Gender Wage Gap in LebanonLebanon borders Syria to the north and east, the region of Palestine to the south and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. A Middle Eastern nation with a varied landscape ranging from picturesque coastlines to the majestic Lebanese Mountains, the country has earned recognition for its rich history and cultural heritage. However, Lebanon faces several socioeconomic challenges, including a persistent gender wage gap. Here are five key insights into the gender wage gap in Lebanon and the growing efforts to close it.

The Problem

  1. Significant Wage Disparity: According to a recent study published by the University of Sciences and Arts in Lebanon (USAL), Lebanese women earn an average of 16%-19% less than Lebanese men. And while it has made progress in women’s rights, Lebanon retains one of the highest overall gender gaps globally, placing 119 out of 146 countries in the 2022 World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report.
  2. Education Does Not Mean Equal Pay: Despite improvements in women’s education in Lebanon, data reveals that the gender wage gap widens with education. For instance, the wage gap between Lebanese women and men with university-level or higher degrees is 20.2%, according to the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) 2021 Lebanon Gender Analysis report. Additionally, despite having nearly equal access to education, just 23.5% of Lebanese women were employed as of 2021, compared to 70.9% of men.
  3. Occupational Segregation: Employers’ perceptions and decisions regarding hiring and promotions are influenced by deeply-ingrained gender stereotypes and traditional roles that persist in Lebanese society. For example, according to the UN’s 2022 Women’s Economic Participation in Lebanon analysis, men dominate higher-paying sectors like engineering and technology, while women find themselves disproportionately clustered in lower-paying industries like education and administration. Such occupational segregation contributes to the widening gender wage gap in Lebanon, limiting women’s earning potential and opportunities for career advancement. 
  4. Limited Leadership Representation: Similarly, women face difficulty obtaining managerial and leadership positions, which frequently offer higher salaries. The underrepresentation of women in decision-making positions across the public, private, political and academic sectors greatly contributes to wage disparity. 
  5. Unpaid Care Work: A 2018 World Bank report revealed that Lebanese women disproportionately bear the burden of unpaid care work and household duties. Consequently, many women sacrifice paid employment, reduce their working hours and endure frequent career interruptions, all of which negatively impact women’s earning potential and Lebanon’s economy as a whole. For example, the report estimated that a 25% reduction in the Gender Participation gap would spark a 9% increase in the country’s GDP. 

Ongoing Efforts

Here are five ways that Lebanon and the international community are working to achieve progress in reducing the gender wage gap in the country.   

  1. Government Interventions: In 2018, the Lebanese government launched a public awareness campaign to promote gender equality and reduce gender-biased social norms. The campaign aimed to change attitudes, increase women’s awareness of equal-pay rights and foster a culture of mutual respect.
  2. The Women Economic Empowerment for Lebanon Project (WEEL): Part of the European Union for Women Empowerment (EU4WE) Project in Lebanon, this program provides grants ranging from €15,000 to  50,000 to up to 20 women-owned and women-led businesses and startups in Lebanon. A joint initiative of the Lebanese company Berytech and Expertise France, the EU-funded program aims to promote gender equality and reduce gender-based violence in Lebanon through financial empowerment.
  3. Lebanese League for Women in Business (LLWB): LLWB is a nonprofit organization that advocates for equal opportunities for women in business and entrepreneurship. It provides networking platforms, mentorship programs and training to support women’s professional growth and bridge the wage gap. In 2021 alone, the LLWB achieved remarkable milestones, establishing more than 31 new local and international partnerships and raising $852,197 to tackle gender disparities. Additionally, it implemented more than 350 training initiatives and workshops to support women entrepreneurs in Beirut, North Lebanon and Bekaa and benefited more than 1,400 women, including farmers, professionals and entrepreneurs.
  4. KAFA: Meaning “enough” in Arabic, KAFA is a nonprofit founded in 2005 to combat gender-based violence and discrimination. It advocates for women’s labor rights and equal pay, strives to economically empower women through awareness campaigns and supports research and legal advocacy initiatives. In 2020, KAFA received 9,763 calls and successfully implemented the “Men and Women for Gender Equality Program.” The UN Women provided funding for this program that aims to address the underlying reasons for gender inequality. The program implemented measures to alter biased societal norms regarding gender, supported civil society groups in advocating for legal and policy reforms and urged the government to enforce laws that promote gender equality.
  5. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Lebanon: As part of its 2030 Agenda, UNDP Lebanon has prioritized women’s social, economic and political advancement in Lebanon. Taking a holistic approach to gender equality, its initiatives promote equal pay and employment opportunities for women, increasing women’s political and leadership presence, guaranteeing legal protections and eliminating gender biases.

