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Cablegate: Lebanon: Former U.S. Ambassador Swanee Hunt Encourages

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RR RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHKUK RUEHLZ RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #0929/01 1771410
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 251410Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2324
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 000929

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/ELA, NEA/PI, S/WE AMB SHIRIN TAHIR-KHELI
NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/YERGER/DEMOPOLOUS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV SOCI LE
SUBJECT: LEBANON: FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR SWANEE HUNT ENCOURAGES
LEBANESE WOMEN TO ENTER THE POLITICAL ARENA

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) In a visit to Beirut, former U.S. Ambassador and Harvard
University John F. Kennedy school professor, Swane Hunt, met with a
cross-section of talented andsuccessful Lebanese women active in
business, civil society and politics. Although she recognized the
importance of the current role of Lebanese women in all fields, she
stressed the need to increase women's presence in the political
arena and encouraged Lebanese women to run for office. Immediately
after meeting and listening to Hunt's empowering lectures, several
Lebanese women began putting her message into concrete ideas for
action. End Summary.

HUNT MEETS WITH LEBANESE WOMEN ACTIVE IN
BUSINESS, POLITICS, AND CIVIL SOCIETY
--------------------

2. (SBU) During her brief visit to Beirut on June 19-21, former U.S.
Ambassador Swanee Hunt met with a number of Lebanese women active in
business, politics, and civil society. This included participants
of the upcoming MEPI Women Political Leaders program and other
MEPI-funded programs, the State Department co-sponsored 2007 Women
in Business Summit, FORTUNE/State Department/Vital Voices mentorship
program, as well as members of the Legal and Business Fellowship
Program (LBFP), and local organizations such as the Lebanese League
of Women in Business (LLWB), and the Arab Women's Legal Network
(AWLN) Lebanon Hub. (Note: Some LLWB and AWLN members have attended
USG-sponsored training. End note.) All the participants were
impressed by Hunt's wide-ranging experience as a diplomat,
professor, politician, prolific writer, composer, photographer,
specialist in women's issues, and advocate for social change, gender
parity, and the alleviation of poverty.

"LET WOMEN RULE" IS MAIN
FOCUS OF HUNT'S MESSAGE
--------------------

3. (SBU) Throughout the day on June 20, Hunt combined a formal
presentation entitled "Let Women Rule," which she presented at the
Lebanese American University's (LAU) Women Studies' Department, with
informal talks and conversations at a coffee discussion event hosted
by Charge Sison and a lunch that gathered around 25 prominent
Lebanese business women. At each event, Hunt highlighted the
importance and need for greater female involvement in society and
gave a number of examples from her own experience showing how the
role of women had improved outcomes, for example in conflict
resolution.

4. (SBU) However, Hunt's main message revolved around the minimal
female presence in world politics, the reasons that pushed women
away from politics and more into civil society and NGO work, and
ways to encourage greater female involvement in the political arena.
Regarding the specific case of Lebanon, some women raised the need
to amend existing legislation that discriminates against women (such
as the inability of Lebanese mothers to grant Lebanese citizenship
to their children) and ways to impact mostly male legislators. Hunt
reasserted that such laws cannot be properly amended unless women
participated in public policy making, thus the need to get a greater
number of women elected to parliament.

5. (SBU) Regarding the current debate on electoral reform in Lebanon
and the proposed electoral quota for women, Hunt mentioned that 97
countries in the world have a gender quota for parliamentary
elections. And although she echoed many women's opposition to such
a quota, including Lebanese women, Hunt pointed out that there is no
country with more than 25 percent female participation in parliament
that does not have a gender quota. Therefore, Hunt strongly
encouraged Lebanese women to run for office and to create groups in
support of these candidates.

6. (U) Hunt further emphasized her message during an exclusive
interview with English-language newspaper The Daily Star on June 20.
In it, Hunt expressed her optimism that gender reform in Lebanon
could be brought about by even a small number of organized women.
She called on women to "force" their way into the political system,
because the system will not welcome them in.

OTHER WAYS OF EMPOWERING
WOMEN ALSO DISCUSSED
--------------------

7. (SBU) Hunt also discussed other areas for empowering women,

BEIRUT 00000929 002 OF 002


including ways for Lebanese women to get a better education, thus
increasing and improving job opportunities, which would in turn
allow greater female autonomy. She encouraged women to always aim
high, whatever their objective, warning that they would "run out of
time" if they waited for the political and societal environment to
change before taking action. She also recommended that women send a
flow of editorials on a daily basis to create public awareness of
the positive impact of women in parliament and gain support for
fundraising and votes.

NEW SENSE OF EMPOWERMENT IMMEDIATELY
TRANSLATED INTO CONCRETE IDEAS FOR ACTION
--------------------

8. (SBU) Immediately after meeting with Hunt at the Charge's
residence, one of the participants submitted a draft proposal for
the group to form a "women's coalition" to empower women in
politics. One of its first objectives would be to call for a 53
percent women quota in the voting ballot.

9. (SBU) Meanwhile, the most recent participant of the 2008
FORTUNE/State Department/Vital Voices mentorship program told us
that she was planning to set up a Middle East Mentoring program, an
NGO that would tap top women managers and university graduates in
the Middle East and match the latter for training with top women
managers.

COMMENT
-------

10. (SBU) Hunt's visit helped draw attention to the important role
that Lebanese women already play in society, while motivating them
to do more, as demonstrated by the immediate and overwhelmingly
positive reaction to her presentations. Embassy has already
followed up by setting up an e-mail exchange with the participants,
and will continue to reach out to them in an effort to promote more
political activism from a potentially very powerful group of
prominent Lebanese women.

SISON

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