Editor's note: NAYA’s Ministers' Series is devoted to spreading knowledge on the four women who broke the glass ceiling. They earned a seat at the table of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s January 2019 cabinet comprised of thirty members. As Annahar’s NAYA exclusively delves into the backgrounds of HE Rayya El Hassan, HE Nada Boustani-Khoury, HE Violette Khairallah Safadi, and HE Dr. May Chidiac, we learn who these women are, how they gained a seat at the table, and how we can pull up a chair for more women in the future. For further information you can contact NAYA Editor Sally Farhat: Sally.email@example.com
Since conducting this interview HE Minister of State for Economic Empowerment of Women and Youth Violette Khairallah-Safadi, and Prime Minister Saad Hariri have announced a comprehensive package of women’s rights law proposals to be introduced at a Parliamentary session scheduled for March 17, 2020. Parliament has pledged to discuss these issues. Some of the legal reform topics to be discussed are citizenship laws for women, child marriage laws, and sexual harassment in the workplace.
BEIRUT: Violette Khairallah-Safadi is the first woman Minister of State for Economic Empowerment of Women and Youth, and the second woman appointed to the Cabinet of Ministers by her relevant political party.
Her Excellency always wanted to receive her Master’s degree, but seemingly, life got in the way. That didn’t stop her, however.
"I have a background in Business, International Business Management, and I really wanted to do my Masters Degree, but I had my first son in 2005 and I was working full time. I never gave up, and I’m working on completing it now in International Affairs and Diplomacy," Khairallah-Safadi told Annahar.
During her pregnancy in 2006 she was tackling heart-wrenching topics in "Ossit 3ayle" ("A Family's Story" in English), a TV program that sat down with families and discussed how they dealt with one or more members being affected by diseases and hardships such cancer, down syndrome, violence, and autism.
"Journalism was a real passion for me, I’ve always wanted to pursue it. I had the chance to be part of LBCI for 9 years. In 2006 I was asked to host a program called 'Ossit 3ayle'," she said.
Through hosting this program Khairallah-Safadi crossed paths with many youth who were affiliated with drugs. All these children really needed was someone to believe in them, support, and love them, she explained.
Khairallah-Safadi made a career switch to MTV where she hosted a show that works with the private sector and members of Parliament called "Akeed Fina Sawa." She then shifted into the public sector and worked as a consultant in the Ministry of Economy and Trade between 2010 and 2011, and in the Ministry of Finance between 2011 and 2013.
Prior to her appointment as Minister in 2019, Khairallah-Safadi served as President of the Safadi Cultural Foundation and as Vice-President of Safadi Foundation.
Working in Media, NGOs, and both the private and public sectors, has given Khairallah-Safadi a dynamic insight into tackling complex societal issues from all angles.
"After spending all this time on the ground, I discovered I have this passion for working with women and youth. I’m very lucky that I was appointed to this ministry and that I am doing something that I love," she told Annahar.
On Motherhood in Office
Khairallah-Safadi’s determination and resilience is evident in her commitment to family, education, and leadership.
"I’m a mom, I’m serving as a minister, I have two children, and I’m currently working on completing my Masters Degree. You can do anything you put your mind into," Khairallah-Safadi said. "At the beginning it was really tough, especially when my children would say 'Mom we miss you, we want to see you more'."
Initially, her sons didn’t verbatim say “I’m proud of you, Mom.” However when an unnamed Instagram user posted a derogatory comment on one of her photos, her son responded in outrage defending his mom.
"I asked him to delete the comments, of course. A part of me was so proud that he was proud of me and willing to jump to my defense like that," Khairallah-Safadi told Annahar.
Her other son sent a message of praise in solidarity after seeing his mother on the ground with women and children in remote parts of Lebanon listening to their stories.
"He took a photo from TV and said 'Mom, do you realize you’re only 37?' My youngest, a few months after being appointed to the ministry, said 'Mom, I miss you I’m not seeing you as much as I used to, but I am very proud that we did this together'," she said. "They have to know that life is not easy so it’s a good lesson."
Khairallah-Safadi added that despite working incredibly hard, the path to good leadership is not always obvious upon self-reflection.
"Even if you're working extremely hard you ask yourself a lot of questions. Are you sure you’re delivering the right message? First to give them (Women and Youth) hope, and second to tell them 'just do it, I’m backing you up!'" she said.
On Women Empowerment
"If you want to empower women and you want to see more women in politics, more women on board, more women saying no to violence. It doesn’t mean women have to become more aggressive and have this active tension with men. We have to learn to co-exist with them, and change the mentality slowly and surely," Khairallah-Safadi told Annahar.
Minister of State for Economic Empowerment of Women and Youth Violette Khairallah-Safadi, believes whole-heartedly that gender equality is attainable, but we need to be patient and have a clear objective as a society.
"You can't change a culture quickly. By being assertive, having a plan, and having a clear objective, you have to have a focus...Do you know what focus is? It’s finishing one course of action one at a time until success," she said.
Despite Khairallah-Safadi wearing many hats, in what seems like an effortless fashion, she admits that time management is not as easy as it looks.
"I take it one day at a time. Time management is very important. However, even with the best time management ever, with the most supportive children ever, and with the most supportive husband ever, you will still struggle. Finding a work-life balance is difficult, but attainable with time," Khairallah-Safadi told Annahar.
Khairallah-Safadi accordingly stressed that your support system, or the absence thereof, can make or break you.
"If you don't have very strong backing from your partner and your children the challenges can break you very easily. Seeing a man that really believes in you can make all the difference. I wouldn’t be here without the support of my family," she said.
On Ministry Goals
The objectives of the Ministry of Economic Empowerment of Women and Youth are separated into four pillars.
"The first pillar focuses on having the right legal framework, the second pillar focuses on the private sector, specifically start-ups and entrepreneurship for women and youth. The third pillar focuses on accelerated vocational training, and the fourth pillar focuses on social responsibility," Khairallah-Safadi told Annahar.
Despite each pillar being equally important in fulfilling the objectives of the ministry, Khairallah-Safadi is especially passionate about working on social responsibility.
"Being responsible and giving back to society is a culture as well. Having the privileged youth helping other youth achieve their dreams? This is something - this is my favorite pillar," she said.
With high unemployment rates, a staggering brain drain issue, and the mismatch of supply and demand matching fresh graduates to jobs, Khairallah-Safadi is committed to improving the situations of Lebanese youth.
"You learn from them, (the youth) they have a lot to say," she added.
Welcome to “NAYA,” the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. NAYA is devoted to women of all generations. NAYA Editor, Sally Farhat: Sally.firstname.lastname@example.org
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