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