On International Women's Day, and before starting to honor and praise the achievements of women in our unjust, patriarchal society, it is vital to dwell upon statistics and figures. For instance, would you believe that 77.2% of Lebanese women of working age are not economically active (unemployed and not looking for a job) compared to 27.2% for men, according to a survey issued by the Central Administration of Statistics in 2009? These figures do not include the huge numbers of displaced Syrians, a part of which can be added to the non-economically active population of Lebanon.
While Lebanese society considers itself developed — in terms of women’s status and rights — compared to other societies, the truth reveals that there is a large gender pay gap in many sectors. In the industrial sector this gap hits 23%, while it is 21% in the agricultural sector, 10% in the trade sector, and nearly 38% in the transport sector and the postal and telecommunications services sector. However, the pay gap falls to 6% in the financial and brokerage services and insurance sectors. To sum up, according to the Survey of the Household Living Conditions 2007, which was issued by the Central Administration of Statistics, the gender pay gap in all sectors is 6%.
The 2009 survey said unemployment rates for women hit 10% in Lebanon, compared to 5% for men, before rising above 20% with the arrival of more than one million displaced Syrians (with the knowledge that there are no official statistics on unemployment rates in Lebanon).
The proportion of female headed households is 15%, and the majority of these women are illiterate and over 65 years of age. Immigrant women consist of 23.7% of the total number of immigrants, compared to 76.3% for men.
On the other hand, the public sector employment rate for women is 31% compared to 69% for men. Managerial and administrative positions are in most cases held by men, except in some public departments and ministries where women are selected to hold a managerial position out of obligation or most probably to silence feminist voices demanding equal rights for women.
Joelle Abou Farhat Rizkallah, co-founder of Women in Front, said, “It is of great importance for women to be aware that they have a social and economic role to assume and succeed through.” She explained to As-Safir that “a woman who enjoys financial independence is more capable of proving herself and does not wait for a man to provide for her.” She added, “In addition to the support of modern laws that do not discriminate between men and women and do not give men any preferential rights, women are required to support other women in society and economic activity.”
Rizkallah talked about women's access to important public positions through the use of parliamentary quotas, and said, “Women need to work on their self-development and their professional competencies. It is not acceptable that after they get a university degree, they confine themselves in the marital home and limit their lives to raising kids and managing the household.” She pointed out that “a large proportion of women choose this destiny, which is no longer acceptable in 2014 in the light of the ongoing feminist struggle.”
Rizkallah called on “women on their international day to do whatever it takes to prove themselves,” and stressed that “it is not easy for women to demand their rights from a patriarchal parliament.”
Women narrate their experiences in the public sector
The Basil Fuleihan Institute for Economy and Finance paid tribute to the role women play in Lebanon’s public sector, yesterday [March 7], in the presence of civil society male and female activists, women's rights associations and female and male employees in the public sector.
The gathering witnessed quarrels between proponents of feminist and patriarchal ideas on some human rights issues, during which the patriarchal element was definitely the weakest link, in terms of number and persuasive argument. Former State Minister and member of the National Commission for Lebanese Women's (NCLW) executive bureau, Wafa al-Diqa; former director general of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Neemat Kanaan; and, acting director general of the General Security, retired Gen. Dalal Rahbani, shared their experiences during the gathering.
Diqa emphasized, “The public sector is in dire need of achieving equality between men and women.” However, she added, “Yet equality is a progressive and cumulative path. This is why the status of women 20 years ago was worse than it is today, where women hold technical, academic and technological positions whether in the public or private sectors.” She said, “There was a lot more neglect from the government towards women's conditions. Sometimes, even the women themselves neglected their conditions by not building their capabilities and seeking to achieve themselves.” Diqa called on women to “strive to boost their competencies and enhance their knowledge, thus being able to confront a society that views their success as a depreciation of manhood.”
The first obstacle
Kanaan spoke about her experience in the public sector and said, “The first obstacle in the face of women is women themselves.” She said, “I was the first woman to hold the position of general director of the ministry. Yet, I do not remember any woman calling to congratulate me.”
She noted that rarely do women have access to important positions in the public sector, because of “the sectarian quota,” and argued that “the competing sects would rather bring and support men to power, while women strive to arrive to these positions. If they do hold such positions, their enemies who want them to fail become multiple.”
Rahbani explained that, in her military experience, “the path of ambitious women is difficult, and obstacles are endless.”
She added, “I thanked God for my achievement, wearing the military uniform with stars across the shoulders; men obeyed the stars, i.e, my rank, when the idea of a woman giving them orders actually annoys them.” She said, “Men hate the fact that a woman can hold a position of authority, because they have to obey her, which makes them feel intimidated by her.”