Childcare responsibilities are one of the main obstacles to women’s employment in Lebanon, according to a new World Bank Group report released on Wednesday. Expanding the availability, affordability, and quality of childcare services, while tackling social norms around their utilization, can support women in joining or remaining in the workforce while contributing to children growing to their full potential, ultimately leading to job creation and economic growth.

The report entitled “Comprehensive Assessment of the Childcare Landscape in Lebanon” was launched on Wednesday in an event organized namely in collaboration with the Arab Institute for Women at the Lebanese American University (LAU). Developed under the Mashreq Gender Facility (MGF), coordinated by the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW), the report analyzes the supply and demand of childcare services for children aged 3 and under. It provides a review of Lebanon’s regulatory and institutional framework around childcare, maps out the current supply of services, including cost, evaluates employer-provided childcare solutions, and deepens the understanding of households’ childcare needs.

In Lebanon, only 22% of women aged between 15 and 64 are in the labor force, according to 2022 data from the Central Administration of Statistics. Sixty percent of mothers surveyed during the preparation of the report cited childcare as the primary reason for not working. Other important reasons include low wages and the lack of means of transportation, in addition, of course, to socio-cultural considerations.

Despite the proven benefits of early childhood education, only 10% of childcare providers in Lebanon operate at full capacity. While this is partly due to the reduction in household incomes following the economic crisis, it also reflects social norms that expect women to be full-time mothers and housewives. To help break gender stereotypes around the role of women in the workplace and men’s role in the household, the World Bank Group and NCLW launched the “Reaching Our Full Potential” awareness-raising campaign, targeting men, women, and employers with evidence-based videos in September 2023.

On the employer side, only 5% of the surveyed firms offer childcare services to their employees. Nonetheless, the majority apply family-friendly policies through maternity leave, paternal leave, flexible working hours, and work from home arrangements. Programs such as Leaders4Equality (L4E), implemented under the MGF in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture of Beirut and Mount Lebanon and delivered to ten champion companies, aimed to enhance female employment in the private sector by supporting companies in implementing diversity and inclusion strategies and other supportive policies.

“Improving access to quality and affordable childcare can increase the labor market engagement of mothers of young children, leading to higher female labor force participation,” said Jean-Christophe Carret, World Bank Middle East Country Director. “This report provides critical evidence to advance the policy dialogue and identify the reforms needed to strengthen the sector for the benefit of women’s economic activity, the young children in Lebanon, and society as a whole.”

The report highlights the mismatch between supply and demand, with a gap in provision for the youngest children (under 1 year old). The supply of childcare services is mostly private, costly, and concentrated in coastal areas. Affordability is a main constraint for families, resulting in low demand for formal childcare. The report proposes measures for an inclusive expansion of quality and affordable childcare services in four areas. The first measure is an enabling environment for efficient, affordable provision of quality childcare services; the second is a more equitable distribution of the unpaid care work burden within the household; the third is improved state support to address households’ care needs; and the last is inclusive family-friendly workplace conditions in the private sector.

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