International Women’s Day is a time to commemorate women’s rights, a time to celebrate women’s achievements and a time to take stock of the progress made towards gender equality. But more importantly, it is a time to reflect on our shortcomings, and recommit to working towards a more gender-balanced, equal and empowered world.
Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable society. Together with 192 other nations, Lebanon committed in 2015 to the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development – and as part of this agenda, to achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. Yet we are still far from achieving this goal.
Legislative frameworks in Lebanon have so far significantly hindered women’s access to equal economic rights. Ownership of property is mainly registered on behalf of men. Women have limited opportunities to receive their shares of inherited lands, which hinders their ability to have access to loans and therefore investment opportunities. Personal status laws often do not recognize the concept of marital property, nor do they recognize the value of unpaid domestic work. The Lebanese labour law prevents women from working in certain fields considered too hazardous or difficult, such as mining, welding, alcohol production or in slaughterhouses. As a result of gender discrimination, women often secure lower-paying jobs and many end up in unsafe working environments. According to the World Bank, only 25% of women participated in the labour force in 2017. Women remain significantly underrepresented in the areas of science, technology, and engineering. Sadly, steps ahead in education do not translate to economic empowerment and political empowerment.
No wonder Lebanon is ranked 140th on the 2018 Global Gender Gap Index. The journey to equality is long and unless bold measures are taken, it will take generations. And that time is no longer available if we are to achieve the ambitious 2030 Agenda and its 17 sustainable development goals leaving no one behind.
“Think equal, build smart, innovate for change” is the theme of International Women’s Day this year. This could not come at a more timely moment for Lebanon.
In spring 2018, a record 86 women ran for parliamentary elections. Only a few weeks ago we saw the formation of a new Cabinet comprising four women, the highest number so far in the history of Lebanon, even though this still represents only 13% of its members. In its ministerial statement, the government committed to eliminating all forms of gender discrimination and enhancing women’s participation in political and public life. Also, at the recent Mashreq Conference on Women's Economic Empowerment, the Prime Minister announced Lebanon's commitment to a national action programme to economically empower Lebanese women and increase their participation in the labour market by at least 5 percent in the next five years. It is now time to walk the talk and make the empowerment of women and girls in the Lebanese society a reality.
Time and time again, we’ve seen that investing in women’s economic empowerment contributes to economic growth and the eradication of poverty. The Interim President of the World Bank Group, Ms. Kristalina Georgieva, recently pointed out that the global economy is losing $160 trillion in wealth because of gender inequality, due to access to credit, property rights and differences in lifetime earnings between women and men. As she rightly points out, the fact that women are blocked from realizing their full potential is not just morally wrong but is also costing the earth.
The time to act is now. The implementation of the Lebanese Government’s “Vision for stabilization, growth and employment” and accompanying reform plan could create a myriad of opportunities for women and their economic empowerment. This needs to be accompanied by bold legal reforms to remove obstacles impeding gender equality and equal opportunities for women and men in the country.
International Women’s Day is a day to reiterate our pledge to invest in women, not only to protect their rights but also to put an end to a devastating human, social and economic waste. Let us join together as partners – women and girls, men and boys – to address one of the biggest unfinished businesses of our time and make gender equality Lebanon’s reality.
UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon
Follow Philippe Lazzarini on twitter: @UNLazzarini