Lebanon has appointed the Arab world’s first female interior minister in its new government, prising open a wider foothold for women in its overwhelmingly male political scene. Raya Al-Hassan is one of four women to take Cabinet jobs in the new coalition, more than ever before in Lebanon and three more than in the last government, in which even the minister for women was a man. Though Hassan has already held top jobs — including finance minister in 2009-2011 — her appointment to a portfolio managing security was hailed as a step forward for women in Lebanese politics. “This is a point of pride for all women and all the people who believe in women’s capabilities,” Hassan said. “There are a lot of female interior and defense ministers in the world and they have proved their efficiency. It might be a new phenomenon for Lebanon and Arab countries, but hopefully it will be repeated and not be unique,” she added. The three other women in the 30-strong Cabinet are in charge of energy, administrative development and the economic empowerment of women and young people. Though Lebanon is widely held to be liberal by regional standards, with women playing a prominent role in public life, some of its laws continue to uphold a patriarchal social code. Many of Lebanon’s civil laws, including personal status matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance, are applied according to religious sect and in some cases treats women differently than men. Lebanon has 17 recognized Muslim and Christian sects. In 2017 the Parliament abolished an old law that absolved rapists if they married their victims. But marital rape and child marriage are still legal. Published in Daily Times, February 19th 2019.