Lebanese mayor orders female police officers to wear shorts

Bethan McKernan
Many people have pointed out the shorts policy is discriminatory because men are not also expected to get their legs out at work: YouTube/BBC

Quiet, leafy Brummana is the centre of an unlikely row in Lebanon this summer, after the town’s mayor insisted that female police officers wear shorts as part of their seasonal uniform.

Pierre Achkar, who is also the president of the Lebanese Federation for Tourism, brought in the policy in June to “make a shock [sic] to attract the international media and to attract the local people and tourists to Brummana”, he told the BBC.

A team of around five young women has now joined the police force of the Christian town about 17km (11 miles) in the hills above Beirut as traffic wardens for the summer, wearing red berets, black T-shirts and black shorts.

While the initiative has certainly attracted attention, not all of it has been positive.

Mr Achkar’s decision to install “pretty” traffic wardens has sparked a debate in the national press and social media over what diverse, modern Lebanon should look like.

Many people have pointed out the shorts policy is discriminatory because men are not also expected to get their legs out at work.

Other critics have said the idea is offensive to more conservative elements of Lebanon’s mixed Christian and Muslim population.

“In trying to lure tourists, to ape the West, you are becoming the ape yourself”, one Twitter user wrote.

“Even women police officers in the West are smartly dressed, what’s the need to expose your women,” said another.

“Women’s bodies tend to be oversexualised and objectified everywhere, not just in Lebanon,” Saja Michael, gender and diversity technical advisor at gender equality charity Abaad, told The Independent.

“What a woman wears is of course her own choice. The issue here is it’s not necessarily her choice – it’s being made for female employees by powerful men.”

While women in Lebanon enjoy greater freedoms than in many Middle Eastern countries, they are still underrepresented in the workforce and in the public sector in particular. This year’s election only managed to bring the total of female MPs to six, up from four in 2009, despite the fact a record 89 women stood for the 126 seats available.

“In one sense, it’s good women are more visible in these public positions,” Ms Michael said.

“As an organisation that combats gender-based violence we would worry, however, the way this has been done could increase their exposure to street harassment and contribute to an unsafe work environment.”

The women – all in their early twenties and halfway through university degrees – do not seem too bothered by their uniform.

“I took this job because I always wear shorts, so I don’t have to change for work,” one joked.

Mayor Achkar says the shorts idea is part of a wider tourism-boosting initiative in Brummana, where branches of several popular Beirut restaurants and bars have opened this summer.

Residents have voiced concerns, however, over noise levels and road congestion – already a major problem across Lebanon, which lacks adequate public transport.

On a recent weekend hike in the hills above Brummana, The Independent noticed the new restaurant quarter was packed with families enjoying the sunshine.

Although the town’s main road was thronged with cars, there was not a traffic warden in sight – in shorts or otherwise.