The National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN Women), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are partnering to provide periodic Lebanon specific gender and COVID-19 alerts throughout the public health crisis, and its ensuing economic crisis. These updates aim to a) provide observations from frontline responders on issues of gender equality in Lebanon, b) compile available secondary data on these issues into one reference point,
c) consolidate guidance and programmatic tools related to gender issues and d) offer recommendations to support a more gender equitable response. This issue of the Gender Alert on COVID-19 focuses on Women, Gender Equality and the Economy in Lebanon and has been prepared in partnership with International Labor Organization and in collaboration with the National Livelihoods Sector.
The onset of COVID-19 has amplified Lebanon’s economic crisis. Lebanon is currently facing a rising debt burden, large chronic fiscal deficits, inflation and a significant devaluation of its currency. The impact of this on the economy and the population of Lebanon cannot be under-estimated; GDP is expected to fall by 13.8% in 2020, with 50% of the population projected to soon be living under the poverty line. UN ESCWA estimates job losses of 1.7 million in 2020 across the Arab region, nearly 700,00 from women.2 Within this context, attention must be paid to the differential impact of Lebanon’s economic crisis on men and women, in order to mitigate a long term dip in women’s engagement in the economy.
Lebanon has one of the highest overall gender gaps in the world (ranking 139 out of 153 countries in the World Economic Forum Gender Gap report 2020), and amongst the lowest global rates of women’s labor market participation, hovering at 29% for women and 76% for men. These gender inequalities are mimicked in refugee and migrant communities across the formal and informal labor market. According to 2019 data, Syrian refugee women are roughly 6 times less likely to be working compared to Syrian refugee men, and confront an estimated gender wage gap of 0.44.5 The economic crisis in Lebanon, which poses serious threats to the country and its population as a whole, will significantly challenge women’s livelihoods, their engagement in the labor market and the coping mechanisms they are able to employ – which in turn affects their ability to negotiate equal treatment and protections from violence at the individual, community and state level.
In 2018, the Government of Lebanon committed to increase women’s labor force participation by 5% over 5 years.6 Despite the major role women are playing in the COVID-19 response as frontline workers (nurses, doctors, cleaners, and domestic workers), this target is unlikely to be unmet given the current context. Early evidence suggests that women are already leaving the labor market in higher numbers than men as a result of Lebanon’s economic crisis.