BEIRUT: There’s this collective sense of direction in young women, specially those in university. There’s a hunger for change, a desire to fill in the big seats. This is seen in the continuously increasing number of girls and young women becoming more involved in society.
And yet, women only make up 23.4 percent of the labor force in Lebanon, as opposed to 70.9 percent for men. Those numbers are from 2018, according to the Global Economy website.
The gravity of these numbers is not unfounded— there is a systemic problem within our society that needs systemic solutions in order to achieve gender parity. For instance, there are laws that Lebanon doesn’t have, but needs; laws against sexual harassment in the workplace, for example.
The topic of women in the labor force was discussed in a panel held by the Arab Institute for Women at the Lebanese American University, Beirut, on October 11.
Moderated by journalist and award-winner Anne-Marie El Hage, the panelists included: Canadian Ambassador to Lebanon Emmanuella Lamoureux, Minister of State for Economic Empowerment of Women and Youth Violette Safadi, and President of the National Commission for Lebanese Women Claudine Aoun Roukoz.
An issue that is abundant worldwide is gender pay gap— according to the 2018 Global Gender Gap Index, women earn 32 percent less than men for doing the same job. But in Lebanon, the very presence of women in the workforce is an issue. According to the Gender Profile conducted by the AiW, enrollment at university level is approximately at 50 percent, with a slightly higher number of females. And yet, significantly less women are found in the workforce, mostly after the age of 25. That’s also the average age of marriage for Lebanese women.
“We don’t have a care economy. Even if we did, you’ll notice when a young woman gets engaged or married, her boss becomes uncomfortable because he believes she’ll get more days off, and then maternity leave,” said Safadi.
The European Institute for Gender Equality defines care economy as "part of human activity, both material and social, that is concerned with the process of caring for the present and future labor force, and the human population as a whole, including the domestic provisioning of food, clothing, and shelter.”
As such, there’s a direct link between average marriage age and that of leaving the workforce— and that can be attributed to the lack of proper set-up and security for women in the labor market. Safadi’s points revolved around three necessary pillars for women in the workforce: a legal framework that protects women and their rights, including maternity leave and security in the job after; a financial support, or subsidies set for women to guarantee financial security; and a safe environment where a woman can feel comfortable when coming back to her job.
There will be a legislative session hosted by the government of Lebanon aimed at discussing necessary changes to the legal framework of the country.
Aside from working towards a more inclusive legislative, Lebanon recently endorsed the country’s first national action plan on the UN security council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security, according to El Hage. It was executed by the National Commission for Lebanese Women. However, as El Hage pointed in the discussion, although the country is moving in the right direction, it’s going very slowly.
The 1979 Convention of Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW, was the first international treaty aimed to protect women, issued by the UN’s General Assembly.
“Lebanon only joined the treaty in ’96, and there are limitations [to Lebanon’s participation] regarding the personal situations of women, like the right of women to give the nationality to their children,” said Aoun.
She added that the topics with most discrimination towards women are marriage, maternity, divorce, and heredity.
Several movements and action plans are being spearheaded by locals like the National Committee for Lebanese Women and the Ministry of Economic Empowerment of Women and Youth. In addition to the local, Canada plays a significant role in the fight against challenges for women, mainly though their feminist International Assistance Policy.
The Canadian Embassy partnered with the UNDP and Ministry of Interior and Justice to strengthen access to justice for women, and strengthen police forces. The embassy is also partnered with UNFPA in addressing women and girls’ rights and meeting their reproductive health needs. In addition, they’re involved with the Women and Livelihood Center as well, which ties back to the issue at the center: the role of women in the workforce.
“A lot of Lebanese girls have access to education, and to post secondary education, but there’s a wall when it comes to working,” said Lamoureux. “In fact, less than 30 percent of the Lebanese women are in the workforce, versus more than 70 percent of men.”
The embassy is partnered with Mashreq Gender Facility, which aims to support countries working towards increasing the number of women in the workforce. In fact, Canada is one of the top five donors in Lebanon for plans towards women in the workforce.
“Our role as a group is really to make sure that these issues are at the top of the agenda,” said Lamoureux. “What we have to remember is that those gender issues should be part of those other ‘bigger’ issues; when we talk about security, we should think about women as well, when we talk about economy, it involves women too.”
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: [email protected]
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