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Hijabis are often denied jobs in Lebanon and it's not OK

StepFeed logo StepFeed 07/03/2018 StepFeed

Hijabis are often denied jobs in Lebanon and it's not OK

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"How are you going to find a job?" was one of the very first questions I heard when I announced that I will put on the Islamic headscarf. 

Considering their high expectations for my future, my family members worried that I would not reach my full potential if I limit myself to the hijab.

Nonetheless, I decided to disregard their concerns and hit the first roadblock when I learned I could not pursue my goal of becoming a judge in my home country Lebanon - in which around half of the population is Muslim.

While being denied jobs for wearing the hijab can make headlines in the West, the issue is rather commonplace in Lebanon, where many companies openly boast no-hijab policies. 

"Our company has a policy that forbids all apparent religious signs"

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As I hunted for part-time jobs, the consequences of wearing the hijab constantly lurked in the background. I made sure to include my photo - in all my hijabi glory - in my resume, just to avoid the hassle of being led on by prospective employers who refuse hijab-wearing applicants. 

While some employers might simply ignore an application or use other excuses to turn an applicant down, one employer flat-out told me I would not be hired because of my hijab. 

"Your CV is very interesting," they wrote, acknowledging that I should have been considered for the job. They then informed me that the company has a policy against "all apparent religious signs and discussions about religion or politics". 

"We do respect each individual beliefs and affiliations but do not tolerate in the job any reference to both, as we believe they are the source of all our local problems," they wrote.

In response, I tried to explain how detrimental the policy and the reasoning behind it were - to no avail. 

The employer insisted that the policy stems from the idea that Lebanon is "based on bigotry and intolerance", so it seems like they decided to combat the problem with more bigotry and intolerance.

"I had decided to step out of that infested pool and take a clear stand about in our company," they added.

Employers blatantly include "not wearing the hijab" in job descriptions

With no regulations to protect hijabis from discrimination, some employers do not shy away from openly calling for potential employees who do not wear the hijab:

a screenshot of a cell phone © Provided by Step Platform DMCC


a screenshot of a cell phone © Provided by Step Platform DMCC

Lebanese hijabis speak up about their experiences with no-hijab policies

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"It's a shame that people never look beyond appearances."

In a story that caused a stir on Lebanese social media in August 2017, an architect was refused a job interview when the employer learned she wears the headscarf after he had initially expressed interest in her.

Moussa took her disappointment to Facebook, sharing screenshots of her conversation with the employer, who informed her that the company has a no-hijab policy. Unfortunately, this was not the first time Moussa had encountered intolerance. 

"This is the fifth time this happens," Moussa told StepFeed at the time. "It's a shame that people never look beyond appearances."

She went on to condemn employers for undermining her experience and academic credentials and judging her solely based on her hijab.

"They only saw the hijab on my head. As if the hijab stands in the way of one's ability to work or draw or write," she added.

Some employers tend to change their attitudes after finding out an applicant wears the hijab

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"Whenever I apply to jobs, they would be impressed by my practical ideas as a chemistry graduate," Nada Kandil wrote under Moussa's post. 

"But, after I arrive for the interview, they change their attitudes and forget all about their admiration."

"I'm just as qualified as any other woman or man applying for the job"

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In a video that has been widely shared on Facebook, Sara Lawand, a business graduate, shared her thoughts on the matter.

"I'm just as qualified as any other (non-hijabi) woman or man applying to the job," she said. 

"Why are we still backwards? Why do we still judge people based on their appearances or the way they dress?"

Lawand went on to say that hijab is a matter of personal freedom and it should not be taken into consideration when assessing prospective employees.

"Hijab is a personal freedom and my hijab does not decrease my value or affect my capabilities," she asserted. 

Speaking to StepFeed, Lawand said she was denied a job at a bank that enforced a no-hijab policy. 

She explained that her father, a prominent client at the bank, had asked the manager for a job or internship opportunity for his daughter. "She's veiled. We don't take hijabis," the manager replied. 

Lawand posted the video in response to the incident, without mentioning the name of the bank or the details of the encounter. 

According to Lawand, the manager actually saw the video and called her father afterwards. To her surprise, the manager actually denied saying they do not hire hijabis, despite having reiterated the bank's no-hijab policy multiple times. 

It's high time employers let go of their discriminatory policies

With bigotry and intolerance plaguing many aspects of public life in the country, employers seem to be broadening the rift with such discriminatory policies, rather than nurturing acceptance and promoting diversity in the workplace.

Highly qualified professionals continue to be denied opportunities because of the way they choose to express their personal beliefs, and it's time this comes to an end. 

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