Today women strive daily to pave their way into equality while bearing systemic barriers and disadvantages. Women’s career advancement has not always been a given, it is something we battled fiercely to achieve. And still, despite many battles and victories, women suffer from injustices in the workplace. Discrimination in the workplace comes in many forms, each creating a grave hindrance. It is important to acknowledge that the persistent patterns of gender inequality in the workplace are not a coincidental. They represent a significant and alarming issue that needs to be addressed with serious actions and efficient measures. They are not limited to a specific structure, process, or practice. Denouncing the relegation and limitation of women’s careers through political, social, and economic patriarchal systems is a priority.
Historically, women had to call for their right to work outside the realm of their households. According to the The History of the Women's Movement in Lebanon, under the Women Empowered for Leadership Program (WE4L),1 it was not until 1974, that Lebanon ratified on the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions promoting women’s employment and the protection of their working conditions. In 1987, women gained equal accessibility to social benefits which were formerly restricted to men. Lebanese married women obtained the right to trade without the permission of the husband in 1994.
Despite many acquired rights, Lebanese women still face discrimination at numerous levels. Celebration upon acquiring their basic right to work was interrupted by the realities imposed by the masculinist social order in the workplace setting: lower wage, harassment, and glass ceiling.
The glass ceiling is a reality for women, it is both a visible and an invisible obstacle which suppresses the professional hierarchical level for women at the workplace. The Arab Institute for Women (AIW-Al Raida, 2010)2 asserts that women in Lebanon also encounter significant barriers in either, generally advancing in their career or even gaining access to leadership positions, and despite how hard women are trying to push through the barriers they are always faced by a solid aggressive patriarchal system.
On the political level, women strive to break the political glass ceiling and gain equal access to decision making positions. It was groundbreaking news that Lebanon’s first minister for Women is -ironically- a man. In the ultimate act of mansplaining women were not deemed eligible to head the Ministry of Women’s Affair. Not having enough representation for women in political leadership positions ultimately leads to the exclusion of women from the process of policymaking which in turn leads to their marginalization.
Marginalization takes many forms, most detrimentally economic marginalization. According to a study “Women’s Political Participation: Exclusion and Reproduction of Social Roles. Case Studies from Lebanon,” carried out by Lebanon Support,3 women face significant barriers that hinder their full political participation, these barriers include but are not limited to Lebanese confessional system, political familism, and clientelism. All these barriers contribute to further reinforce the glass ceiling. Lebanese women are aiming to break down the whole structure that sustains this reality.
Maintaining a safe and healthy work environment is essential to the productivity and morale of the workers. Regrettably, the accounts of women who have survived harassment in the workplace prove that misconduct is an additional issue woman endure. Even in this day and age, with growing awareness on the subject, and with strict legislation and reprimand, women remain subjected to harassment which takes a detrimental toll on their careers. In many cases, women are presented with either compliance to the harassment of their superior or the termination of their contracts.
When addressing the issue of harassment, it is important to be mindful of the power dynamics that govern a work environment and how it poses extra risk on the victim. Harassment includes but is not restricted to sexual harassment. Sometimes it takes a verbal or physical forms, for instance bullying or toxic work relationships. This reality puts women at a great disadvantage and inevitably pushes them further away from economic justice.
Sexual harassment has long been perpetuated in the Lebanese labor market. According to the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW).4 On March 3, 2020, NCLW presented a bill to criminalize sexual harassment and to propose amendments to the penal code and the labor code. Feminists in Lebanon are pressing for the criminalization of sexual harassment which helps create a safer and enabling environment for women in the workplace and to dismantle the abusive misconduct of men and their exercise of power over women.
According to PayScale, a woman makes $0.81 for every dollar a man makes (March 2020).5 Based on a study conducted by the Lebanese American University, on average a female earns 71% of what a male earns (LAU, 2010).6 The lack of official and updated gender disaggregated data in Lebanon, further marginalizes women and makes analysis on the socioeconomic level more difficult. That is what we call the wage gap. The wage gap itself widens in different contexts. For instance, the gender pay gap is wider for women of color and women in senior positions. And the gap in this case has nothing to do with level of education, experience, or competence; it is merely an issue of gender.
Men should not be paid more for performing a job just because they are men. The gender pay gap exists and it is not just few cents, nor it is about career choices. Women’s choices do not negate the existence of systemic barriers to opportunity.
The gender pay gap is driven by many causes and is not limited to a specific country. Women in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region are also battling to fight gender inequalities in the workplace. Looking at Lebanon, in the light of the protests that broke out in October 2019, women were at the forefronts of every mobilization since day one. They were not only marching, but they have been key mobilizers in this uprising, leading marches, organizing sit-ins, chanting, discussing politics, etc. Women in the protests did not only call for economic and social justice but they fought the whole country's patriarchal power structures.
The battles women in Lebanon lead are not narrow in scope. They strive through vigorous activism to increase knowledge accessibility by fighting for open source knowledge. Women also call for gender disaggregated data that would, in turn, aid their battle against the masculinist social order. In 1974, women in Lebanon also took the streets on to demand the reform of economic policy. Their anger was reflected in their slogans and chants: “monopoly is strangling the people’s necks.” While, on November 22, 2019 Minister Chehayeb reminded female employees in the educational and administrative fields that they are allowed to submit a request to terminate employment using marriage as a viable reason. He further explains that this procedure helps in preserving familial relationships by pinning this responsibility on women and assigning their roles as such.
Inequality based on gender prevails across all rungs of the ladder, across all sectors and industries. We have seen some progress in gender equality, but the battle is still way far from won. Sexual Harassment, stereotypes, and male-dominated jobs all make it difficult for women to find a foothold in the workplace. It is obvious that this is changing, but there is still a long way to go. Gender inequality occupies all aspects of social and economic life which also means that the opportunity for women to advance in their professions is narrower than it is for men; especially in occupations that break standard gender norms. Nonetheless, dismantling these barriers is not something to be taken lightly. Structural constraints that carry the seeds of discrimination should be eradicated from their roots. Addressing the systemic inequalities women face in their professional lives which in turn lead to gendered economic hardship is a top priority.
Darine Abou Saad holds a Bachelor of Art in Social Work and Community Development and a minor in Sociology from the Lebanese American University. Currently working as a Project Assistant for the Women Empowered for a leadership programme. Throughout her studies, she has compiled comprehensive knowledge on Women's struggles and pains as a result of the systematic patriarchal governing systems. She aims to work towards systematic change in constitutional, social, and economic aspects that administer women's life, especially in the Middle East.
2 Al Raida Journal, Arab Institute for Women, 2010 https://inhouse.lau.edu.lb/iwsaw/raida128/EN/p01-64.pdf
3 Women’s Political Participation: Exclusion and Reproduction of Social Roles Case Studies from Lebanon
4 Lebanese Activists Seek Law Amendment to Criminalize Sexual Harassment
5 THE 2020 GENDER PAY GAP REPORT REVEALS THAT WOMEN STILL EARN LESS FOR EQUAL WORK
6 Gender Pay Discrimination In Lebanon, Assessment Of Recent Data https://laur.lau.edu.lb:8443/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10725/3840/Gender.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y