Despite a constitutional guarantee of “equality of rights and duties among all citizens without discrimination,” Lebanese laws treat men and women differently. The most famous imbalance is a 1925 law decreeing that only children born in Lebanon to Lebanese men are entitled to Lebanese nationality. Activist campaigns to amend the law have been unsuccessful and prospects for change any time soon remain remote.
In 2017, Parliament amended the penal code to abolish an article that allowed a rapist to avoid criminal charges if he married his victim, however, the legislature chose to keep in place articles of the code allowing girls as young as nine to legally marry. Parliament also established a new cabinet portfolio—Minister of State for Women’s Affairs—although the choice of a man to lead this sparked mockery among Lebanese social media users. As of early December 2017, the minister had not offered any detailed reporting on his accomplishments during the year, and how permanent and effective the portfolio will be are open questions.
In addition to discrimination enshrined in law, Lebanese women are frequently subjected to harassment in public spaces and the workplace. Little was done legislatively on that front, but the local NGO KAFA succeeded in July in getting the Ministry of Justice to back amendments to a 2014 domestic violence law strengthening the protection of women abused in their homes—though the proposed changes require cabinet approval, which had not arrived at time of writing.
As per the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, which ranks countries based on proximity to gender parity, Lebanon is in the bottom 10 percent (137 of 144). Weak political empowerment (142) for women in Lebanon drags down the country’s overall ranking, but Lebanon’s score for economic participation and opportunity are also below its overall rank (133).
It is unacceptable for Lebanese women to be treated so poorly, and few signs point to state institutions leading the charge toward empowerment any time soon. In the interim, NGOs and civil movements will continue to push for greater equality.
On the economic front, the League of Lebanese Women in Business (LLWB) is continuing a campaign launched in 2016 to persuade local privately-held companies to appoint more female board members. Individual LLWB members have also pooled resources into an angel investor fund to take equity in female-founded startups. Banks, interviewed earlier this year, insisted on the need for and desire to have more female representation in mid- and top-level management positions.
Evidence compiled by the United Nations as part of its “Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016” report suggests Lebanon can achieve increased GDP growth by increasing gender parity in access to education (where Lebanon scores quite well) and labor force participation (where men still dominate with 76 percent participation, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report findings for Lebanon). The economic benefits of increasing the numbers of well-educated women in the workforce are medium and long-term, the UN report says. Increased female participation in education and the labor force boosts growth in the medium-term and leads to healthier, better educated children, which then pushes these economic benefits forward to a second generation.
Both the moral and economic arguments for equal rights in Lebanon are clear. If there is hope for advances toward gender parity in Lebanon in 2018, incremental change in the private sector is far more likely than than grand shifts at the policy level, however short-sighted and disappointing that may be.