The family in Lebanon, as elsewhere in the region, assigns different roles to family members on the basis of gender. The superior status of men in society and within the narrow confines of the nuclear family transcends the barriers of sect or ethnicity. Lebanese family structure is patriarchal. The centrality of the father figure stems from the role of the family as an economic unit, in which the father is the property owner and producer on whom the rest of the family depend. This notion prevails even in rural regions of Lebanon where women participate in peasant work. Although the inferior status of women is undoubtedly legitimized by various religious texts, the oppression of women in Arab society preceded the advent of Islam. The roles of women have traditionally been restricted to those of mother and homemaker. However, since the 1970s Arab societies have allowed women to play a more active role socially and in the work force, basically as a result of the manpower shortage caused by heavy migration of men to Persian Gulf countries. In Lebanon the percentage of women in the labor force has increased, although the Islamic religious revival that swept Lebanon in the 1980s, reasserted traditional cultural values. As a consequence, veils and abas (cloaks) have become more common among Muslim women. Among Christians, the war enabled women to assume more independent roles because of the absence of male family members involved in the fighting.
Notwithstanding the persistence of traditional attitudes regarding the role of women, Lebanese women enjoy equal civil rights and attend institutions of higher education in large numbers (for example, women constituted 41 percent of the student body at the American University of Beirut in 1983). Although women have their own organizations, most exist as subordinate branches of the political parties.
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