March 20, 2010

LEBANON: Linda Matar honored for decades-long fight for women's rights

. BEIRUT, Lebanon / The Daily Star / Lebanon / March 20, 2010 By Evita Mouawad, Special to The Daily Star Linda Matar, one of Lebanon’s most influential women, was honored for her career of service in Lebanon and the Arab world, in a ceremony held by the League of Lebanese Women’s Rights. Matar has been president of the LLWR since 1953, the year Lebanese women finally obtained the right to vote. She has fought for women’s rights in Lebanon and the Arab world for the past half century, dedicating her life to this uneasy struggle. Her journey has been nothing short of extraordinary. Throughout the years, she presided over the Lebanese Council of Women from 1996 until 2000 and oversaw reforms that saw the group become a vocal element of local civil society. She was also a member of the Social Economic Council of Lebanon, a position that allowed her to be one of the most effective advocates for women’s rights in the country. Matar was a leading campaigner for rectifying the woefully low percentage of women in Parliament, running unsuccessfully for the legislature in 1996 and 2000. She has taken part in over 50 Arab and international conferences, including the UN conference on women in Mexico in 1975, and the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing. An array of public figures from Lebanon and the Arab world gathered at UNESCO Palace Thursday to honor Matar, who despite her long list of achievements, remains remarkably selfless. The event was presented by Aida Nasrallah Helwani, a close friend and colleague of Matar in the LLWR. First lady Wafaa Sleiman was joined by Dr. Hassan Musa, representing former Premier Salim Hoss, while representatives of women’s groups from Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Egypt and Cyprus were also on hand to support their long-time partner in the fight for women’s rights in the region. In his opening speech, Musa reminded the public that Matar was voted as one of the “100 Women Who are Moving the World” by the French magazine Marie Claire. “And she continues to change the world today,” he said. Matar had to leave school when she was 12 years old to work in a silk factory, an experience that opened her eyes to the injustices of Lebanese society at the time, especially toward female workers. Social Economic Council head Roger Nasnas stated that “despite growing up in difficult circumstances that didn’t allow her to pursue her high school education, Matar never gave up her fight for human rights and gender equality, because she didn’t want future generations to share the same fate.” Fadi Karam, the secretary of the National Commission for Lebanese Women, told the gathering that “if Lebanese women have come this far to being equal to Lebanese men, it is in great part because of Linda Matar and the women who have followed in her footsteps.” After the tributes, Matar thanked all the men and women who have contributed to her 57-year struggle for women. She humbly dedicated the award to her late husband and mother, who “both gave me all the tools I needed to persevere.” She thanked her children and apologized for her shortcomings as a mother who dedicated a big part of her life for the cause in which she passionately believed. She also paid tribute to Palestinian women who continue to fight for their rights everyday. “I dedicate this award to them in particular,” she said. [rc] Copyright © 2010, The Daily Star.