How Teach for Lebanon Addresses and Promotes Gender Equality

In this blog contribution we review the ways in which Teach For Lebanon (TFL) addresses and promotes gender equality and the economic empowerment of women. We explore this issue on two levels:

  1. that of human resources and recruitment;
  2. and that of the training and development of TFL fellows and the ways in which this translates into their teaching work.

Human Resources and Recruitment


Our HR policy’s stance on gender equality, equal opportunity, and sexual harassment reads as follows:

“Teach For Lebanon does not apply discriminative practices against any employee or group because of sex, race/ethnicity, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or physical disability, whether in recruitment decisions, type of work and working conditions, salary worth (equity in pay) and employee benefits … Teach For Lebanon does not condone sexual harassment in the workplace.”[1] [2]

[1] TFL HR & Volunteer Management Policy, 2021

[2] We have an equivalently worded policy for volunteers.

We have never had to deal with any instances of sexual harassment in the workplace at the level of our executive team, and we have no documented instances among our fellows either. When it comes to the “work and pay” side of things, we make no distinctions; men and women in the same positions are paid the same wages and work under the same conditions.[1] This is true both for our fellows and for our executive team members. As for recruitment and selection – we evaluate candidates based on their competences; alignment with our values, mission, and vision; and past achievements. As per our policy, sex, race/ethinicity, color, religion, and physical disability do not factor in this process.

That being said, humans are not sexless, and varying notions of gender exist in every cultural context we are aware of.[2] At TFL, we find ourselves needing to address two of these notions in particular. The first is that teaching is “woman’s work” – this notion is widespread, especially here in Lebanon. As a result, the majority of applicants to our fellowship program are women, and each year the fellows we recruit are mostly women (the ratio tends to hover around 75% women to 25% men). In response, we work to counter this notion among the audience pools from which we attract our applicants. We argue (at universities, job fairs, etc.) that teaching can be a tremendously rewarding career path for men, drawing examples from a myriad of male TFL alumni success stories.

[1] The only notable exception to this rule is that we grant much longer maternity leaves (10 weeks) than we do paternity leaves (5 days). This is Lebanese labor law; we doubt any readers will find it surprising or problematic.  

[2] By gender we mean both gender identities and conceptions of the gender identities of others (i.e. what people think their own gender entails in terms of traits, roles, rights, and responsibilities, as well as what people think other people’s genders likewise entails).

The other notion we find ourselves needing to address is that which underlies the objection of the parents of women fellow candidates to the prospect of their child leaving the familial household and setting off to work on their own. We are proactive about engaging in dialogue with these parents (through home visits, calls, etc.); when doing so, we emphasize that their child will be safe in their new work environment and that the fellowship experience is likely to be one of significant personal growth for them. In order to drive this point home (no pun intended), we again often rely on a host of TFL alumni success stories, but this time those of women.

Fellow Training and Teaching


The topics of gender equality, gender-based violence, and the economic and sociopolitical empowerment of women prominently features in the training and development of our fellows. This begins during the six weeks of the “summer institute,” when fellows-to-be are intensively prepared for their teaching work,[1] and continues throughout the fellowship (our fellows are provided with ongoing training and support).

These trainings then translate into the teaching work our fellows perform in schools throughout Lebanon. For instance, fellow Nour Khashab took it upon herself last year to teach a class on violence against women. She was inspired by the words of former UN secretary Kofi Annan, who once said that “violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights abuse.” Nour taught her students to distinguish between physical, psychological, and sexual violence against women.[2] She made her students aware that many legal systems do not protect women against domestic violence. Then she delved more deeply into the Lebanese legal system, highlighting the ways in which women are and are not protected from domestic violence in this country, and pointing her students to a number of local organizations whose mission it is to combat violence against women. Finally, she and her students took an oath “to raise awareness about violence against women in [their] communities, to lead by example, and to help others to stand up for themselves.”

Our fellows also organize and lead campaigns aimed at raising awareness of gender issues among other elements of the communities they are embedded in, such as the parents of their students, as well as the other teachers and staff members at the schools in which they are placed. These campaigns have had measurable results. For instance, we have had a number of younger female students (13–15 years old) who were engaged to be married. Our fellows consulted with their parents, emphasizing the importance of the education their children would forego by becoming housewives at such a young age, and arguing that this education would constitute an invaluable defense against domestic abuse. In the three quarters of these cases, the parents relented, and the betrothals were called off.

[1] The summer institute consists of a mix of workshops (on specific pedagogical tools as well as on broader theoretical frameworks), hands-on teaching experience, and sessions in which fellows-to-be reflect on the skills and knowledge they have acquired.

[2] Sexual violence may be physical or psychological.

Next we turn to Tackling Gender Based Violence (GBV), an initiative launched by TFL and supported by the Canadian embassy. This project ran for almost two years (2018–19; 2019–2020) until it had to be put on hold due to the coronavirus crisis. This project essentially delved deeper, and in a more structured manner, into the elements we covered above.

The GBV initiative was divided into three pillars: 1. training on gender equality and gender-based violence administered to fellows both by TFL education staff and by third-party organizations (such the NGOs Himaya and Abaad), 2. Awareness sessions conducted with of our fellows’ students, their parents, and other teachers at the schools in which the fellows were placed,[1] and 3. Activities created by fellows and their students in order both to reflect on these issues and to display and reinforce what they had learned. These activities ranged from in-class exercises designed to bring to light students’ conceptions of gender roles, and perhaps to update these,[2] to watching and discussing movies featuring strong women acting in traditionally “manly” ways,[3] to role playing, storytelling, introspection and retrospection,[4] etc.

Although the GBV initiative is currently on hold, its impact is ongoing. Our fellows, their students, their parents, and other members of the communities in which we operate are still putting into practice what they have learned.

Finally, it is worth mentioning here that TFL recently hosted a day of empowerment training for women alumni of the English Access Microscholarship Program.[5] The day was divided into four sessions: Randa Yassir, Executive Director at the Smart Center, led a session on “Womenand Leadership;” Maya Tal, consultant, coach, and corporate trainer, led a session on “Self-Awareness;” Salyne El-Samarany, TFL’s CEO, led a session on “Influential Speech;” and Najah Saoud, kickboxing trainer and international referee, led a session on self-defense. At the outset of the day, the feedback from our participants (29 women) was overwhelmingly positive.

[1] The content of these sessions was developed according to results of surveys conducted by our fellows.

[2] E.g. discussing questions such as “are men and women equal?” and “are men and women treated equally?”

[3] E.g. Mulan, in which a young woman disguises herself as a man to fight in a war.

[4] In this short film about fellow Samia Habli’s work with her students to identify and redress gender inequities, you will see her asking her students to “share a story of someone of someone who judged you without knowing anything about you, just because of an identity you hold …”

[5] Starting this year, TFL is in charge of implementing the Access program in Lebanon.

Conclusion


In conclusion, gender equality and women’s rights are highly important to TFL. As a result, we expend a significant amount of time and energy at all levels of our organization (from recruitment, to policy and project design, to training, to fieldwork) into addressing them, and we are proud of doing so.

Note that the work our fellows and their students do on these issues frequently takes the form of extracurricular activities including sketches, speeches, songs, videos, and more. Check out our social media channels (Facebook, Instagram) and our website to browse these at your leisure.

Thank you for reading, and happy Women’s Day from all of us at TFL.

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