From a simple determined dream to societal feminist activism

It is common knowledge that most women who serve in the Lebanese armed forces in fact work in administrative or logistical roles. However, we have been seeing a major change during the last decade. As reported by the BBC News this month, the Lebanese armed forces top commander, General Joseph Aoun has made clear that one of his top priorities is to empower women in Lebanon by advocating change that will get them into combat roles.

1st Lieutenant Chantal Kallas and 1st Lieutenant Rita Zaher are among the female pioneers to challenge social pressure and cultural norms by pursuing their dreams. Often, women in Lebanon are seen as inferior to men. Very few women have applied to be pilots in the air force, and only Kallas and Zaher qualified, serving as a model for other women in Lebanon to follow.

Photo: Rita says she met resistance when she first decided to join the armed forces, with many seeing her as “taking a man’s job”.

Lebanon remains, to some extent, a male-centered society where women continue to face legislative discrimination such as the inability to pass on citizenship to their children. However, inroads into the gender prejudice are gradually being made by the army, largely perceived as a bastion of masculinity. Female integration in the army is much more accepted than it was a decade ago.

It was not until 2010 that the army gave women parity with men except in combat. According to Kallas, women have come a long way – perceptions have changed and Lebanese men have become more welcoming, even encouraging women in combat positions and emancipating women in society.

Kallas and Zaher show us that activism doesn’t always need to take the form of a protest or to uphold its demands in violence. Social activism in the case of Kallas and Zaher meant unreluctantly and trail-blazingly chasing their dreams, outshining the power of societal shakles of female behaviour and breaking the chains of cultural repression. Women serving as soldiers is in fact promoting female rights in general, and already many more women are motivated to join the Lebanese armed forces.

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