The traditional excuses that parents have clung to can no longer deter young Lebanese women from emigrating to another country alone and without having acquaintances in that country, because the situation in Lebanon has become very difficult. Today, Lebanese women are like the men: looking to make a living and secure their future, away from the successive political and security crises in their country.
The excuse about “maintaining the reputation” has fallen. A newly graduated Lebanese woman faces great difficulties finding a job in Lebanon that provides her with a minimum salary. The excuse about the risks in a foreign country has also fallen, at a time when females face difficult challenges in a country where employment discrimination still exists between males and females.
If what people say annoys some parents who are trying to prevent their daughters from traveling, the difficult reality has made what people say not matter much. A Lebanese woman finds herself facing two choices: either to stay in Lebanon surrounded by her parents but often without work, or to take the harder choice and emigrate to a place that may appreciate her talents and capabilities and where she could gain the social and economic status she aspires to.
Unlike the traditional reasons for emigrating, such as following her husband, Lebanese women are emigrating to start their careers. Thus they leave Lebanon alone, in search of an alternative homeland that allows them to achieve their ambitions without worrying about social or employment discrimination.
Those who emigrated from Lebanon used to be mostly young men, but a few years ago young women joined the process in a big way. Looking at the figures released by the Central Statistics Administration shows that between 2004 and 2009, emigrants were 76.3% male versus 23.7% female. But the years-long economic crisis changed that ratio. According to a study published in 2013 by the Migration Policy Center, Lebanese emigrants are now 53.6% male versus 46.4% female. These figures clearly show the changes in the status of women in society. They are now looking at building a successful career away from the ongoing political, security and livelihood crises.
Social researcher Dalal Hammoud said that what is happening today demographically in Lebanon is very dangerous in terms of the country losing talented people, because the proportion of women with university degrees who are emigrating is approaching that of men with university degrees. Men have been emigrating to make a living and to help their families, and now women are doing the same. This means that Lebanon is gradually losing youth, both male and female.
Hammoud asserted that traditional barriers are no longer stopping Lebanese women from emigrating, such as the effect on their reputations or that they would remain single. Lebanese women also want to succeed professionally, even if that meant marrying later in life or not at all. Hammoud said that a young woman may find herself marrying a foreigner and settling abroad. That phenomenon has become more common.
Is life abroad like a dream?
Lebanon’s tough living situation has made living abroad seem like a pleasant dream for young people. When they get an immigration visa they celebrate as if they won a lottery ticket. But is the reality really so rosy? The situation varies depending on what country the young woman emigrates to and the extent of openness and respect in that country for the rights of women — whether a citizen or an immigrant — in addition to the salary, the cost of living, and the ease of communicating with others to build social relationships, whether professionally or personally.
Dalia Hawat, for example, traveled to Canada three years ago. She believes that life is acceptable in terms of livelihood, stability and in terms of staying away from the bustle of politics and security problems. Also, employee rights are fully protected, which grant her employment security. In Canada, she doesn’t get arbitrarily fired, her salary gets paid on time and managers don’t evade their responsibilities.
But Dalia confirms that she feels lonely living in a strange land and that she lacks the social life she had in Lebanon. Her life is now about working and supporting her family as much as possible through remittances. Although she’s been abroad for three years, Dalia hasn’t been able to fully integrate into Canadian society. Canadians have different habits and they communicate with each differently. So she’s trying to make Arab friends, with whom she shares customs and traditions, to ease her loneliness. Dalia doesn’t deny that the idea of returning to Lebanon haunts her daily, but she is working on saving some money before returning to Lebanon and starting her own business. She also wants to get Canadian citizenship in the next few months to ensure her future and that of her family.
The geographical and social distance suffered by Dalia didn’t get mentioned by Karen Badran when she discussed her emigration to Dubai, where she works in public relations. She said UAE and Lebanese societies have a lot in common, especially since there are many Lebanese in Dubai, which makes it easier to build friendships and even professional relationships.
Yet Karen drew attention to other kinds of challenges, the first being the high cost of living. Although she makes three times what she could have been making in Lebanon, most of her salary is spent on rent. Karen said that she can’t send more than $500 a month to her parents because she wants to increase her savings. She tries to reduce her daily spending and refuted the popular notion that “whoever travels to the Gulf accumulates wealth,” which she hears when she’s visiting Lebanon. She said, “The quality of life certainly improves. But not the ability to save money.” Karen is not about to return to Lebanon, at least not now, because in Lebanon the salaries are very low and below what university graduates should make. But there are a number of job opportunities in Dubai and there’s heavy competition for skills.
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