It is a wide-held belief that the army of a country is a reflection of its people. For almost four decades now, the Lebanese army has been an institute of merit and inclusion.
With four ladies holding ministerial offices in our cabinet, and another six serving as commercial pilots for the Lebanese Middle East Airlines, Lebanon has taken significant strides forward in gender profession equality and social justice.
But what politics and aerospace are just catching up to, our national army has been doing for years now.
Ever since the 80s, the Lebanese army has been a home for both its countrymen and countrywomen. Women have been officially serving as Privates for the Air Force and the Naval Forces by authority of a service memorandum issued by the LAF Commandant on the 9th of January 1990.
So far, most women serving in our armed forces have only occupied administrative or logistical roles. But all that is about to change.
When Army General and Commander Joseph Aoun was first appointed, he promised to deliver reforms in the structure and hierarchy of our army. Reinforcing the roles of women to achieve combat capacities was among his top priorities.
Officially, women have been deemed incapable to work on the front line, but things are looking up. Pun intended.
The BBC recently wrote a feature about Lebanon’s gutsy ladies. Out of six female applicants to our Air Force Program, two women have just passed the rigorous examination. They have been deemed fit to serve as lieutenants! These two badass ladies are making headlines and breaking stereotypes in the region.
Meet 1st Lieutenant Chantal Kallas, 27, who wanted to be a pilot ever since she was a little girl.
Chantal had to fight through gender biases and societal prejudices to reach her dream. She put her head down and persisted.
According to Chantal, “everyone in the air force is helping us and encouraging us to fulfill our ambition, and this is why perceptions are changing, and men have become more accepting of women in combat positions and in emancipating women in society.”
Glad to see all that hard work paying off!
1st Lieutenant Rita Zaher, aged 26, was also met with resistance when she first decided to join the armed forces.
While many social attitudes and mindsets towards women in Lebanon are shifting, some traditional minorities still consider the armed forces “a man’s job.”
As such, Rita had to first learn how to maneuver her way around those prejudices before learning how to maneuver her aircraft through combat-fire. An equally challenging task, some might say.
24-year-old Manar Eskandar is a sergeant and the first female mechanic in the air force. When Manar first started out, she was often treated with pity and sympathetic indulgence.
Months later, however, Manar proved herself more than worthy of her position. She can be heard joking about the perks of her situation, “I have small hands so sometimes I can do things they [men] can’t, like reaching into areas of the engine they can’t.”
Lebanese women have been excelling in all domains of human life. We have successfully traversed through the worlds of business, fashion, politics and the arts.
Fingers-crossed, this development is one of many in the path of Lebanon towards female empowerment and gender equality!