Local Women’s Committee leads the way in creating job opportunities for community members


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Fourteen women and girls from Beirut's local communities have come together to form a women's committee. Photo: UN Women/Nour Abdul Reda

Lebanon's deepening economic crisis, aggravated by the 2020 Beirut port explosion, has led to the further widening of existing socioeconomic and gender-based inequalities, and in many areas, a halt and even reversal of decades of progress for women and girls in Lebanon. A UN Women study showed that the multi-layered crises have caused a disproportionate increase in the vulnerability of marginalized populations, particularly women, who – amongst other things - see their labour market opportunities shrinking.

In this context, UN Women, with generous funding from the Government of Austria, has partnered with local NGO Mouvement Social, to create emergency livelihood opportunities for women living in poverty and affected by the Beirut blast.

Through this work, UN Women has supported women to access a much-needed income, while gaining hands on work experience. This work is implemented in partnership with UNICEF in Lebanon, who are working with impoverished youth affected by the blast, providing skills trainings and shelter support.

In support of this, Mouvement Social mobilized a women's committee of fourteen women from local communities to be part of the project’s decision-making processes, and outreach. For nine months, the committee received trainings on life skills, communication, public speaking, interviewing, research, and data collection, among other skills. Throughout this time the committee worked as a liaison between the project and local community actors and worked to help women benefiting from the programme find employment after the cash for work interventions.

Five members from the women’s committee reflect on their work and about the importance of community solidarity.

Hiba Skaff believes women can do anything

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Hiba Skaff, member of the Mouvement Social women's committee. Photo: UN Women/Nour Abdul Reda

Hiba Skaff, 37, a mother of two was shocked by society's reaction after she supported her 18-year-old daughter to study car maintenance.

“When my daughter attended her first class in car maintenance, the teacher told her, ‘You are probably lost; this course is not for women.' But she finished it. We then spent the entire summer searching for a place she could intern at, but all car maintenance garages were hesitant to have a woman work with them.” Hiba says. “My daughter did not give up, and with our support, she is trying to find a suitable opportunity.”

Learning from personal experience, Hiba, as part of the women’s committee, is trying to help women find equal opportunities. After identifying more than 60 job placements in different areas across Beirut, she introduced UN Women’s supported project to employers and explained the importance of allowing women to enter the workforce. She says "Women can be businesswomen, just like they can be mothers, or mentors and leaders.

According to the UN Women's Gender Statistical Profile, Lebanon ranks 139 out of 156 countries assessed in economic participation and opportunity.

“One of the key reasons behind this disparity is the non-inclusion of women in the fields labeled as ‘men’s professions. To improve women’s economic participation, it is imperative to provide them equal opportunities in all sectors of the economy”, says Rachel Dore-Weeks, UN Women Representative in Lebanon.

Bouchra Al Saleh finds her success in helping other women

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Bouchra Al Saleh, member of the Mouvement Social women's committee. Photo: UN Women/Nour Abdul Reda

According to the findings of a recent labour force survey released by the Lebanese Government and the International Labour Organization, the country’s unemployment rate has increased from 11.4% in 2018-2019 to 29.6% in January 2022. More women than men are unemployed, with the female unemployment rate at 32.7% compared to 28.4% for males.

While searching for opportunities to build her skills, Bouchra Al Saleh, 25, heard about Mouvement Social's women’s committee. "From day one, I felt loved and appreciated. I expressed my opinions and thoughts freely, and I suggested ways to help other women. Each member of the committee came from a different background. It was inspiring to listen to all their experiences and stories and to share my own."

Bouchra and the committee received pieces of training that enabled them to understand labour rights, advocate for equal opportunities in workplaces, and celebrate diversity. Her support to women in finding dignified jobs has built her confidence. "I tell women and girls who might feel desperate or discouraged to find a job because of their gender never to give up. I tell them do not let discrimination or sexism get in the way of achieving what, how, and where you work."

Rita Ziad Khoury eyes a sustainable economic future for women

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Rita Khoury, member of the Mouvement Social women committee. Photo: UN Women/Nour Abdul Reda

Rita Khoury, 30, is currently majoring in political sciences and law. After learning from a friend about the women's committee, she joined it to strengthen women's role in the labor market. "I have noticed that society does not trust women. Because of their marginalization, women feel weak, unproductive, and lack self-confidence," she explains.

A European Union and UN Women sector-specific gender analysis highlights that social security laws explicitly discriminate against women, while men are entitled to monetary benefits (or allowances) for their children. In contrast, women are entitled to such benefits only if their husband is deceased or disabled. Personal status laws impact women's economic positioning due to unequal inheritance provisions and practices, which means that women have less access to capital and are less likely to own land.

With success and multiple learnings as part of the women’s committee, Rita would like to help achieve the gender equality agenda in Lebanon. Together with two other committee members, she has decided to start a women's rights organization and she is now finalizing the registration’s process. "We will call it ‘Step by Step’ since little by little, women can increase their presence in the job market."

Fatima Fakhreddine stands for women’s rights in the workplace

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Fatima Fakhreddine, member of the Mouvement Social women committee. Photo: UN Women/Nour Abdul Reda

Fatima Fakhreddine, 28, worked as an educator with Mouvement Social before joining the Women's Committee. Growing up, she always wished she was born a boy because of the privileges she felt they had. "They get to wear whatever they want, speak freely, and work in any job they put their minds to. It felt unfair."

Her favorite part of serving in the women's committee was speaking to employers about the impact of helping women from disadvantaged backgrounds. "Some employers were not interested until I explained to them the life-changing impact of jobs on women who were entering the workforce for the first time. Then many listened and were encouraged to give them job opportunities and perhaps a long-term career."

Fatima says "the women’s committee works as a mediator between societies and administrations. It can link competent women who never had a chance to work, to companies who have some financial resources and are lacking human resources."

Sara Amaneddine calls for equality and a safer work environment for all

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Sara Amaneddine, member of the Mouvement Social women's committee. Photo: UN Women/Nour Abdul Reda

Sara Amaneddine, 25, is a Lebanese educator with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition. After graduating, she applied for many jobs and, in the process, noticed that women often face verbal harassment from employers and have fewer job opportunities than men, especially in men-dominated jobs. She says “Once, I was applying for an outreach field officer position, and I was told that as woman, I could not work in the field and that they preferred a man for the job. I was outraged.”

Sara found in Mouvement Social's women's committee a platform to become the voice of women survivors of harassment in the workplace and a space to fight for safe and decent work for all. “I was impressed by my abilities. I led on and organized several tasks. I was one of the youngest in the group but one of the most committed. I proved to myself and to others that although I was young and a woman, I can lead, and I can succeed.”

She says, "I advocate for women's equal place in all jobs, especially men-dominated jobs, like mobile maintenance and computer repair." Searching for jobs for women trained in mobile maintenance by the programme, many employers told her that this is not a woman’s job’. She explains "Using my newly acquired negotiation skills; I convinced them that employing women would double their sales since women customers would feel safer dealing with them rather than with men."

"I tell people around me to give young women a chance to change the world for the better. We have the will, we have the strength, and we have the power.”

Under UN Women’s “Emergency Livelihoods for Affected Marginalized Populations in the Beirut Explosion Area”, implemented jointly with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the members of the women’s committee worked with Mouvement Social to find cash for work opportunities for women living in vulnerabilities, through mapping of potential employers in areas near Beirut and negotiating with business to secure job placements for women who completed their job training.