Le­banese women and the dy­nam­ics of change


Women are of­ten dy­namic lead­ers of change, and nowa­days they are be­com­ing more no­ticed for their ex­tra­or­di­nary achieve­ments and the vi­tal roles they are play­ing on dif­fer­ent lev­els.

How­ever, all over the world women are un­der­rep­re­sented in de­ci­sion-mak­ing po­si­tions, mainly in pol­i­tics, even though the sit­u­a­tion varies among coun­tries. The causes for un­der­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in de­ci­sion-mak­ing po­si­tions are mul­ti­ple and com­plex. Ac­cord­ingly, a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach is needed to tackle this hur­dle, which stems mainly from tra­di­tional gen­der roles, lack of sup­port for women in bal­anced care re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and the pre­vail­ing po­lit­i­cal cul­ture.

As per data com­piled by the In­ter-Par­lia­men­tary Union in De­cem­ber 2016, 23 per­cent is the global per­cent­age of women par­lia­men­tar­i­ans in na­tional par­lia­ments com­pared to 11 per­cent in 1995. While women have achieved progress in many ar­eas, if gen­der par­ity in gov­ern­ments, Par­lia­ments or peace ta­bles will main­tain its cur­rent pace, it will not be­come a re­al­ity be­fore the next cen­tury.

En­sur­ing gen­der par­ity in de­ci­sion-mak­ing and equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion in po­si­tions of power and lead­er­ship are strate­gic pri­or­i­ties for global devel­op­ment. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res, the ninth male U.N. chief, ap­pointed three women in top po­si­tions push­ing for his gen­der par­ity agenda.

He said, “Th­ese ap­point­ments are the foun­da­tion of my team, which I will con­tinue to build, re­spect­ing my pledges on gen­der par­ity and ge­o­graphic di­ver­sity.”

He ap­pointed Amina Mo­hammed from Nige­ria as U.N. deputy sec­re­tary, a post es­tab­lished as part of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s re­form in 1997, to help man­age sec­re­tariat op­er­a­tions, en­sure co­her­ence of pro­grams and eval­u­ate the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s lead­er­ship in eco­nomic and so­cial scopes.

Ms. Mo­hammed, who has been serv­ing as an en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter in her coun­try, was also an ad­viser for post-2015 devel­op­ment plan­ning. The other two ap­pointees are the Brazil­ian diplo­mat Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti as Chef de Cab­i­net and Kang Kyung-wha from South Korea as a spe­cial ad­viser on pol­icy, a newly cre­ated post. The three highly qual­i­fied women among oth­ers in key de­ci­sion-mak­ing po­si­tions will sup­port the sec­re­tary-gen­eral in break­ing the glass ceil­ing to­ward more gen­der eq­uity and equal­ity.

On the na­tional level, Le­banese women won the right to vote and stand for elec­tions in the ’50’s. Univer­sity doors were opened to Le­banese women prior to many other coun­tries in the re­gion. Beirut, which was the first me­dia cap­i­tal in the Arab re­gion, pro­vided op­por­tu­ni­ties for women to en­ter a ten­den­tiously male-dom­i­nant field at that time.

How­ever, Le­banese women re­main largely un­der­rep­re­sented in pol­i­tics and de­ci­sion-mak­ing po­si­tions at both na­tional and lo­cal lev­els.

Lately, Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri and his new Cab­i­net put the is­sue of women high on the po­lit­i­cal agenda. The for­ma­tion of the first Women Af­fairs Min­istry in Le­banon is a pos­i­tive ini­tia­tive rep­re­sent­ing the in­ter­ests, chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties of women in our so­ci­ety and a first step to­ward gen­der par­ity in de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Hav­ing a male fig­ure head­ing the newly es­tab­lished min­istry cre­ated a plat­form of crit­ics among the pub­lic opin­ion. How­ever, it is the ap­proach that counts and still it will be con­sid­ered a mile­stone in the his­tory of women in Le­banon.

