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On the road to equality, there’s no turning back…

Last night we honored and remembered our former director Mona Khalaf. It was a heartwarming event filled with affection and amusing anecdotes. I wrote about the passing of our former director in a previous post, but I’m writing again because I want to capture what I learned as we looked back on Mrs. Khalaf’s life – and what we shared in tribute to her.

As I was preparing for this event, I read through her old articles and publications. I never had a chance to work with her, but I wanted to know: Who was Mona Khalaf? What issues were important to her? 

This is a woman who – I learned last night – organized a major event to honor one of the university cleaning staff for her 50 years of service. She touched the lives of so many. People were important to her. Relationships. As an economist, she sought balance.

In her research on valuing women’s economic contributions, she wrote: What do women do? When do they actually “work”: when performing their productive or reproductive role or both? How is their work quantified by economists and valued by society?

Mona Khalaf believed that women’s work was not valued or recognized – and she set out to ensure that it was seen – and counted.

Her writing was quietly influential. As someone with no filter, I could learn a few things from her strong-but-subtle style.

The “symmetrical family” has not really surfaced yet. Unless this happens, some strategies aimed at helping women cope with their double role ought to be devised.

She said “some strategies out to be devised”. I would have found some dangerously undiplomatic ways of articulating the same message!

She advocated continuously to demonstrate the value of women’s economic contributions. She packed a punch – with finesse. I loved how she simultaneously merged grace and snark in her line of questioning:

Now that Lebanese women are sharing the breadwinner role with men, one cannot but wonder whether Lebanese men are willing to share the house-making role with women.

Yes, indeed. We cannot but wonder…!

With every article I read, I grew to like her more.

Women work more within the household and do not get paid for it, while men work primarily for wages… If we, therefore, adopt a wider definition of work which takes into account how women spend their time and monetize their non-market activities, we will obviously be improving their economic status in society.

Improving women’s lot is, however, not only linked to increasing their participation in the labor force, but also to raising the value of their time. our concern should be primarily to broaden the value of opportunities women have.

We still argue for the same things today.

“She went to battle for women”, LAU’s president said. She cornered the president in 2004 demanding that he prioritize the Institute, calling it a major pillar of the university that must never be forgotten – and must be supported to grow. He agreed.

“The best thing we can do to honor her legacy is to continue what she started – gender equality no matter what,” he said.

Last night’s speakers all told delightful stories and gave me a richer image of the person behind the publications:

“IWSAW is a better place with everything that she did… she was a source of inspiration, and she made the community a better place for women.”

“She believed that change will not happen overnight – but that it is bound to happen. As we cannot rock the boat, she used to say, we will steer it in the right direction, and that is what she set out to do.”

In the end, the event perfectly captured a sense of belonging, community, and warmth for all those present.

This morning, Simon Sinek sent me his daily bite-size wisdom: Find a place where you feel like you belong, where you can be yourself, and you’ll work hard every single day.

I think Mona Khalaf would have liked that.

She never doubted the challenges that remain in achieving equality, but said: Once having started, no matter how scared we get, how dangerous it becomes, we are not allowed to turn back. 

Last night, we promised her – and all women – that we are not turning back.

#IWSAW #LAU #MonaKhalaf

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