The Arab Institute for Women Launches the Women in Leadership Program

Together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women, the institute will be undertaking several initiatives thanks to generous funding from the Government of Canada.

By Raissa Batakji

Ambassador McCollum, UNDP Resident Representative Hauenstein, UN Women Lebanon Representative Elmessiri and their teams with President Mawad and Sfeir.

Though Lebanese women pioneered the fight for the right to vote more than 70 years ago, today, female representatives in parliament occupy eight out of a total of 128 seats. Among many other gender disparities, this illustrates a wider grim reality in the country of the backlash that has countered feminist gains in recent years that is bound to continue if left unchecked. 

Against this backdrop, the Arab Institute for Women (AiW) at LAU joined forces with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UN Women and the Government of Canada to launch the Women in Leadership Program on October 4 on the Beirut campus.

The program aims to encourage the Lebanese to embrace gender equality and acknowledge the roles of women leaders across different fields, through academic research and outreach activities that will document the endeavors of inspiring women and maximize their outreach.

The launch event was attended by the Ambassador of Canada to Lebanon Stefanie McCollum, UNDP Resident Representative Melanie Hauenstein, UN Women Lebanon Representative Gielan Elmessiri and their teams, alongside LAU President Michel E. Mawad, vice presidents, faculty, staff and students.

Pointing to the university’s heritage as a school for girls, Dr. Mawad affirmed that the institution has, since day one, derived its identity from being fully dedicated to empowering women through education. “Long before the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – particularly SDG 5: Gender Equality – LAU started the fight for gender equality by focusing on qualifying women through education to lead with self-confidence, expertise and top credentials,” he said.


Transformative leadership and enabling initiatives such as the Women in Leadership Project, added Dr. Mawad, “can and should accelerate the momentum toward redressing accumulated discrimination and righting multiple wrongs.”

Hence, this project, said AiW Director Myriam Sfeir, is “a strategic partnership between like-minded stakeholders to advance gender equality and create a space for dialogue and knowledge-sharing on women and gender issues.”


It will cover a series of activities, she added, including TEDx talks by female achievers, a book addendum about pioneering women, a special issue of Al Raida journal highlighting the achievements of the past 50 years, theatrical performances that will be based on feminists’ writings and a push to expand and update the Who Is She database that spotlights female trailblazers.

The value of these endeavors lies in “creating an enabling environment for women’s participation in public life and decision-making, while forging multistakeholder alliances to support positive changes in policies and laws,” said Elmessiri.


Hauenstein underlined the value of working on gender equality at universities and in academia to nurture a generation of empowered women voters and potential candidates. “This effort is pivotal for developing and shaping the future of Lebanon, as it advances gender equality, supports women and girls, and fosters a more inclusive, equitable, and prosperous society,” she said.


On behalf of the Government of Canada, the generous sponsor of this project, Ambassador McCollum expanded on her country’s Feminist Foreign Policy, whereby the government promotes women’s political participation as a human right and advocates for dismantling unequal power structures, discriminatory norms and persistent social, political, legal and economic barriers to gender equality.


Referring to the joint project, the ambassador described it as crucial to “acknowledging women’s unrecognized achievements in all fields and enticing the next generation of young women to aim for, and eventually reach, leadership roles within their own communities.”

One shining example is Senior Election Officer at UNDP and LAU alumna Nora Mourad (BA ’01; MA ’06), who reiterated Hauenstein’s thoughts that “university campuses are the baselines for activism and molding beliefs.”

Coming back to campus to attend the launch, she felt lucky to still be working in the field that she is passionate about, advocating for good governance, gender equality, and the freedom of speech. “In Lebanon, women have been waiting long enough – the time to break the glass ceiling has come,” she added.