Photo credit: Copyright 2020 NPR.
Since mid-2019, Lebanon has been witnessing unstable social, economic, and political conditions, whereby the corrupt patriarchal and sectarian system involved the country and its citizens in a whirlpool of crises one after the other. The consecutive series of injustices and hardships carved the path of the long-awaited rightful revolution, the October 17 Lebanese Revolution, which proved its urgency against a system that have brought Lebanon to an economic collapse, one of the worst in its history, and an ongoing political and security crisis. Atop of all this, the country, like the rest of the world, was struck by COVID-19 global pandemic of which impact was not only limited to those who have been infected, but it went beyond to also increasing stress and anxiety amongst the whole society. “For two weeks after December 4th, we were receiving over 150 calls a day, compared to the previous average of 7 calls a day” mentioned Embrace[i] in their quarterly newsletter.
All while hosting over 1.5 million Syrian and Palestinian refugees and vulnerable migrant workers, these accumulations were finally followed by the massive Beirut explosion, killing over 200 people, injuring more than 6000 people, making homeless more than 300000 people and families, damaging businesses, and the already overwhelmed hospitals, in addition to destroying food and medical supplies. Amid all this, being a woman or girl, refugee, migrant worker, gender nonconforming person, minority or a woman with disability in Lebanon, increases the likelihood of suffering from food insecurity, lack of social protection, unemployment, poverty, risk of GBV and SGBV, while suffering from the lack of access to adequate shelters and services. “In Lebanon, one assessment found that up to 54 per cent of respondents had observed an increase of harassment, violence or abuse against other women and girls in their household or their communities[ii]. Moreover, as in every crisis, the current need for mental health and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services became more acute.
It is inevitable to say that since almost a year back, the situation especially exacerbated for women and girls living in the country, and the emotional ramifications of all the successive calamities on women and girls were greater “because women disproportionately suffer from mental health disorders and are more frequently subject to social causes that lead to mental illness and psychosocial distress. The origins of much of the pain and suffering particular to women can be traced to the social circumstances of many women’s lives. Depression, hopelessness, exhaustion, anger and fear grow out of hunger, overwork, domestic and civil violence” [iii].
Nonetheless, it is equally important to regard women and girls’ safety during this period where contributing to first-line response can be a challenge in terms of ensuring that they are not subject to harassment or any kind of physical violence. Fe-Male finds it crucial to take into consideration the safety risks that might be associated with the situation, including crowded places or isolated places and poor lighting conditions, and mainly those women who became homeless, or who found refuge in stranger homes.
Since the onset of the disaster, Fe-Male’s staff, members, and volunteers joined forces with all the civil society groups and community members to help in the immediate relief processes on the ground. Throughout the years, Fe-Male has been one of the leading feminist NGOs in the country to advance women and girls’ rights through different tools and innovative approaches. Recognizing the stresses that 2020’s combined situations are imposing on the country’s women and girls, and based on our mandate, our expertise, and connections with the various civil society groups on the ground, Fe-Male intends to continue to play the role that it’s best at: supporting the most vulnerable through it all to be able to get past these traumas with the least mental and emotional damage possible, through launching some response-to-crises initiatives such as the use of media, social media, arts, sports. At Fe-Male, and as one of the main frontline local NGOs in the country, we believe in our reaching-out capacities and the accurate assessment of women and girls’ needs, in addition to our ability to prioritizing and attending to these needs accordingly, while necessarily engaging them in stress-relieving activities to alleviate the burdens, ensuring their protection and meeting all the SRH needs that severely arise during times of crises.
Blom Bank, SAL
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Phone: (961-5) 433203/6. Fax: (961-5) 433208.
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[i] Embrace is a non-profit organization (NGO) which works to raise awareness around mental health in Lebanon. Embrace launched as an affiliation with the Department of Psychiatry at the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC) back in 2013.