It is sometimes hard to believe that we are in the 21st century when outdated laws are still applied in Lebanon.
As politics interferes with women’s rights to the citizenship of their children, as archaic sexist mentalities prevail in society, and as gender discrimination continues in sectarian courts, it is staggering that civil laws impose restrictions on more than 51% of the Lebanese population to be women.
Lebanon prohibits discriminatory acts by employers based on sex, color, nationality, religion, age or race, as dictated by the Lebanese Constitution. But on the ground, everything is different.
The Lebanese Constitution clearly states that “Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic founded on respect…in particular freedom of opinion and belief, and respect for social justice and equality of rights and duties among all citizens without discrimination.
Lebanon’s Labor Law also states in Article 26 that “the employer may not discriminate between men and women workers with respect to the type of work, the amount of salary or wages, employment, promotion, professional qualification and clothing”.
Thus, discrimination based on sex is basically prohibited by law, on paper but not in practice. Many studies have shown that Lebanon can ban applicants from being hired because of their gender, age, and even sect.
In 2000, Lebanon introduced Article 26 of the Lebanese Labor Law to protect women from any act of discrimination regarding “the type of work, amount of remuneration, employment, promotion, vocational training and clothing”.
However, Article 26 of the Lebanese Labor Law is followed by Article 27 which clearly prohibits the employment of women in several industries listed in Schedule 1 of the Labor Law.
According to Annex 1, “in accordance with the provisions of Articles 22, 23 and 27, it is prohibited to employ children, young persons and women in the following work or industries:
- Underground works in mines, quarries and all stone extraction works.
- Furnace work for melting, refining and cooking mineral products.
- Silvering of mirrors by the quicksilver process.
- Production and handling of explosives.
- Glass melting and firing.
- Oxyacetylene welding
- Production of alcohol and all other alcoholic beverages
- Duco painting.
- Handling, treatment or reduction of ashes containing lead and desilvering of lead.
- Production of welding materials or alloys containing more than 10% lead.
- Production of litharge, cutter, minimum, ceruse, mico-orange, or lead sulphate, chromate or silicate.
- Mixing and gluing operations in the manufacture or repair of electric accumulators.
- Cleaning workshops whose operations are listed under numbers 9, 10, 11 and 12 are carried out.
- Operate the drive motors.
- Repair or clean running drive motors.
- Asphalt production.
- Tannery work.
- Work in a warehouse of fertilizers extracted from excrement, manure, bones and blood.
- Cut up animal carcasses.
Prohibiting women from exercising these specific occupations could be part of a certain reasoning aimed at protecting them from dangerous and/or arduous occupations.
However, Lebanese women are legally allowed to work in even more dangerous and difficult jobs than those listed above, namely working in the fields, fighting in the army, flying military and commercial aircraft, undertaking civil engineering constructions, etc.
This situation imposed by labor law is not only a question of women’s rights. It is also detrimental to Lebanon and its economy.
Lebanon has had to rely to a large extent on foreign migrant workers to fill the void instead of tapping into the capacities and availability of the local labor force of over 50% of its population.
The well-being of Lebanon and its society would benefit from changes to these laws which have dragged on unchanged for more than 20 years, like many laws which still discriminate against women.
Whether or not Lebanese women want to take on any of the prohibited jobs listed should be up to them. They should have the right to decide based on their abilities, financial needs and work preferences.