Gender and Displacement: What’s it like to be a Syrian female refugee in Lebanon

Date: Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Like their male counterparts, female refugees in Lebanon are struggling to meet even their most basic needs. But their challenges are aggravated by entrenched gender inequalities and norms.

A new report by UN Women Unpacking gendered realities in displacement: the status of Syrian refugee women in Lebanon examines how gender-based discrimination constrains Syrian female refugees’ options, access, and opportunities and increase their vulnerability to food insecurity, poverty, violence and isolation in Lebanon.

Based on interviews with over 500 female refuges throughout Lebanon, the report finds that since the onset of the Syria crisis, the majority of women have taken on increased responsibilities within the household, in providing for their families and/or making financial decisions. Eighty-three percent of the women surveyed have now a larger decision-making role than before displacement. While most women spoke of how increased responsibility had brought with it increased stress, some women welcomed the opportunity to expand their role within and outside of the household. Women who headed households tended to enjoy more freedoms than women in male-headed households, but they were also more vulnerable to income and food insecurity and violence. Economic insecurity was a primary concern for 79% of the women in the study. Only 1% of women had a work permit, though 13% had jobs, the majority of whom live in female-headed households.

The shift in household roles and responsibilities has challenged existing gender roles, putting women and girls at a higher risk of physical, sexual, and emotional violence, both within the household and the larger refugee community. Sixty-three percent of women said that gender-based violence was a problem in the Syrian refugee community, and 37% said it has increased since the start of the Syria crisis. This perceived lack of safety has challenged female Syrian refugees in their ability to contribute to their household incomes, to accessing humanitarian aid and in integrating into their neighboring communities.

Many women feel that they are unable to report harassment for many reasons, including the fact that some lack proper civil and legal documentation, a fear of retribution or being blamed themselves for the incident and being forced to return to Syria, and limited of faith in the authorities. This lack of accountability is compounded by the absence of comprehensive and quality psychosocial services for survivors of violence.

The stress of displacement, perceived and actual fear of violence, within the household and beyond, and the inability to provide for their families are all burdens that women in this study bare. However, many are also appreciative of the opportunities they have and optimistic about the potential for the future.

What emerges from the study is a clear picture of the challenges that women refugees face that are aggravated by gender-based discrimination.” Said Mohammad Naciri, Regional Director of UN Women for Arab States. "To counter this, there is an urgent need for a comprehensive and systematic gender-sensitive response that can mitigate these risks and empower women to meet both their daily and long-term needs.”

To alleviate the hardships of displacement on Syrian female refugees in Lebanon and empower them, the report has made the following recommendations:

  1. Ensure that gender mainstreaming in humanitarian and resilience programming prioritizes women and girls’ empowerment and access to services;
  1. Increase access to employment services and financial resources for female Syrian refugees, actively targeting refugee women for livelihoods programming;
  1. Support interactive, safe spaces for female Syrian refugees to meet, network and socialize. These centers should enhance reporting of gender-based violence and provide quality psychosocial support services;
  1. Ensure information sharing and awareness raising on available services, pairing approaches that utilize technology with those that are based on word of mouth;
  1. Promote accountability for violence against women and support the judicial system to investigate and prosecute cases of violence against women within the refugee community;
  1. Recognize the positive correlation between the strength of women’s movements and organizations and gender-equal societies, and invest in women-led organizations as key drivers of short-term and long-term social equality.

Read in Arabic.