More than half of Syrian refugee women in Lebanon said that domestic and sexual abuse along with early marriage are their primary fears, according to a report released in a seminar Thursday. The National Commission for Lebanese Women hosted the event at its headquarters in Baabda to shed light on the hardships faced by Syrian refugee women, presenting a legal policy paper pertaining to Lebanon’s policies regarding refugees.
The report presented by Faten Ghanem from the Social Affairs Ministry provides a harrowing, yet hopeful, account of the difficulties and abuse Syrian refugee women are confronted with on a daily basis.
Part of the report included a poll that gauged Syrian refugee women’s greatest concerns.
More than half listed domestic and sexual abuse as well as early marriage as their primary fears.
These fears are well-grounded, as refugee displacement, economic hardship, a lack of human rights and difficulty obtaining legal papers are all factors contributing to domestic violence, the document said. Women and children form 78 percent of the Syrian refugees present on Lebanese territory, according to the report. As more and more women are becoming heads of households and primary providers, men are harboring increased feelings of frustration.
Men are no longer able to fulfill their traditional role of providing for the family and protecting it. As a result they tend to lash out at those closest to them. Sixty-eight percent of the abuse Syrian refugee women were exposed to involved close family members, 73 percent of the abuse occurred in either the abuser’s or the woman’s residence. The report argues that the harassment partly results from economic problems.
Women are also being taken advantage of in their workplaces. Refugee women work long hours, in slave-like conditions, for minimum pay. Desperate due to increases in living expenses, women are often left with no choice but to accept what work they can find.
Some refugees, due to the lack of alternatives, are engaging in prostitution as a means of meeting their basic needs. Others get married, or secure marriages for their young daughters, as a means of coping with economic destitution. Refugee women are constantly moving, which makes them more susceptible to harassment.
Yet despite the multitude of difficulties refugee women are facing, forced early marriages are on the decline. Instances whereby families marry off their daughters to “protect them,” with the understanding that the husband will provide for the women and save them from poverty, are decreasing.
Programs aiming at alleviating these living conditions are being established. One such program teaches women technical skills so that they have a means of making a living, allowing them to secure their independence and boost their self-confidence. Seventy shelters have been established to provide victims of sexual and domestic violence with a safe space. Special aid to these women is also being provided.
Yet further work needs to be done, and the Social Affairs Ministry presented a road map for future policy initiatives. The ministry stressed in its report that men should be included in the battle against domestic abuse. Men who have engaged in domestic abuse are planned to be placed in rehabilitation programs. The number of shelters will also increase.
Other steps include encouraging men to participate in awareness campaigns regarding familial violence. The idea is to recast men as agents of change, leading the struggle against abuse. Further suggestions include providing men and women with support and guidance counseling so that they are better able to manage their lives as well as those of their families.