduth Bholah, lauded the contribution of women to the country’s economic development. He reaffirmed the government’s commitment to promote economic empowerment of women, while encouraging development and growth of women entrepreneurs. He noted that several measures and incentives have been put in place to support cooperatives.

“According to Statistics Mauritius, women make up more than 50 percent of the country’s population compared to the male population,” said Bholah, adding there are only 75 women cooperative societies. He encouraged women to fully tap their potential and avail themselves for schemes and incentives provided by government to become entrepreneurs and set up cooperative societies.

“One of the latest schemes pertains to the grant of financial assistance by the Development Bank of Mauritius ,by way of no guarantee loans up to a ceiling at a fixed interest rate of three percent to assist women to start a business.”

The Minister further pointed out that the Mauritius Women Entrepreneur Cooperative Federation Ltd, acts as a facilitator in helping women to improve their skills and aptitudes in entrepreneurship and encouraging women to engage in the cooperative movement in Mauritius.

Source: African Daily Voice

British couples will be able to include their mothers’ names on their marriage certificate under a change in law hailed as a step forward for women’s rights on Wednesday.

Church of England leaders also praised the change, which passed into law this week, saying the previous system demeaned women and was out of step with modern times.

Previously, marriage certificates in England and Wales only included space for fathers’ names.

“We have finally achieved tangible progress towards the equal treatment of both parents,” said the Bishop of St Albans in a joint statement with Caroline Spelman, a lawmaker who works closely with the church and had campaigned for the change.

“Only fathers’ names were formerly recorded when marriages were registered, a custom unchanged since 1837,” she said.

“This clear and historic injustice reflected the time when children and wives were considered property of men and it is high time for this to be corrected.”

The system had long attracted protest from women’s rights activists, who said it symbolised a system that treated women as second class citizens.

“A country’s laws set the tone for how it treats its people,” said Niki Kandirikirira, the head of programmes at women’s rights group Equality Now.

“Something like this may seem like a small legal inequality but in reality it is part of a much wider pattern of inequality rooted in patriarchy and discrimination against women.”

The new act will also open up civil partnerships – previously only open to same-sex couples – to heterosexual couples by the end of the year.

That move followed pressure from some women who felt that traditional marriage had patriarchal connotations.

“We have achieved equality for all couples in relationships,” said Martin Loat, the chairman of Equal Civil Partnerships, in a statement.


U.S. Ambassador Stephanie S. Sullivan honored Ms. Stella Saaka, from the Talensi district in the Upper East Region, with the U.S. Embassy’s 2019 Ghana Woman of Courage Award during a breakfast ceremony hosted at the Ambassador’s residence. Like the U.S. Secretary of State’s annual International Women of Courage Award, this award recognizes a Ghanaian woman whose efforts have exemplified exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for human rights, women’s equality, and social progress, often at great personal risk.

The Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Cynthia Morrison, attended the event, as did Chiefs of Mission and High Commissioners or their representatives from 16 diplomatic missions.  

The International Women of Courage Award is the only Department of State award that pays tribute to emerging women leaders worldwide, in the manner that the U.S. Embassy’s Woman of Courage Award recognizes emerging women leaders in Ghana.

Stella Saaka is a powerful force for women’s rights in the Talensi District in northern Ghana. She is the Regional Organizing Secretary for the Women in Agricultural Platforms (WAPs), a key component of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Northern Ghana Governance Activity. In addition to spearheading agricultural income-generating activities for women, Ms. Saaka continues to break barriers in the male-dominated political and traditional authority system prevalent in northern Ghana, convincing the Talensi political leadership to include women in the district’s development and decision-making process.

While presenting the award to Ms. Saaka, Ambassador Sullivan said; “Stella’s actions actively empower the women in her community by helping them to access productive resources and to ensure their voices are heard by decision makers. Her students call her a role model and the women she represents call her a woman of courage. I hope that all Ghanaian women and girls learn about her story, so they can craft their own journey to make a difference.”

Accepting her award, Ms. Saaka said, “I am happy that my work with women in rural Talensi has been recognized by the U.S. Mission in Ghana. I dedicate this award to all my hard working women in Talensi and to all women working hard to empower themselves economically to take care of their families and homes in Ghana.” In describing her approach to working with the local authorities on behalf of women, Stella said, “I come in peace but I mean business.”

Ms. Saaka has distinguished herself among USAID’s Northern Ghana Governance Activity participants, who aim to address the broad issue of access to land in one of the most densely populated districts in the region per square area. Foreseeing an opportunity for women to gain access to land, she was the only woman who successfully addressed long-held traditional customs by involving local chiefs and generating the conversation on why it is important for women to have access to land to generate economic development. This is significant because land tenure consists of a layered system of traditional tribal ownership that has historically disenfranchised women.

