BEIRUT: “Why do we need an International Day of the Girl when we have an international day for women?” asked Canadian Ambassador to Lebanon Emmanuelle Lamoureux during a panel discussion held by the Arab Institute for Women at Lebanese American University. “It started as an interaction between the Canadian government and a group of NGOs and girls in Canada,” said Lamoureux at the event, which took place on Oct. 11 - International Day of the Girl.
She added that the girls in question explained that they faced challenges that were not necessarily the same as those of adult women.
Lamoureaux said that some of these challenges are present before girls are even born, as in some societies a baby boy is more desirable than a girl. “Growing up, girls are often the ones who eat last and the least,” she added, stating that 60 percent of the world’s undernourished people are girls.
Lamoureaux highlighted other difficulties girls face, such as access to education, domestic labor and gender-based violence.
The ambassador said that as part of its International Bilateral Assistance Program - which does a great deal to increase gender equality - Canada works alongside local groups in Lebanon. She held up as an example a partnership with the United Nations Development Program, the Interior Ministry and the Justice Ministry to strengthen women’s access to justice and increase their numbers in municipal police forces.
Many Lebanese girls have access to education, including postsecondary education, Lamoureaux said. “However they face a wall when it comes to working,” she added, saying that less than 30 percent of Lebanese women are in the workforce.
In light of that, a much attention was also paid to the kind of future that girls growing up in Lebanon can expect.
“Young women face pressures to get married after they start university, although that’s changing now,” said Minister of State for Economic Empowerment of Women and Youth Violette Safadi.
She added that her ministry is aiming to boost the retention of women in the workforce by establishing a care economy, which will address issues such as maternity leave.
President of the National Commission for Lebanese Women Claudine Aoun Roukoz said that more women are graduating from universities than men, and that girls are excelling in their studies, but that their number decreases in the labor force after a certain age - usually when they get married and have children.
“We don’t want the potential of women to go to waste,” Roukoz said. Financial independence, she added, is a key reason for women to keep their jobs after getting married. “When a woman gets divorced, she is left with nothing,” she added.
Despite Lebanon having ratified the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1996, it has made certain reservations.
These include personal status laws that are left under the control of religious institutions and officials, and are highly discriminatory against women, especially in matters of divorce.
“There are a variety of issues that are always prioritized before gender equality, like economic and security issues,” said Lamoureux, stressing the importance of women’s role in society.
“Whenever there is an economic or security issue, men drop everything else,” said Roukoz, adding that if there were more women in Parliament and Cabinet, laws would be passed much more efficiently.