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Child Abuse in a Lebanese Nursery: What if Men Partnered in the Household? 

Diana Moukalled
Lebanese Writer and Journalist
Lebanon
Published on 02.08.2023
Reading time: 7 minutes

Recognizing domestic work as work acknowledges the daily effort women exert to sustain productive operations elsewhere and solidifies the principle that the household is a responsibility of both partners, thus ending the stereotyping of women as mere “housewives.”

Following the recent incident involving a Lebanese child care provider abusing toddlers in a daycare center, many Lebanese have blamed working mothers and wives for the violence.

The videos of children being beaten were used by virtual “nonsense” celebrities to draw swift and definitive conclusions about the need for mothers to refrain from working.  

Some went as far as to claim that the responsibility for the abuse suffered by the toddlers falls on the shoulders of “careless” mothers.

Bottom line: mothers should stay home to raise their children and give up their jobs.

This quick and facile idea absolves its proponents from considering the entire picture regarding families that resort to daycare centers or migrant workers, which includes a highly oppressive and unfair labor market in a country that specializes in humiliating its citizens to the extent that everyone is competing to blame the weakest, poorest, and least fortunate for every calamity that befalls us, while exempting those who hold the reins over our lives. 

Women are obliged to work at home and tend to the house in a society that rejects dividing household tasks, does not provide for sufficient maternity leave, while institutions lack even a minimum level of supervision.

Working women face a double challenge, as they are faced with a social system that burdens them with both the responsibilities of their job and the household, generally without the support of their husbands, and with laws that are against them. 

Now they must also confront a public opinion that merely wants them to be silent caregivers.

Does the solution truly lie in mothers and wives staying at home to preserve family stability and security? And at what cost?

Women Working in Numbers

“Women’s participation in the labor market varies from one country to another,” wrote Mirian Muller and Mathew Mai-Poi on World Bank Blogs, in reference to the 2022 State of the Masheq Women report. “In Iraq and Jordan, the percentage does not exceed 15%, while in Lebanon, it reaches about 20%. These figures represent some of the lowest rates of female labor force participation worldwide.”

According to the United Nations’ 2020 Women’s Global Report, 47% of women worldwide have jobs compared to 74% of men. Yet, the percentage of working women in the region of West Asia and North Africa, which includes the Arab countries, does not exceed 30%.

According to the latest data of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the presence of Arab women in managerial positions is extremely low. Only 11% of them hold such positions compared to the global average of 27.1%.

Facing constraints, crises and conflicts, the Arab region, and the world at large, have seen a decline in the number of new jobs. However, Arab women face additional challenges, making it more difficult for them to enter the workforce. 

These challenges include an absence of social justice, domestic burdens, stereotypes, unjust laws and regulations. Women are the most vulnerable in the labor market in times of crisis, as illustrated by the many women who were dismissed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the World Bank, many women lose their ability to participate in the labor market after they get married. Legal and social constraints prevail. In many countries, men refuse their wives to work. 

Even if women manage to work while being married, they may be compelled to stay at home during the postnatal period to take care of their newborns. 

World Bank data for Jordan and the Kurdistan region of Iraq show that women’s employment opportunities significantly decline once they get married. Childbirth presents additional barriers, which includes a lack of childcare services.

Given the overall situation, Lebanon’s economic collapse, and the urgent need for additional income for many families facing a severe financial crisis, it is high time we reconsider the general perception and value of domestic work.

Domestic Work is Work

“Do you work?”

“No, I stay at home. I’m a housewife. I don’t work.”

These are some of the phrases that many women spontaneously utter when asked about what they do, thus giving the impression that they do not work, and are comfortable. Yet, reality is quite the opposite. 

Women managing the household undertake a multitude of jobs and responsibilities. They handle the cleaning, do the laundry, take care of the children, and provide the family with emotional support. 

They engage in activities with and teach their children. They cook, provide healthcare, especially for older family members, and do the shopping. Some women also engage in sewing and other manual activities. 

These chores have no set times. There is no specific time to start or end them. Nor is there a set time to rest from them. 

These are services we all recognize, throughout the day and the week, without questioning or thinking about compensation. Even a working woman, who hires a migrant worker to do the household, will still be carrying part of the burden.

This unjust status quo stems from a history of deep-rooted exploitation and denial of women’s efforts, their work and contributions to society. 

Vicious Circle

In our societies, our cultural heritage has defined specific roles for women, regulating their contribution to the labor market, the public space, and even opportunities for personal development. 

This heritage has put women in a position of vulnerability and limited capabilities, denying them the right to take up leadership and political roles, which is then attributed to their domestic duties that are considered “inferior” in terms of competence and logical thinking.

It is this vicious circle we heard reiterated by the critics of the working mothers following the recent toddler abuse at a daycare center. 

As such, women have once again come under the scrutiny of a society deeming them ineffective or incapable of achieving anything in the workforce, blaming them for working outside the house instead of dedicating themselves to their families and households.

Household chores were not simply imposed on women. They were ingrained, deeply, as they are considered natural aspects of their bodies, personalities, and sexual identities. 

Unpaid domestic work has been weaponized to reinforce the assumption that household work is not work, thus hindering women from ever rising up against it.

In our traditional societies, there is a persistent effort to prepare girls and women for their domestic roles and convince them that having children and marriage is the best they can aspire to in life. It is considered a virtuous act that will be rewarded in the afterlife and subject to punishment if not adhered to.

According to social expectations and the division of gender roles, especially in traditionally conservative environments, men are usually not expected to do anything in the household. 

Men who share household tasks with their partners may even be criticized and mocked, as it is seen to diminish their masculinity.

But let’s think for a moment. What if both men and women shared the household burden?

What if, for example, maternity leave in Lebanon (which is not a vacation!) is extended to more than 3 months, and granted to both mothers and fathers?  

What if municipalities focused on monitoring a good distribution of nurseries per region, as is the case in other countries?

There are many questions, especially in a country experiencing chronic collapse, which has led to immense chaos in a labor market that has become unregulated and lacks guarantees.

When a man were to take on household responsibilities, he would be able to understand the needs of his family. It would relieve women from a physical, psychological, and mental burden and enable them to focus on [other] work. 

It would offer opportunities for women to participate in political life more effectively, free from the social stigma that currently pushes many women to prioritize constant commitment and care for their families.

Recognizing domestic work as work acknowledges the daily effort women exert to sustain productive operations elsewhere. It solidifies the principle that the household burden is a responsibility of both partners and other family members, thus ending the stereotyping of women as mere “housewives.” 

It also improves gender equality in the labor market, creating greater opportunities for women, which will have a positive impact on the country’s economic well-being and fundamental rights.

Diana Moukalled
Lebanese Writer and Journalist
Lebanon
Published on 02.08.2023
Reading time: 7 minutes

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