Press release: Women’s Unemployment in Lebanon Reaches an Estimated 26% Due to Compounded Crises but Recovery Plans Provide Opportunities to Reduce Structural Inequalities and Ensure Growth for All

Date: Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Beirut, October 14, 2020 - During times of crisis, there is a tendency for the pursuit of gender equality to be considered as secondary, a goal to be tackled once crisis ends and economic growth has recovered. However, the reality is that taking steps towards gender equality is critical for addressing social and economic stability. Women are part of any recovery and solution and supporting women to enter the economy in significant numbers has the potential to widen Lebanon’s tax base and support the fiscal sustainability of Lebanon’s social security programs, while also achieving important gender equality goals.

To provide evidence for how Lebanon’s economic crisis impacts women and men differently, UN Women has produced, “Women on the Verge of an Economic Breakdown: Assessing the Differential Impacts of the Economic Crisis on Women in Lebanon. Based on primary data analysis, the report uses publicly available data on employment and the economy to better understand the impact of the economic crisis on women’s engagement in the economy, which prior to the crisis was already amongst the lowest in the world.

Based on the analysis undertaken by the paper’s authors, Nisreen Salti and Nadine Mezher, a 25 percent contraction in real GDP from 2017 to 2020 is expected to have increased women’s unemployment rate from 14.3 percent before the crisis to 26 percent by September 2020. This translates to a 63 percent increase—from 81,200 to 132,500—in the number of women in unemployment—or 51,300 more women in unemployment in June 2020 as compared to 2018/2019. A conservative estimate of the resulting female exit from the labour force—that is women who are no longer looking for jobs—is expected to be almost 40,000-strong by October 2020. By extension, the number of employed women can be expected to drop by 22 percent. However, the combined effects of predicted job loss, with rising economic inactivity by some women (i.e. those who exit the labour market) imply that the number of women not working (as a proportion of the total female population of the country) has risen by 106,750. This represents the number of women who were once working but are no longer doing so because they have either lost their jobs or exited the labour market altogether.

This dramatic drop in women’s engagement in the economy has the potential to have a profound social and economic impact on the country. Women’s engagement in the economy is proven to create stronger and more inclusive societies, and at a household and community level, women’s access to public space and employment is a critical input for ensuring their access to health care, pensions and other key social protection assets, while also serving as a critical input for enhanced decision making and reduced violence.

‘Taken together, the compounded impacts of the economic crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent explosion in Beirut will only magnify pre-existing vulnerabilities that women already face, making life worse for most Lebanese women, particularly those who already suffer from the impacts of intersectional discrimination— i.e. migrant and refugee women, women living with disabilities, and many others already living on the margins and rendered invisible’, says Rachel Dore-Weeks, head of UN Women in Lebanon.

However, as the international community focuses on reform and recovery, there is also an opportunity to rebuild the foundations of a more equal and equitable society that fully considers the productive value and rights of women. This begins with deliberate policy and programmatic interventions in the political, economic and social spheres of the country. Therefore, the paper sets out a progressive reform agenda to help mitigate these losses and policy measures to improve the lives and livelihoods of women in Lebanon, it calls for:

  • Reforms to reduce structural inequalities, achieve greater stabilization and to ensure growth is equally distributed (and redistributed where possible)
  • Social policies aimed at reducing inequality of access to vulnerable populations, particularly women
  • Fundamental changes to the care economy

UN Women calls on Lebanon’s Government to implement these significant reforms.