Ms. Saaka’s determination and persistence were rewarded when the Chief of Tongo allocated 29 acres of land to 30 women in the district. She and the women started working on post-harvest processing and income-generating activities with sweet potatoes, peanuts, and other agricultural products. Ms. Saaka started processing sweet potatoes in 2014, and the women use the income they generate to support their children’s education. As a means of alternative income generation, they produce a range of products from the orange sweet potato, including drinks, snacks, and flour for making pastries. Due to these efforts, more women are finding ways to contribute to the economy in the district, which has led to a decrease in female migration during the dry season.

Another area where Ms. Saaka stands out is in her civic engagement. Specifically, she convinced the Talensi traditional leadership to include women in the district’s development and decision-making process. As a result, she and her WAP colleagues represent their district at the assembly’s Medium Term Development Planning sessions, which affords these women an opportunity to contribute to their own advancement. Because of their advocacy, the district assembly and traditional and political authorities have now prioritized land tenure security for women, the provision of a tractor for women, and training for female tractor operators.

Ms. Stella Saaka wears many hats in her community: she is a mother, a teacher, an entrepreneur, a women’s leader, and a community icon. Her lifetime achievements exemplified by her resilience and courage set an example for all Ghanaians, especially women and girls.

Source: Africanews

China will continue to support UNESCO in empowering more women and children to embrace a brighter future via platforms created by the development of the Belt and Road, said Peng Liyuan, wife of President Xi Jinping.

Peng, UNESCO special envoy for the advancement of girls’ and women’s education, made the remark at a special session on girls’ and women’s education held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris on Tuesday. She was accompanying Xi on a state visit to France.

Peng said promoting education of girls and women is a lofty cause that deserves attention, support and dedication from more people.

After some laureates of the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education gave brief remarks on their understanding and promotion of the undertaking, Peng said she appreciated the efforts made by the United Nations body and the prizewinners.

In discussing her work in this field over the past five years, Peng referred to the Spring Bud Project, a program launched by China Children and Teenagers’ Fund to both help female school dropouts return to the classroom as well as improve teaching conditions in impoverished areas.

Knowledge and skills are two great forces that can change the lives of women, and with equal and quality education, they all have the opportunity to be outstanding, she added.

In the meeting with UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay before the special session, Peng said China firmly supports the UN body and her work, and she hopes China and UNESCO will continue to deepen cooperation to jointly promote world peace and prosperity as well as the progress of human civilization.

Azoulay said that China has made great achievements in the past 70 years, including progress in the development of education and women’s rights.

UNESCO highly values the cooperation with China and the support from China is of great importance under current circumstances, she said.

In an interview with Xinhua News Agency, Azoulay spoke highly of Peng as a UNESCO special envoy.

“Peng is particularly committed to the central role of teachers in gender equality,” Azoulay said, adding that UNESCO appreciates the contribution of Peng to educating girls and women, as well as the long-term partnership with China in helping ensure that access to quality education for all becomes a reality.

Peng was nominated as a UNESCO special envoy on March 27, 2014. Since then, Peng has worked closely with UNESCO to promote equal rights for women in education, self-development and in achieving success, Azoulay said.

Supported by the Chinese government, the UNESCO prize directly contributes to the attainment of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those dealing with education and gender equality.

Source: China Daily

The Pennsylvania Commission for Women held a Female Veterans Day ceremony yesterday in which two Lebanon County women were among those recognized for their military service and selfless sacrifice to Pennsylvania and the nation.

Dana Boyer and Danielle Watkins were among the sixteen women total recognized, given Lebanon County an unusually high percentage of the overall list. (Needless to say, it helps that Fort Indiantown Gap lies within the County, the nation’s busiest National Guard training site.)

“The 16 women who we honor today represent the patriotism and commitment to country that more than 60,000 Pennsylvania female veterans have demonstrated through their military service,” said Maj. Gen. Tony Carrelli, Pennsylvania’s adjutant general and head of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

Dana Boyer

“Major Dana Boyer enlisted as a private in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in 1996. In 2004, she commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Quartermaster Corp. She deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Upon her return home, she was selected to be the commander for the 131st Transportation Company, which she led in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. As a result of her deployment to Afghanistan and the loss of three fellow soldiers, Major Boyer is currently organizing to have a Fallen Hero Memorial built at Fort Indiantown Gap, slated to break ground this spring.”

Danielle Watkins

“Chief Warrant Officer 3 Danielle Watkins enlisted in the Pennsylvania National Guard in March 2001 while attending nursing school, and was assigned to the 131st Transportation Company as a tractor trailer driver. In 2003, she deployed to Kuwait and Iraq. Upon graduating from nursing school, Danielle became employed with the Lebanon VA Medical Center and worked on a medical-surgical unit. She was then selected to serve as the nurse case manager on the Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom Team, and was responsible for care coordination and outreach for returning veterans. After nine years of enlisted service, Danielle attended Warrant Officer Candidate School and Army Rotary Wing Aviation School – and went on to become a Blackhawk pilot. She deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. She continues to serve, and is currently on a military leave of absence from the VA, serving an AGR tour at Fort Indiantown Gap.”