SEATTLE — Despite room for improvement, efforts to bolster women’s empowerment in Lebanon have had a number of successes in recent years. In the capital city of Beirut, women enjoy more freedom, as it is more liberal than other parts of the country. It is common to see young women drive, drink, go to schools and work outside. Many Lebanese women hold important occupations in social domains such as tourism, education, finance and medical care.
While there have been recent gains for women’s empowerment in Lebanon, women still face discrimination at many levels. Lebanese women gained the right to vote and run for office with a bill passed in 1952. However, only 3.1 percent of parliamentary seats have been occupied by Lebanese women since 1991. The Gender Inequality Index ranking for Lebanon in 2015 was 83 out of 159 countries. In 2016, the Global Gender Gap Index ranked Lebanon 135th out of 144 nations.
When it comes to education in Lebanon, 91 percent of boys are enrolled in primary school, compared to 89 percent of girls. The youth (ages 15-24) literacy rates are 98 percent for boys and 99 percent for girls. A 2011 report showed that 71 percent of boys are enrolled in secondary school, compared to 79 percent of girls. Advanced education also displayed a higher enrollment ratio for women, with 57 percent of women enrolled in tertiary education compared to only 48 percent of men.
In spite of the high literacy rate among girls and women in Lebanon, economic participation is quite low. Statistics from Lebanon’s central administration indicate that women’s unemployment rates are higher than those of men. A report in 2009 indicated that the unemployment rate is actually higher for well-educated youth, at 7.7 percent and 8.8 percent among graduates of upper secondary schools and universities, respectively, and women under 25 faced 13 percent unemployment (compared to only seven percent among men).
While there has been gradual progress (such as the repeal of the law requiring women to marry their rapists in August 2017), there is still room for improvement when it comes to women’s empowerment in Lebanon. In Lebanon, as in many other countries around the world, women’s rights need to be a priority.
– Xin Gao