Brief summary on the situation of

Migrant Women Workers in Lebanon



This section will rely primarily on the study by Michael Young to be published towards the end of this year, by the Lebanese NGO Forum and entitled "Migrant Workers in Lebanon". The information here will be brief, as the subject of migration will be addressed in a more detailed and comprehensive framework in the study.



I - Background

The arrival of migrant laborers in Lebanon reflects not only domestic needs in the countries of origin but also regional labor mobility. Specific regional events —the drop of oil prices, the Gulf war and the collapse of the Soviet Union— have led to changes in migration trends and resulted in the "expansion of replacement migration" and the "feminization" of migration.

Both trends have been evident in Lebanon. For several years women from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have been working in bars, as dancers, waitresses, and prostitutes. However, it is the presence of a growing number of  Asian women, mostly from non-Arab Asian countries, that has been particularly evident. A majority of non-Arab migrant laborers are women, a trend that is bound to increase as the Lebanese authority imposes further restrictions on the arrival of non-Arab Afro-Asian males.

"Replacement migration" is a relatively recent phenomenon but it has reached large proportions, given —in the case of women migrants— the increasing hiring of Afro-Asian women workers as low-priced domestics, roles previously played by Syrian and Egyptian women.


Who are they?

Prior to 1973, most female workers were Egyptians and Syrians, and worked in households. As of 1973, Filipinos started to arrive to Lebanon, followed by Sri Lankans in 1975. In 1990 woman from African countries, mainly Ethiopia and Madagascar, arrived.

Today, the largest contingents of non-Arab Afro-Asian women migrants in Lebanon are mainly from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, India, Madagascar, Ethiopia, and West African countries. They provide domestic services, usually in households, but also in restaurants and other businesses. A majority of domestic workers are women.


How many are they?

The actual number of women migrants is difficult to determine for several reasons, ranging from a lack of reliable figures, to the contradiction in numbers that differ from one source to another, to the illegal presence of foreign female workers. It is roughly estimated that 85% of the total number of non-Arab African Asian migrant workers in Lebanon —out of an estimated 200,000-230,000 workers— are female.



II - Working Conditions

Conditions of workers vary depending on category of employment. Migrant workers are not governed by Lebanese labor law. Their status is governed by a contract between the worker and the employer.

The fact that migrant workers are not governed by labor law means that they are denied a right to earn Lebanon's minimal salary, they do not have a maximal number of working hours, they have no guaranteed time off or vacation, they are denied accident and end-of-work compensation, and they are barred from joining labor unions.


Women migrant often face difficult conditions, including:

  • Long hours, for low salaries, in inferior conditions to most Lebanese;
  • No social coverage, though some measures have been taken to provide insurance to some categories of migrants;
  • Being locked indoors by their employers;
  • A difficulty in complaining to Lebanese authorities;
  • Illicit measures affecting salaries such as non-payment;
  • Confiscation of passports or other identity documents (prohibited by Lebanese law and by the International Convention of the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families) that leads to limitations on their freedom of movement;
  • Physical and sexual abuse, which may lead to suicide. Rape is frequent in households. Some lawyers have attempted to take those responsible to court.  While there have been rare successes, most of the time the guilty go unpunished. Abused women migrants are too often reluctant to testify against their tormentors. Their primary motivation appears to be fear, whether of retribution or eventual loss of employment and eventually, expulsion.