Looking Ahead

Through ongoing efforts, Lebanon and the international community are working to address the underlying issues behind the country’s persistent gender wage gap. By supporting women’s social, economic and political empowerment, they are paving the way for a more prosperous and just future for the country as a whole. Still, there appears to be room for more effort and progress. Efforts such as targeted legislation, promoting equality in hiring, promotion and pay, alongside changing social attitudes could go a long way in closing the gender wage gap in Lebanon.  

– Kassem Choukini
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Lebanon
Human trafficking in Lebanon is rampant and requires reform. Someone once asked Paul, a volunteer for the Catholic Church in Beirut, Lebanon, how he knows that most female prostitutes are trafficking victims? Paul answered that when he attempted to help a trafficking victim contact an NGO, her captors assaulted him.

The Situation

Paul is just one of the many workers on the frontlines fighting against human trafficking in Lebanon. Lebanon’s government is improving its work to stop human trafficking, but Lebanon remains on Tier 2 according to the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons report. The Tier 2 standing means that Lebanon has not met the minimum standards to eliminate human trafficking.

Human traffickers target certain groups such as Syrian refugees, illegal migrants, domestic workers and women with artiste visas. Employers lure in workers and artistes under the guise of employment and then withhold their wages or passports to control them. Meanwhile, migrants and refugees come into the country with nothing leaving them open to capture. Poverty affects these targeted groups making it easier for employers and traffickers to control them. Lebanon has struggled with human trafficking because of various problems, including its past legislation and misguided judicial system.

Human Trafficking Issues in Need of Reform

  1. Lebanon’s human trafficking network is immense. The International Security Forces (ISF) and General Directorate of General Security (GDS) commented that even traffickers further down the chain of command contact more extensive organized networks. Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, and the town of Jounieh are where most human trafficking victims end up. Even though the ISF was able to identify 29 trafficking victims in 2017, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) believes the number of victims is in the thousands.
  2. The country’s laws place a significant strain on the victims because women can work as licensed prostitutes, but Lebanon’s government has not supplied licenses since the 1970s. However, after 1990, the country made secret prostitution, or prostitution without a license, illegal. Foreign women come to Lebanon to work as dancers in nightclubs under an artiste visa. The visa’s terms restrict the women to the hotels they live in and give nightclub owners power over the women allowing them to withhold their wages and passports. Traffickers also exploit these women through physical or sexual abuse.
  3. Ashraf Rifi, who served as minister of justice between 2014 and 2016, and ISF director-general from 2005 to 2013, commented that Lebanon needs to change how it combats human trafficking. Rifi went on to mention how there is corruption at high levels and even corruption within the ISF. In 2018, authorities arrested Johnny Haddad, the head of an ISF department, on charges of corruption involving prostitution networks. The organization’s ethics committee placed him under investigation. If anti-trafficking organizations’ leaders experience compromise, fighting traffickers becomes even more difficult than it was before.
  4. For trafficking victims in Lebanon, the courts frequently show no remorse. After studying 34 different trafficking cases, lawyer Ghida Frangieh concluded a double standard in the judge’s treatment concerning prostitution and begging. Forced begging cases nearly always received the label of being a trafficking case, while in the case of prostitution, the judge would frequently find there was some level of consent. The problem here is that the U.N. Convention on Human Trafficking stated that consent is irrelevant in trafficking cases because traffickers could beat or kill victims if they do not consent.

Even though Lebanon struggles with human trafficking, it is making progress in combatting these human traffickers. Lebanon has focused on improving its identification of trafficking victims and bringing shadowy trafficking networks into the light.

How Lebanon is Fighting Against Human Trafficking

  1. In 2016, Lebanon shut down Chez Maurice, the largest human trafficking network in the country. Chez Maurice held more than 75 Syrian women in a house with blacked-out windows, only allowed to leave to have abortions or receive treatment for venereal disease. The organization lured the Syrian refugees by offering them jobs, such as restaurant work, and then imprisoned them. While there, the captors sexually and psychologically abused the women. After discovering the human trafficking network, authorities took those responsible into custody, and they are currently awaiting trial.
  2. Lebanon’s government has yet to completely satisfy the minimum requirements for human trafficking’s eradication, but it is making significant strides to change that. The government increased investigations into trafficking cases and improved its ability to identify trafficking victims. For example, in 2016, the ISF only investigated 20 human trafficking cases, while in 2018, it investigated 45 cases. This change may show an improvement in identifying trafficking victims. Lebanon’s government has improved its relationships with NGOs such as Legal Agenda or Kafa, leading to more effective cooperation with screening possible victims in government-controlled migrant detention facilities.
  3. The government has done great work investigating potential human trafficking cases, but it still has room for improvement. The GDS reported 124 of 167 cases, which ended with a referral to authorities for investigation, giving back pay to workers and repatriation for migrant workers. The MOJ reported prosecutor referred about 38 cases to judges for further analysis leading to 69 alleged traffickers’ prosecutions involving different types of human trafficking. Since numerous cases have overloaded Lebanon’s judicial system, it took time to resolve these cases, but the system settled them, nonetheless.

