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Getting real about Lebanon…

Last night I spoke at the LAU Annual Gala Dinner. And here’s what I said:

Today I give you bad news:

In 2018 Lebanon was listed as one of the ten worst countries to be a woman…. in the company of Saudi Arabia, with its restricted laws… and Yemen, with a massive humanitarian crisis.

5 of these 10 countries are Arab. The others are countries like Pakistan, Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad – countries I’ve lived and worked in. Countries with almost impossible conditions for women. In these places, inequalities are dramatic, violence is rampant, wars continue unabated, and women struggle every day for mere survival.

You might ask what Lebanon is doing on such a list?

Lebanon is 140 of 149 in terms of its global gender gap ranking – this means that Lebanese women and men have dramatically different access to opportunities, resources, choice, voice. This means that Lebanese women lack equal access to education, health care, economic opportunity, political participation.

Inequalities are embedded in the law – through personal status codes that determine nearly every aspect of a woman’s body and her life. And when I ask young women and men if there are inequalities in Lebanon – they do not know. Such things have remained relatively well hidden. We need to see them – and we need to change them!

But today I give you good news too:

The Arab Institute for Women has been working for 46 years to remedy these inequalities! 46 years! That makes us the first in the region – and one of the first in the world/ We are pioneers in every sense of the word.

For 46 years, we provide critical support to women and girls in communities, giving them information to expand their choices – and better their lives. We support vulnerable women and girls … female migrant domestic workers, incarcerated women, refugee women, to ensure that no one is left behind. We reach people through art, through song, through learning events, conferences, workshops, discussions – we never stop working, talking, doing! We conduct research for policy change and social change. We create education programming that is rich in theory and grounded in practice.

We nourish the activist energy of young leaders – young women and men we have at LAU who are already leaders in their own right. These leaders shed light on critical social issues – even after all others have gone out – and we know how often the lights go out in Lebanon!

We amplify their work and support their causes – to end sexual harassment, to establish a minimum age of marriage, to advocate for nationality rights, to examine the intersections of gender and environment, to address sexual and reproductive health.

These young leaders already have a strong voice – what they need is a microphone! We give them a platform on which they stand, and the strength of our shoulders on which they stand, so they can fix what we have been unable to fix.

In 2 weeks I will speak at the Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver – to an audience of 9300 people. What shall I tell them about Lebanon?! About the region? About women? I want to tell them that we are doing whatever it takes to bring the change that we deserve!

I know you all are an audience that does your part for the country. Today I ask that you do your part for WOMEN. The next generation of women – and men – deserve better than a Lebanon that is among the 10 worst. At this pace, it will take 153 years to achieve equality. I’d like to see equality in my lifetime – so let’s move faster!

Our Institute is a source of pride for LAU, for the country, for the region. This year alone – we’ve been present on national, regional, and global stages in Malaysia, Brazil, Nepal, South Africa, Sweden, New York… our invitations to speak exceed our capacity. We are a tiny team – small but strong!

I’ve been at the helm since 2015 – and in these few years our programs, our presence, our passions have grown exponentially! We can not stop now!

And in a few short years, our Institute will be 50 years old. 50! Our mere existence is a story of survival. We stood during the war – and every time of insecurity since. And we still stand. And we grow. And we thrive!

How will we celebrate her 50th?! I’d like her to reach this milestone with strength and grace – and the resources to carry her through another 50 years!

We know that no country can achieve peace, progress, prosperity if half of its population is left behind. So I ask you: What kind of Lebanon do you want to leave for the next generation – for your daughters – and your sons?

Let us commit that the next time we meet, Lebanon will NOT be on the 10-worst list. Going backwards is not an option. The way forward? That’s equality.

Together we can make it a reality.

#GenderEquality #Lebanon #WorldEconomicForum #GlobalGenderGap #GenderGap

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