The current economic crisis has had a negative effect on both residents and citizens of Lebanon, gradually changing every single aspect of their lives. Here, the people’s daily pursuits mostly revolve around the crisis. Just like in every other part of the world, marginalized groups suffer the most in crises such as these.
Today, the economic suffering of women, for legal, social and gender stereotyping reasons, is more extreme than the suffering of men.
At the beginning of this month, two reports dealing with the economic, legal and social conditions of women in Lebanon were released, in a cooperation between UN Women, the European Union and the World Bank. The first report was entitled: “The Status of Women in Lebanon : Assessing Women’s Access to Economic Opportunities, Human Capital Accumulation and Agency”,the second report was entitled: “The European Union Sector Specific Gender Analysis: An In-Depth Sectoral Examination of Feminist and Women’s Rights Issues in Lebanon”.
The first report stated that “a majority of women in Lebanon are jobless. In addition to 75% of economic inactivity among women, among the 25% who are active and in the labor force, 10% are unemployed (compared to 5 percent of men).. Also, female-headed households are poorer compared to those headed by men, and have lower incomes and food consumption.”
When the two reports were released, the Regional Director of the Mashreq Department at the World Bank Group, Saroj Kumar Jha stated that Lebanon “more than ever needs to address the gaps in women’s economic opportunities.” He issued a call for international partners to join hands in support of efforts aimed at empowering Lebanese women and activating their role in society.
Women and caregiving roles
On Dalaa Street in the city of Sidon, Rafida S. owns her own shop, selling household items and makeup at affordable prices. Rafida, 45, tells her story to Raseef22, “I rented the shop in 2016 for 300 US dollars a month, which was equivalent to 450 thousand Lebanese pounds. Today, this same amount, according to the rising dollar exchange rate, has become equivalent to more than six million Lebanese pounds. With the outbreak of the Coronavirus, I was unable to pay the rent and closed the shop. But its owners, in the spirit of friendship, asked me to maintain and reopen it after the total lockdown ends, and this is what I did.”
When Rafida returned to her store, which bears the name “$1”, the price of importing goods had skyrocketed, while the purchasing power of people dwindled. She says, “My merchandise has been lying on the shelves since 2020, and I am sure that they will stay where they are. A woman who might owe a supermarket the price of a loaf of bread will not come here to buy a small mirror for 15,000 pounds (less than a US Dollar).”
Three months ago, Rafida decided to close her shop for several reasons, she sold the merchandise to her family at low prices, and went back to her home: the first of which was her caregiver role. She explains, “I have a 12-year-old daughter, whom I am raising on my own after her father and I got separated. Her father would sometimes contribute financially, but I carried the bigger weight because my financial situation was good due to my many years working as a teacher in schools and at home.”
During the period of total lockdown, home quarantine, and long-distance learning, Rafida’s daughter would stay at home with her grandmother during the hours of the day, while the housekeeper would manage the household. But then the domestic worker decided to return to her country due to the scarcity of dollars, and Rafida being unable to pay the costs of her residence permit and her monthly salary. Rafida says, “My mother did not mind helping me raise my daughter as long as other things were being done, like preparing food and cleaning. But when the collapse befell us and the dollar currency became scarce, my mother returned to her role in the house, and I automatically returned to my role as a mother. I was limited to it, especially since my work no longer secures any financial profits for me.”
Rafida believes that all things are interconnected, and that one event can change all events. According to her, she was living the best years of her life before 2019. She adds, “I was a mother and a successful business owner. Today, I’ve lost my business and returned to only motherhood and to an economic loss that I have never seen before in all the years of my life.”
Rafida currently lives with her daughter and mother in their family home. She is unemployed and receives her allowance from her brother who lives abroad and sends them $400 a month. Rafida, a graduate of the Faculty of Science at the Lebanese University, says she will look for jobs abroad, and she and her daughter will leave this country as soon as possible.
