Lebanon: Exacerbation of Gender Based Violence

by Ghida Anani

© Habib Abboud

Ghida Anani is assistant professor at the Faculty of Public Health at the Lebanese University and Gender Based Violence (GBV) Expert. In 2008, Anani received the “Excellence in Collaborative Teaching Award” from the American University of Beirut. In June 2011, she founded and continues to manage ABAAD (Dimensions) – Resource Centre for Gender Equality in Lebanon and throughout the MENA region which was granted “WOMANITY Award”. In 2014 she was awarded the “Women Leadership Achievement Award” and in 2017 the “Women Rights Award”.

Almost seven years into the Syrian crisis, and the outlook for refugees in Lebanon is increasingly precarious, as poor communities across the country continue to suffer as a result of the ongoing conflict. In 2017, a number of reviews/assessments were undertaken and published, ranging from the humanitarian response through to the annual survey of Syrian refugee households in Lebanon, and the Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees (VASyR).
Over 70% of refugees from Syria residing in Lebanon live in poverty, driving negative coping mechanisms such as mounting debt, child labor and early marriage. The vast majority of refugees remain without residency (despite an exemption of fees for some refugees earlier this year) substantially hampering their freedom of movement, access to services, and assistance (UNHCR, UNICEF & WFP, 2016).
Some refugees living in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon have faced eviction orders and have been required to leave their informal settlements or other rented accommodation. Social tensions between host and refugee communities have also risen across Lebanon earlier in 2017. This could be due to the sense of helplessness the Lebanese feel towards their own government. As such, the inability to make changes within their government has pushed them to revolt against who they perceive as their competitors over scarce resources. Within the refugee population, a sense of insecurity and fear of raids, arrest and detention linked to lack of legal stay, lack of access to assistance and decent work to meet basic needs, discrimination and increasing social tensions are all identified by refugees as ‘push factors’ in their consideration about whether to return to Syria before conditions are in place to return voluntarily in safety and dignity.
These protracted displacement and increasing vulnerabilities related to the above mentioned insecurities and to severe living conditions in crowded settlements, further exacerbate the risk of GBV incidences. In Lebanon, women, girls, and boys, especially from the refugee community, are disproportionately affected by GBV including domestic violence (DV). According to ABAAD’s report “Shifting Sands”, women are facing increasing DV as most of the refugee men are unable to fulfill their traditional ‟masculine” roles as heads and protectors of their families, which often results in aggressive behavior towards their families – wives and children, as too often, men are socially only allowed to express polarized feelings: sometimes joy, but most often anger (El-Masri, Harvey & Garwood, 2013).


© ABAAD

The changes in family dynamics resulting from the crisis have also contributed to increased stress for both refugee men and women. Due to the dearth of job opportunities, and as many lack legal status and are more likely to be controlled at checkpoints, many men cannot fulfil their traditional gender role of breadwinner and protector of the household. In some cases, this shift in family dynamics has led to a feeling of powerlessness among men who can resort to harmful practices, such as domestic violence, as an answer to the erosion of their traditional gender role, as was found in ABAAD’s qualitative IMAGES study, “We Can Never Go Back to How Things Were Before” (Keedi, Yaghi & Barker, 2017).
On the other hand, in order to provide for their families, whether because their husbands cannot work or because they are absent due to the war (dead, detained, kidnapped, disappeared, etc.), women are forced to take on new responsibilities and many of them work in the informal market. Yet, these economic opportunities put them at high risk of exploitation, harassment and all forms of violence as perpetrators don’t fear any kind of legal repercussions (Bartels et al., 2018).
In 2017, further layers of gaps were identified by the GBV actors in Lebanon. The main reported gaps in the GBV sector in Lebanon in 2017 according to the GBV Taskforce members are mainly in the assistance for survivors wishing to relocate, either alone or with children, to a safe place, the availability and access to legal services (among other GBV related services), and the availability of socio-economic empowerment activities (UNHCR, 2017; UNOCHA, 2017).
Regarding accessibility to safe accommodation and relocation services, it is noticed that survivors, in particular women, may decline referrals to safe long-term shelters due to some of the shelters’ entry requirements and strict regulations (for instance limited access to phones, curfews, boys above nine years, as well as survivors with mental health disorders are not accepted). In other instances, survivors may decline a shelter referral as they do not want to interrupt their children’s daily routine, particularly when their children attend school in the same geographical area of residence. Overall, data analysis shows that access to security/protection services remains challenging for socially marginalized groups (UNFPA, 2012).


© ABAAD

This severe lack of safe shelter and adequate psychosocial and legal support services for Lebanese and especially non-Lebanese survivors of GBV in Lebanon became ever more apparent with the influx of Syrian refugees to Lebanon. Refugee women and children (mostly Syrians) are not accepted at the scarce services offered by Lebanese women’s shelters and therefore face even greater difficulties in their mission to overcome the cycle of violence.
In most societies across the Middle East, there is a tendency to blame the victim in cases of gender or sexual based violence. Sanitary complications of an abuse can be particularly serious for the survivors. However, the psychological, emotional and social consequences are even worse. Post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety may be associated with the social stigma and pressure faced and can aggravate the psychological damage.
In order to tackle the root-causes of violence against women and girls as described above, ABAAD has developed different services aiming at addressing the complexity pertaining to GBV, including SGBV, and the different needs of women and girls survivors or at risk of GBV.
In 2012, ABAAD developed its Emergency Safe Housing Program (also known as Al- Dar) which provides survivors of GBV holistic care within a immediate safe temporary accommodation. A holistic, survivor-centered approach is taken into account when analyzing the approach used by ABAAD in the provision of its services.
The Midway houses aim at providing women and girls with a feeling of safety and security. First, the location of the midway houses itself remains confidential and its access is limited to the beneficiaries, social workers, and psychotherapists. In addition to physical safety, the midway house program provides women with a feeling of emotional safety.
Women at the midway houses receive psychosocial support aiming at developing trust-building, positive communication and intercultural dialogue. During this difficult situation, there remain glimmers of hope. The situational changes in terms of gender roles provide a good entry point for programming that results in long-lasting transformational gender equitable change for men and women. Until then, ABAAD’s various programs, as well as those of other NGOs will continue to provide the needed support for survivors of violence to provide them with the tools necessary to continue their lives past the violent incident (12 March, 2018).