Advocating for Sustainable Gender Equity

Tomorrow’s Leaders Gender Scholars present research on timely topics at their second annual, end-of-year conference.

By Raissa Batakji

The conference was a culmination of the scholars’ research in women’s economic, social, psychological, and political empowerment.
(From L) Dr. Skulte-Ouaiss with students Stella El Douaihy, Christopher Massad, Aya Catherina Elias and Pia Kattoura.
(From L) Ekmekji with students Reina Haidar, Rita Mroueh and Kawsar Ahmad.
(From L) Dr. King with students Firas Salman, Majd Kontar and Fatat El Halabi.

In collaboration with the Arab Institute for Women (AiW), the US Middle East Partnership Initiative Tomorrow’s Leaders Gender Scholars Program (MEPI-TLS) at LAU hosted its second annual end-of-year conference, titled MEPI-TLS Scholars for Sustainable Gender Equality, on June 7 at Irwin Hall.

The conference featured a keynote address by UN Under Secretary General and Executive Director for UN Women Sima Bahous, panel discussions led by gender experts, as well as poster and oral presentations by TLS scholars who reflected on their experiential and evidence-based learning, and recommended strategies and policies for realizing equality, peace and development.

In his welcome address, LAU President Michel E. Mawad expressed his pride in the work of the 126 MEPI-TLS scholars who have successfully completed their journey at LAU – pointing to the university’s roots as a women’s college. “Since day one, this institution has been about women empowerment and gender equality. We have built a university culture around it, producing generations of women leaders who have made a difference,” he said.


On behalf of the university, Dr. Mawad thanked the American people, the US government through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Department of State MEPI for their years-long generosity that has produced outstanding results in terms of academic programs, research, advocacy and activism.

“The programs that we are able to launch and support thanks to MEPI have been among the most impactful of any programs we offer, and their effect can be felt in multiple ways, in Lebanon and the region,” added Dr. Mawad.

Acting Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy, Janae Cooley, opened her address with words of encouragement and advice for TLS scholars as they begin their professional journey. She emphasized  that the US government is currently investing more than $70 million in the MEPI-TL programs, which includes the undergraduate, graduate and college-to-work pipeline programs, alongside TLS. 


Addressing the scholars, she said: “You are the heart of a growing and vibrant culture of gender studies at LAU, and your journey on this program could not have been possible without the people that supported you – the distinguished professors, the experts and the activists, so I would like to thank them as well for being champions of social justice and gender equality, and I would like to recognize the LAU team’s effort in managing this scholarship program.”

In her recorded keynote address, Sima Bahous spoke about the reality of the gender gap in the Arab world, providing the latest figures on women’s participation in the workforce, women’s political participation, and the caretaking roles that women fill in Arab societies.


Giving an example, Bahous noted that “Arab women took 41 percent of all pandemic-related job losses, reaching a female labor force participation low of 20.8 percent – the largest gender gap among all regions, globally.”

That is why, she continued, “your work on women’s economic empowerment, women’s participation and the media has never been more needed at this time of interlocking crises and deepened inequalities.”

To that end, TLS Academic Director and Assistant Professor Lina Kreidieh took the stage to underline the importance of “teaching and empowering our youth on the impact of gender discrimination and the need to push for positive, transformative change,” which is at the core of the TLS program.


Before transitioning to the panel portion of the event, AiW Director Myriam Sfeir highlighted how the institute mainstreams gender in all courses at LAU – one of them being the TLS program. “The institute works closely with the students and invites them to seminars, conferences, and webinars, as well as engages them with internships,” she said, adding that AiW had recently recognized the work of student researchers by publishing their work in a special edition of Al Raida journal.


The conference included three student panels: “Ensuring a Safe and Inclusive Workplace for a More Sustainable Development,” moderated by LAU Title IX Director and LAU-MEPI TL Gender Expert Jennifer Skulte-Ouaiss; “Diversity and Inclusion for Sustainable Peace and Security,” moderated by UN Women Mediation Advisor Karma Ekmekji; and “The Representation and Reception of Gender and Sexuality in Media,” moderated by LAU Assistant Professor of Multimedia Journalism and Communication Gretchen King.

Delivering the closing remarks, MEPI-TL Program Executive Director Dina Abdul Rahman reflected on how the program has offered means of “support and inspiration and has been a driver for us to move on, despite prevailing challenges in Lebanon.”


In a parting message to the graduating TLers, she invited them to have hope, reassuring them that “today proves to all of you that you can change the world by taking everything one step, one issue and one person, at a time.”