In most Arab countries, Mother’s Day is celebrated on March 21. On this day, a woman’s role as a mother, the giver of life and the nurturer, is suitably enough recognized on the first day of spring, the season which marks nature’s rebirth. This is a widely celebrated day in Lebanon, with queues forming outside of flower shops, and people rushing to show their mothers love and gratitude for their many sacrifices in raising them.
March 8 is also International Women’s Day, the day where all women are celebrated for their achievements. It is interesting that both these days fall in the same month, reminding us that women have other roles in society, besides the role of a mother. These days, more women are active participants in the labor force, thriving in their chosen careers. But these same women are also expected to prioritize raising their children to the point of neglecting their career when they become mothers. Domestic responsibilities (namely childcare) are the main reasons women leave the workforce—many women drop out of the labor market during the years of having and raising children.
If we want women to excel in their roles as mothers, as well as in their roles as economic contributors, then things have to change. To begin with, raising children and taking care of the household can no longer be perceived as the woman’s domain alone. It takes two people to bring a child into the world, and it should take two people to raise it—parenting must become a shared responsibility between the mother and the father.
While most of the women Executive profiled said their husbands are supportive of their career and play an active role in parenting, the responsibility of childcare still laid heavily on their shoulders—this is a symptom of the pressure society puts on women to place their mothering role above all else. Lebanon has taken a very small step in the right direction by instituting a three-day paternity leave, which has at least kick-started the conversation regarding the role of the father within his family. But there is still a long way to go, and more awareness needs to be raised before childcare can be shared equally by both parents.
In the meantime, it should be acknowledged that mothers who also work are carrying a heavy load, and so measures should be put in place to lighten it thereby allowing women to excel in their careers and in raising their children.
As a start, civil society should support working mothers in demanding that the maternity leave law, which currently gives mother 70 days paid leave with no risk to her job, be amended and extended. All of the heads of human resource departments Executive spoke to, and the working mothers said seven weeks was simply too short a leave. Many countries allow for up to a year of parental leave recognizing the importance of mothers—and fathers—bonding with their child at the early stages. While giving a year off for maternity leave may not work within the Lebanese context, a six-month leave—during which the child would develop enough to be left at the daycare or with family, and the mother would be physically and emotionally ready to go back to work—should be implemented.
The private sector should also recognize its role in giving support to working mothers. Corporations should revise their internal policies in favor of their female employees who are mothers. As such, and in today’s digital world, flexible working measures, such as working from home, or a condensed work week should be discussed by these corporations and implemented where it makes sense to do so.
As we celebrate Lebanese mothers and all women this month, we should offer them more than lip service by having fathers step up and assume responsibility in the household, and by realizing that in order for women to continue to do it all, they should be given the right support.