Please join us at the next event of the CIC National Capital Branch’s Middle East Study Group (MESG), being held in honour of International Women’s Day


How do we, as Westerners, think of women in the Middle East? Do we imagine mysterious figures, shrouded in black robes? Do we picture Disney’s Princess Jasmine? Or do we simply assume they are in need of saving and liberation from their oppressive and patriarchal cultures?

Like all stereotypes, these imaginings are not only reductionist and problematic, but they transform Middle Eastern women into objects. Yet, Middle Eastern women – as with women everywhere – are economically and politically active agents, working tirelessly to improve their lives and societies – on their own terms. Indeed, the region is home to many women-led, feminist non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide educational and vocational/leadership training. Amongst the Middle East’s very diverse countries, Lebanon stands out as an important example.

Lebanon is one country that, as a result of regional conflicts, houses three different nationalities: Lebanese, Palestinians, and more recently, Syrians. Lebanese law, further, disempowers refugees relative to Lebanese citizens, in the form of very serious bureaucratic obstacles, such as work permits and the complete ban of their employment in numerous professions (law, medicine, engineering). These barriers have forced Lebanon’s refugee populations to seek employment in the black labor market. As an already marginalized portion of marginalized populations, refugee women in Lebanon have often turned to low-paid segments of the economy, facing exploitation and harsh (and even dangerous) working conditions.

Recognizing these serious problems, a number of NGOs have emerged to cater specifically to the unique needs of Lebanon’s female refugee populations. One such NGO is the Women’s Program Association, that has worked with refugee women in Lebanon for over 50 years, helping them develop the skills and tools necessary to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Partnering with the United Nations, the Association has launched an innovative and highly successful micro-loans program. What the success of the Women’s Program Association, and other NGOs like it, demonstrate is that when they are empowered with the right tools and supports, women – especially refugee women – are able to break the cycle of poverty.

Speaker Biography:

Lena Saleh is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Carleton University. Broadly, her research focuses on gender and popular culture in the Arab-Islamic world. She has completed her doctoral fieldwork in Lebanon and her dissertation (near completion) examines the relationship between Arabic-language popular music and gender/sexuality in Lebanon. Lena has attended numerous conferences, including the American Political Science Association, the International Studies Association, the Canadian Political Science Association, and the Popular Culture Association. Her published work can be found in Israeli Studies Review (with Mira Sucharov)the volume, Nationalism and Popular Culture (edited by Tim Nieguth), and (with Mira Sucharov) in the forthcoming book, Contemporary Cases in U.S. Foreign Policy (edited by Ralph Carter).


Date: Friday, March 13, 2020

Location: Colonel By Room, Ottawa City Hall, 110 Laurier Avenue West

RSVP: There is no cost to attend this event but we ask that you register in advance with:

Hamid Jorjani, Ph.D.