Con­tin­u­ing his sup­port to this cause, Hariri, who re­gret­ted the un­der­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in po­lit­i­cal life, re­cently de­clared that he would not par­tic­i­pate in elec­tions that do not sup­port women rep­re­sen­ta­tion. He promised to in­clude a women’s quota in the up­com­ing elec­tions in sup­port of pro­mot­ing women’s po­lit­i­cal role that will drive a dra­matic num­ber of women lead­ers in Le­banon as it had in many coun­tries.

The ques­tion to be raised is how can the newly es­tab­lished Women Af­fairs Min­istry sup­port women to achieve higher po­lit­i­cal and se­nior de­ci­sion­mak­ing posts in both pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors? Dis­cus­sions should take place along its man­date, mis­sion, vi­sion, ob­jec­tives and tar­gets. The cross­cut­ting theme “Gen­der” should be il­lus­trated in a mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary ap­proach where gen­der and women is­sues are part of every topic and each min­istry in Le­banon.

“One num­ber is bet­ter than thou­sand words.” From here, work should start by fo­cus­ing on col­lect­ing, an­a­lyz­ing and dis­sem­i­nat­ing data, trends and in­for­ma­tion. A database on women and men in de­ci­sion-mak­ing that pro­vides upto-date fig­ures in pol­i­tics, pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tions, ju­di­ciary, busi­ness, me­dia and fi­nance must be nec­es­sar­ily de­vel­oped, in ad­di­tion to re­view­ing trends of women’s progress over the last two decades, search­ing for the break­ing records, good prac­tices and lessons learned.

The Cen­tral Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Sta­tis­tics in Le­banon shows women rep­re­sent 29 per­cent of the to­tal la­bor force in Le­banon. Women eco­nomic par­tic­i­pa­tion has 48 per­cent con­cen­tra­tion in the age in­ter­val of 20-29 years old and 51.9 per­cent con­cen­tra­tion into the age in­ter­val of 30-39 years old. 78 per­cent of work­ing women work on a monthly ba­sis and 12.2 per­cent are self-em­ployed which is half the per­cent­age of man in the same cat­e­gory. There is no avail­able data on women busi­ness own­ers, but 29.7 per­cent of work­ing women fall un­der the cat­e­gory of un­skilled la­bor which is more than twice the per­cent­age men in the same cat­e­gory.

Al­most 48.1 per­cent of women are work­ing within or­ga­ni­za­tions (4.9 per­cent in se­nior man­age­ment, 16.1 per­cent spe­cial­ist, 14.9 per­cent mid-level pro­fes­sion­als and 12.2 per­cent ad­min­is­tra­tive em­ploy­ees). Around 42 per­cent of work­ing women hold univer­sity de­grees ver­sus 21.6 per­cent for work­ing men.

De­spite the fact that women are sig­nif­i­cantly un­der­rep­re­sented in the la­bor mar­ket, women rep­re­sent the ma­jor­ity of the univer­sity-ed­u­cated la­bor in the mar­ket ac­count­ing for 50.5 per­cent of the to­tal.

This re­al­ity rep­re­sented by the avail­able data once com­pleted would help in draw­ing the present sta­tus of women in­di­cat­ing gen­der gaps and sup­port­ing build­ing a na­tional agenda for gen­der par­ity in Le­banon. Ask­ing good ques­tions would help point out the prob­lems and ex­pec­ta­tions and fa­cil­i­tate a bet­ter re­flec­tion and learn­ing process.

This will also an­swer crit­i­cal ques­tions such as: How can women in Le­banon break the glass ceil­ing of par­tic­i­pa­tion, rep­re­sen­ta­tion and lead­er­ship?

Can we de­velop al­ter­na­tive routes to in­flu­ence women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in power struc­tures and de­ci­sion-mak­ing? Are we able to iden­tify the fac­tors that en­hance or hin­der women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion and par­tic­i­pa­tion? How can we do things bet­ter?

Ru­bina Abu Zeinab–Chahine is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Hariri Foun­da­tion for Sus­tain­able Hu­man Devel­op­ment.

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