Female entrepreneurs a rarity in Lebanon. Many Lebanese women opt for low-risk jobs, by Veronique Abu Ghazaleh.

Female entrepreneurs a rarity in Lebanon

There is a great difference between work and entrepreneurship, and women in Lebanon are not aware of it. The more the job is confined to specific tasks and limited working hours, the better option it becomes in the eyes of Lebanese women. Meanwhile, leadership positions are left for men, who take more confident steps in the business world. They establish their own companies or launch their own initiatives, which are a better source of income than a job.

This phenomenon is based on clear figures demonstrating the great imbalance between women and men in Lebanon when it comes to entrepreneurship. According to the Central Administration of Statistics, only 15% of Lebanese women are employers or self-employed, while the rate rises to 42% for men.

These figures raise important questions about the situation of working women in Lebanon. What drives them to take up regular jobs, which usually have limited horizons? What stops them from being well-achieved in the business world, although they are seen as a model for educated and ambitious women in the Arab world?

Secured rights

Lina Ahmar, a mother of two, has aspired to establish her own furniture showroom for years. However, she has yet to achieve her dream even though she is over 40. Lina keeps backing down at the last moment and sticks to a day job that allows her to be on time to pick up her children from school.

Lina said that the salary she received was not tempting, but at least she was entitled to take leave and could be at home during holidays. This may no longer be an option for her should she choose to take the hard way, i.e. become self-employed.

This mindset is shared by many other women who believe that a job can secure their rights. They are entitled now to a 10-week maternity leave. They also benefit from the pensions of the National Fund for Social Security and from the almost free medical services. As for self-employment or freelancing, it can entail profits but as well losses, which is a great burden on women.

According to employee Hala Saada, there are no incentives for women to become truly pioneering in business. Women bear the responsibility of a family, and find themselves sometimes forced to leave their jobs because of the many pressures they face and the inability to reconcile work and family.

Social researcher Khouloud al-Haber explains to Al-Hayat that there are many obstacles that hinder women’s leadership in Lebanon; most importantly a lack of encouragement from parents and spouses.

According to Haber, women in Lebanon are still living in a bubble, despite the developments that have taken place and the rights they have gained. Women still fear to discover themselves and have bigger ambitions, as this might affect their marital status.

She also added that men’s perception of women was changing gradually, as many men have come to accept success of women even if it is greater than theirs. On the other hand, there are men who cannot accept that a woman might be more professionally successful than they are. They try to impede her progress, usually under the pretext that she is neglecting her family for work.

The surprising thing in Lebanon is that women who have their own businesses are usually single, while married women face hardships when taking such a step.

Supporting pioneering women

As opposed to the gloomy outlook for women’s leadership in the business world, there are many women who have broken all taboos and overcome many barriers, either physical or moral, in order to reach achievement.

Accessory and antique designer Lara Mhanna proudly recounted her own experience and how her works have reached many Arab countries. Although married and a mother of two, she runs a workshop with seven workers.

However, Mhanna does not deny that there are many obstacles that impede the road of both pioneering women and men in Lebanon. She mentioned the lack of security and political stability, and the lack of special activities that create job opportunities and reduce unemployment. She also gave great importance to the husband’s support so that women could be independent in their own work or in running an institution, be it large or small.

There have recently been campaigns organized by NGOs or financial institutions and banks to support women’s leadership inclinations by providing the necessary funds to projects that will generate money at a later stage. Financial advisors and economists are trying in this context to guide women within their own projects to achieve better outcomes.

The challenge for Lebanese women today is not only to improve their career, but also to overcome the limitations that have been placed by society to curb their capabilities, so they can keep pace with the global changes that put them at the heart of entrepreneurship. 

Author Veronique Abu Ghazaleh
Posted May 4, 2014
Translator(s)Sahar Ghoussoub

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