In 2019, the Arab Institute for Women (AiW) continued to advance women’s empowerment and gender equality nationally, regionally, and globally through its five pillars namely education, research, development projects, outreach, and engagement. The AiW’s work output serves to advocate for policy change regarding women’s rights in Lebanon and the region.
The Middle East and North Africa region is the worst performing region according to the 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, with all of its countries ranking under 120 out of 153 and 7 countries part of the bottom 10! However, in a region where under 24-year-olds account for 50% of the population, the potential for change is massive!
But… 53% of the Arab youth would prefer to pursue higher education in the West!
Having program designed in the region is crucial to allow Arab youth to study their environment according to the local lens. Education is also a steppingstone to reducing gender inequalities, and bring a lasting change, which the Institute has been committed steadily to since 1973. By developing and reinforcing high quality education programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and mid-career levels with the minor in Gender Studies, the MA in Interdisciplinary Gender Studies, as well as the certificate in Gender in Development and Humanitarian Assistance (GDHA), students are equipped with the necessary knowledge, tools, and practical experience to incorporate gender into various fields and address gender issues in development and humanitarian contexts.
Developing and promoting research in the region is key to understand the realities and therefore allow relevant reform to be implemented. The Institute has produced significant pieces of research in 2019. Its signature bi-annual journal Al-Raida is a pioneering Arab journal on gender issues. In 2019, a non-thematic issue was published including articles on the relationship between LGBTQI populations and the health sector in Lebanon, the difficulties of raising a child living with a disability in the Arab region, and Libyan feminist writers in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Facts: Women make up to 50% of the protesters in Lebanon, challenging gendered norms by endorsing multiple roles, from organizing and leading marches, debates, sit-ins, to preparing food for the needy or de-escalating violence by using their body as buffers between the army and the protesters. The Institute published a thematic issue on “gender and revolution(s)”. By offering a platform to people in the region to express and analyse what is happening on the ground we are entrench this new reality, the advancements and new social norms defined during such life-changing moments.
The fight for equality is not only done on the streets, it also takes place in law codes. Gender discrimination is enshrined in the laws: from nationality laws barring women to transfer their citizenship to their children and foreign spouse, to the limited access to inheritance, the non-criminalization of marital rape and the decrease penalty in case of “honour crimes”. Fortunately, the past years we have witnessed mobilization to repeal or reform some of them, which eventually happened in 2017, as Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon repealed the “marry your rapist law” after campaign by women’s rights groups.
Disclosing an updated overview of the state of the laws and events around the region is one of AiW’s project. From these “country gender profiles”, a series of documents is expected to be published: the Regional Gender Themes, the Country Disability Profiles, and the Country Environmental Profiles. Furthermore, the Institute has commissioned a number of research pieces on a variety of topics as part of its platform Aqlam. The themes span feminist theory and international relations in the Arab region, gender and the Arab city, and evaluating the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325: documenting progress in Arab countries. Although Arab countries have recognized the importance of having women at decision making level, the absence of women is stunning.
In 2019, the AiW completed its project with Management Systems International (MSI), within the “Building Alliances for Local Advancement, Development and Investment – Capacity Building” (BALADI-CAP) program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The closing event took place in March 2019. A panel discussion was held discussing the best practices that television programs resort to when addressing issues related to vulnerable populations. In addition, the event oversaw the official launch of the Human Rights Network (HRN) and the resulting policy paper. In addition, the AiW concluded its study “Transnational Social Movements of Family Law Revisions within an Islamic Framework” funded by Carnegie.
Did you know that right now you only get 10 weeks if you’re having a baby? Fathers are allowed a single day leave, while a draft for a 3-day leave is gathering dust in a desk since 2018. That’s why the Institute, supported by U.S.-MEPI, is tackling this critical issue. We are advocating for the implementation of lactation room in the workplace and flexible schedule for women when they come back to work. We are pushing for men to take the day which they are eligible to, but also for longer paternity leave. Encouraging the father to play an active role in his child’s upbringing is a step towards gender equality, as it lifts a huge weight off the mother’s shoulders, the father discovering the hassle of balancing between work and fatherhood, allowing at the same time the mother to think of her career.
As part of its outreach and engagement to expand its reach and display its work, the AiW hosted as well as participated in several events. Events held at the AiW encompassed panels on topics such as child marriage; women, peace, and security; women empowerment; family law reforms; gender and leadership, and more. The AiW also participated in a number of international conferences including the GenderPro Summit, Women Deliver, ICPD25, and many more. In addition, the Institute convened four sessions in 2019 as part of its Food for Thought (F4T) program including “Safety is Bold, Guard Yourself”, “Women’s Empowerment Challenges”, “The Secrets of the Stars”, and “Women in Decision-Making”.
 The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 (p. 370). (2019). World Economic Forum. https://wef.ch/2skQEH9