"Despite the progress Lebanon has made in gender equality in the areas of health and education, women are still more likely to be unemployed, less likely to have savings or manage businesses, spending more than 5 hours daily on housework"
In a related context, the reports of UN Women, the European Union and the World Bank indicate that, “Despite the progress that Lebanon has made in terms of gender equality in the areas of health and education, women are still far more likely to be unemployed than men, less likely to have savings, less likely to manage businesses, and spend more than 5 hours per day on housework and childcare (more than double the amount of time spent by men on similar work).. Discriminatory laws underpin the prevalence of gender-based violence by failing to provide adequate legal protections and recourse pathways for women, especially poor and migrant women, who are facing abuse.”
The cafes that fired us
“I was born in Lebanon, I live in Beirut, and my curse which has accompanied me to this day is that I hold the Syrian nationality like my father and not the Lebanese one like my mother does, and therefore according to the labor law and the laws of society, my chances of getting a job are much lower than others.”
With this sentence, Nour (pseudonym) begins telling her story to Raseef22. Nour, 26,recounts how she had worked for five years - from her second year of university - in the café that she was later fired from. She says, “I loved my job a lot, and I developed my skills in it. I moved up from being a waitress to a supervisor and then to a manager. But in the middle of this year, when the dollar exchange rate went up and my salary stayed the same, I demanded that it improve, but the response that came was: ‘With your salary, I can get three others’.”
Nour explains that employers are taking advantage of the economic collapse by hiring cheap labour. In her case, for instance, the owner of the establishment she was working at decided to dismiss a number of old employees at the start of the economic crisis, to later hire a group of young teenage boys and girls. She explains, “My monthly salary, according to the exchange rate, was valued at about $200, while the salary of one waiter was around $100.
Today, those who have not yet gotten into universities, those who do not have the necessary experience and are living like us in the worst economic collapse in the world, do not mind working for eight hours per day and receiving a monthly salary of no more than $50, or one million Lebanese pounds according to the dollar exchange rate. They would be comforted because at the age of 18, they are being productive and are not unemployed.”
Nour confirms that what she has personally suffered from has also affected many people that she knows, but the suffering is doubled for women and girls, “Out of four employees in the administration department, I was the only woman. Out of 10 waiters, there were only two women.” The reasons, she says, are many, and they revolve around the fact that “men have a greater ability to come and go and work during the night shift. They are also less likely to be harassed, and they cause fewer problems for the company. They also don’t get sick every month (menstrual cycle) and are absent less often. According to the employers, they are physically stronger and can do more work, especially during periods of workshops and inventories.”
Nour adds that her dismissal did not happen suddenly, and that she had felt it coming. First, because she is neither married nor a bread provider. Second, because the company saw that she would be the least affected of all the employees. She goes on to say, “Yes, I do not support or provide for anyone, and I do not have a family of my own, but that does not mean that I was not harmed. I invested many years of my life in the place. I dealt with my job seriously and professionally, and when the crisis hit, I was fired and didn’t find myself in a safe place. I lost my economic strength.”
Nour adds that her dismissal wasn’t sudden, she had felt it coming. First, because she is neither married nor a bread provider. Second, because the company saw that she would be the least affected of all employees
She concludes, “The differences between the sexes seemed clear to me before my dismissal. The number of female employees was very limited, and the administration had become under the control of men because it is easier to deal with them according to the social and gender system. Today, because of all these factors that I have mentioned, I am unable to get a new job. First, because I am not a ‘cheap labor’. And secondly, because I am a woman carrying the Syrian nationality in Lebanon. Therefore, my name will automatically be placed at the bottom of the list.”
Everyone in Lebanon is suffering, whether it is men, the elderly, women or children. However, in light of a global system that is being especially adopted in Lebanon and is based on the consolidation of gender differences, the marginalization of the role of women, and the lack of legal guarantees of their rights, women and girls are more vulnerable to the economic collapse. This collapse is reflected in their reality, and will have us witness its heavy impact on them in the future.
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