Lebanon is steadily improving in its fight against human trafficking. Human trafficking in Lebanon is still happening, but its people continue to work towards eradicating it.

– Solomon Simpson
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Lebanon
Although making some positive strides in recent years, Lebanon is still behind some of its regional counterparts when it comes to women’s rights. Women in Lebanon still lack important protections against abuse and violence, personal status laws and representation under civil and religious law. Here are seven facts about women’s rights in Lebanon.

7 Facts About Women’s Rights in Lebanon

  1. Civil Code vs. Religious Laws: Lebanon has 15 personal status laws that are religion-based (Shia, Sunni and Druze) but has no civil code covering personal status issues such as divorce, custody of children or property rights. The religious courts preside over cases of personal status and operate with very little government oversight, resulting in the repeated violation of women’s rights. Because Lebanon’s constitution guarantees respect for “personal status and religious interests,” religious authorities have been keeping personal status laws under their control.
  2. Domestic Violence: The Lebanese parliament passed a domestic violence law in 2014, which includes protection measures, such as restraining orders and policing and court reforms, as well as funding to enact the reforms. The law also introduced an official definition of domestic violence into the Lebanese criminal code. However, Lebanese women are still at risk of marital rape, which because of pressure from religious authorities, is not apart of the criminal code. A spouse’s threat or violence to claim “marital right to intercourse” is a crime, but the actual physical act is not.
  3. Migrant Domestic Workers: The Kafala system allows migrants, mainly women from Africa and South East Asia, to work in Lebanon as domestic workers. The employers of the workers are in charge of their legal residency, as well as whether they can change or leave employers. Labor law protections, like minimum wage, working hour limits and overtime pay, exclude migrant workers. This lack of employer accountability often leads to cases of verbal, physical and sexual abuse. In March 2020, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Ministry of Labour met to discuss the reform of the Kafala system, but no legislation has been introduced as of yet.
  4. Child Marriage: Lebanon currently has no national minimum age of marriage. Instead, religious courts regulate when people can marry. The Human Rights Watch found that early marriage can lead to a higher risk of marital rape, exploitation, domestic violence and health problems. Those most at risk include Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Lebanon has committed to eliminating child marriage by 2030 and reducing it by 20% by 2020. Currently, the Lebanese Higher Council for Childhood is developing a national strategy and action plan to address this problem. However, many drafts of law raising the legal age of marriage to 18 have not passed through the Lebanese parliament because of religious backlash.
  5. Representation in Politics: The Lebanese government created the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, however, this is largely symbolic and the first minister is a man. The Global Gender Report Gap states that gender equality in politics stands at 0.01%, as Lebanon has never had a woman as head of state and 97% of parliament is male. Currently, women’s organizations in Lebanon are demanding that parliament set a quota that 30% of seats should be for women, as no quota currently exists.
  6. Nationality Law: Lebanese women cannot pass their nationality to their children or foreign husbands, unlike Lebanese men. This deprives children of citizenship and increases the risk of statelessness. The Lebanese government has failed to address this issue, citing the threat of naturalization and resettlement of Palestinian and Syrian refugees as a reason not to change this law for women. The only exception is for unmarried mothers, as this group can pass on their nationality to their child if one year has passed and the child is still nationless.
  7. Activism in Lebanon: One prominent group advocating for women in Lebanon is KAFA. It is a feminist, secular, Lebanese, nonprofit organization fighting against discrimination against women. The organization focuses on family violence, human trafficking and child protection. This group was instrumental in the passing of the law against domestic violence in Lebanon’s parliament.

Many of the setbacks women face are the product of the fact that approximately 2.7 million people in Lebanon are living in poverty. Men, who have historically always held political and religious power, deprive women of rights as a strategy to keep women and children financially tied to men. This means money stays in the hands of majority groups and used at their discretion. However, many international and domestic groups are fighting through institutions and on the ground for representation, protection and power. This activism and attention may lead to a large improvement in women’s rights in Lebanon in the years to come.

– Claire Brady
Photo: Flickr