LAU launches online database of prominent Lebanese women
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March 8, 2010—
“Who is She in Lebanon,” an online database of prominent Lebanese women, was launched during a ceremony held at LAU’s Irwin Hall Auditorium in Beirut on March 2, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, which is marked annually on March 8.
Based on a model pioneered in Denmark in 1995, the database is a collaborative project between LAU’s Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World and the Danish Center for Information on Gender, Equality and Ethnicity (KVINFO), a self-governing institution under the Ministry of Culture in Denmark.
“Who is She in Lebanon” aims to provide easy access to biographical information on influential Lebanese women, who serve as opinion leaders, senior managers, politicians, professionals, artists, researchers and experts in a wide range of fields.
Dr. Dima Dabbous-Sensenig, director of IWSAW, was keen to emphasize the drive behind the project at the ceremony: “To render justice to prominent Lebanese women by documenting and publishing their achievements in the fields of politics, science, art, literature and the liberal professions, to name a few.”
First Lady Wafa’a Michel Sleiman said, “Shedding light on distinguished women … must act as a incentive to future generations of women.”
“For centuries, women have been denied the opportunity to showcase their talent and improve it, primarily by being denied the right to an education,” Dabbous-Sensenig said.
“The deliberate omission of the achievements of women in history books even when these women existed and achieved, except for a few miserly counterexamples,” is an even stronger sign of discrimination against women, suggested Dabbous-Sensenig.
Elisabeth Moller Jensen, director of KVINFO, said that “Denmark has one of the world’s longest-established women’s movements, and the country boasts the highest percentage of full-time working mothers in Europe with guaranteed childcare for all children.” However, she was quick to add that “when we look at the number of women in top management and the amount of influence held by Danish women, there is still a long way to go.”
Fadi Karam, secretary-general of the National Commission for Lebanese Women, also gave a grim account of the situation of Lebanese women by highlighting several laws that discriminate against them. These include the nationality law, in which women cannot pass their nationality on to their children, social security regulations with discriminatory provisions regarding maternity leave, a lack of income-tax benefits, the absence of a tax rebate in the case of inheritance, discrimination in the penal code and personal status law.
He stressed that NCLW has been working to “prepare a special and comprehensive strategy aiming at eliminating any discrimination of any nature existing against women in the provision of Lebanese laws.”
LAU President Dr. Joseph G. Jabbra cited a study that found there has been no progress in women’s representation in the workplace since 2001. He added that despite progress in women’s rights since 1908, when 15,000 women marched the streets of New York seeking shorter working hours and better pay — in addition to the right to vote — “breaking through the glass ceiling has been the exception and not the rule.”
Jabbra and Karam signed an agreement pledging to collaborate on women’s rights issues.
The evening ended with a short film of young Lebanese citizens being asked about some of Lebanon’s most influential women. None of those asked had heard of them, and most guessed that they were singers or actresses. Although the footage was amusing, the message was serious: Lebanon’s pioneering women are absent from the country’s consciousness.
Other stories in: Institute for Women's Studies in the Arab World.