The Arab Institute for Women

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International Women’s Day: “Accelerating Gender Equality Through Economic Empowerment of all Women and Girls”

On March 5, 2024, The AiW, in collaboration with the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), hosted a multi-paneled hybrid conference on “Accelerating Gender Equality through Economic Empowerment of All Women and Girls.” This conference, which is part of a yearly series of panels between The AiW and AGBU, aimed at highlighting the unfolding economic challenges facing women in the region and providing possible recommendations.

In an opening statement, Director of The AiW, Ms. Myriam Sfeir, warmly welcomed the panelists and attendees, and reaffirmed The AiW’s long-standing commitment to knowledge-sharing and women’s emancipation. In recognition of the unimaginable atrocities happening in Gaza, she emphasized the imperative to raise our voices during these turbulent times in support of the most vulnerable, like women and girls. This panel discussion, she confirmed, serves as platform to spread awareness about the many economic challenges facing women, especially in conflict-ridden regions. Ms. Sfeir further underscored the significance of the discussion in advocating for initiatives aimed at mitigating the consequences of disempowerment and poverty. 

Panel 1: Understanding the Intersections of Poverty and Gender Inequality

Executive Director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, Dr. Makram Ouasis, ushered the discussion with a brief overview of the panel’s main points and objectives. The first panelist, Regional Advisor at OHCHR, Ms. Ansam Al-Abayechi, discussed the link between income and rights. The latest numbers she presented indicate that women’s role in the public sphere is still very limited, their rights are not protected, and their direct involvement is not always encouraged.  Without policies that focus on women’s inclusion, the pay gap is expected to continue to increase. The governments’ role, Ms. Al-Abayechi confirmed, is to create an environment that enables women’s participation without constraints.

The second panelist, Senior Research Assistant at UN ESCWA, Ms. Sama El Hage Sleiman, presented an informative clip on “Poverty and Gender Equality Nexus.” Building upon it, she delivered a detailed explanation of multi-dimensional poverty and its impact on women across all age groups. For example, she described how women-headed households are disproportionally affected by poverty in both urban and rural settings. Ms. Sleiman also illustrated the poverty trap diagram, describing it as a “self-reinforcing cycle” brought about by the lack of education and the limited assets for saving and investment.

The third panelist, Program Analyst at UNFPA Armenia, Ms. Lusine Sargsyan, addressed the impact of conflicts on women. During the Armenian crisis, she explained, women’s challenges were in the shadows. The most vulnerable, such as women with disabilities, faced heightened difficulties in accessing basic services, primarily because of discriminatory practices. To address this, the UN devised education and training initiatives for women, girls, men, and boys to raise awareness about gender equality. As a result, Ms. Sargsyan pointed out, a positive ripple effect was triggered, where the success story of every woman became a source of motivation for others.

Panel 2: Success Stories and Best Practices, Addressing Poverty and Empowering Women in Lebanon

The second panel, moderated by Executive Director at UNGC (United Nations Global Compact) Lebanon, Ms. Deenah Fakhoury, centered around the recommendations for fostering women’s economic empowerment. The first panelist, President of Ashghalouna, Ms. Fida Alieh, walked the audience through the organization’s founding history and its mission to equip disadvantaged women with technical skills. Ashghalouna, she emphasized, caters to a diverse range of women, including those who are uneducated, widowed with children, or married with employed or unemployed husbands. Ms. Alieh underscored the commitment to supporting vulnerable women and confirmed that Ashghalouna’s mission is not only to promote women’s financial independence but also to enhance their self-confidence.

The second panelist, Founder and Director of Creative Space Beirut, Ms. Sarah Hermez, introduced the NGO’s services, highlighting years of dedication to high-quality education for women in fashion design. What sets her organization apart is the quality and not quantity approach to education, she argued. Women who are awarded a scholarship participate in a three-year program, preparing them for launching their professional careers. Despite the challenging situation in Lebanon, Ms. Hermez stressed the organization’s role in providing women the space they need for self-expression.  

The third panelist, Entrepreneur and Founder of Maryig Restaurant, Ms. Aline Kamakian, underscored her firm commitment to upholding the principles of nondiscrimination and gender equality across all staff members. At her restaurant, more than 50% of employees in managerial positions are women. She attributes this success to an inclusive culture characterized by respect and loyalty. Ms. Kamakian also provided examples of occasional charitable initiatives implemented by her team, like providing meals for the most affected in the aftermath of the Beirut Port blast.

The panel discussion concluded with a short Q&A session.