Take five: "Our priority is to see how aid is distributed despite the limited quantities. Around 40 per cent of the displaced have received aid in the form of basic supplies"

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Story originally published on UN Women Lebanon‘s website.

Woman sitting at desk with pen in hand and the Lebanese flag behind her.
Governor Hwaida Turk. Photo: Hwaida Turk

Hwaida Turk, PhD, is the first woman interim Mohafez (governor) in Lebanon. She was appointed on 17 July 2023 to the southern Governorate of Nabatieh. She spoke to UN Women about the recent increase in armed clashes across the Blue Line[1] between Israel and Palestine that have displaced nearly 20,000 people from South Lebanon, and how she is handling the humanitarian response.

What did your appointment as interim governor mean to you as a woman from Lebanon?

It is a huge honour for me to be one of Lebanon’s eight governors. This is especially important since we have such low participation of women, with no significant change since 1992. Few women are able to occupy high-ranking positions in ministries and other government institutions, but [my appointment] should encourage women to apply to other political and governmental positions.

This appointment was a pleasant surprise because I returned to my main field, in administration, where I’d been for 20 years prior to teaching and leading research at the Lebanese University. My qualifications and studies (Masters in Law, etc.) prepared me well. My name was proposed… and I was selected. I received support from the Minister of Interior from the very start.

What does your role as interim governor entail?

The interim governor, similarly to other governors, keeps up with the work of ministries, coordinates the on-the-ground field activities of security forces and orders checks and inspections to see if laws are being implemented and upheld. A governor also oversees municipalities, coordinating and overseeing their work to enable them to better implement their development projects. In the Governorate of Nabatieh, we also coordinate with UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force. With the recent events in the South, most of our work is now focused on preparedness, humanitarian response and support to the Lebanese displaced population.

What are you doing to respond to the ongoing conflict and displacement of the population?

Three weeks ago, we activated an operations room for crisis management in the Governorate of Nabatieh. This room has received the full support of the Minister of Interior and works in close coordination with the Disaster Risk Management Unit of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers. We organize periodic meetings with government agencies, organizations and security services. This unit is collecting data on internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the four kazas (administrative divisions) of our governorate, and their needs. We know that of the 5583 displaced individuals in my governorate, 2984 are female and 2599 are male. I’ve also created in each kaza a cell comprised of members of municipalities, the Red Cross and other institutions, that collects data and registers needs.

We also meet with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Affairs in addition to international NGOs, UN agencies and local grass-roots organizations and have a dashboard where these organizations list their capabilities and possible support so we can coordinate and avoid a duplication, so that services reach those in need in the fastest way possible and leaving no one behind. Our priority now is to see how aid is distributed, despite the very limited quantity the region has received. Around 40 per cent of the displaced have received aid in the form of basic supplies, such as mattresses and blankets, and foodstuff will be distributed to those displaced in the upcoming week. We are holding meetings to see how more aid can be brought in and my job is to provide those ready to help with information to help them assess and meet needs.

What kinds of support do women and girls in your governorate need?

The needs are not [entirely] clear to us yet, since people are not yet confined in established shelters [but] displaced girls and women could be facing more violence. Key needs expressed are for psychosocial and medical support for pregnant women and newborn babies, which make up more than ten percent of the displaced. I’ve contacted primary health-care centres in my governorate and met with Doctors Without Borders to discuss the possibility of a mobile clinic visit. One organization will also be distributing menstrual pads and hygiene products.

The challenge we’re facing now is that we know the support each organization can bring, but the services and aid available are well below what’s required to meet the needs. The shelters we’re using are not prepared or equipped to shelter displaced people. There are many challenges, and we’re supporting municipalities to maintain their communities’ security in close coordination with the Ministry of Interior.

Why is it important that women participate in decision-making and what role would they play during humanitarian crises?

In times of stability, women can prove themselves and showcase their skills and capabilities in their local communities and at the national level, especially when in a position of power. Many women are now present on municipal boards. Women are excellent decision-makers and their hands are not tied.

In times of crises such as the one we are currently experiencing, women's role shifts. We are witnessing massive collective displacement, which has triggered shock and distress among women and their families, but the situation is still manageable to a certain extent since those displaced are welcomed in host communities and are provided with all needed support. Women’s role is crucial in looking after their families, sustaining their needs and alleviating the pain and suffering of their partners and children.

Finally, women should continue to believe in their potential and capacities, I tell them not to wait for opportunities to come their way, but rather to go out and actively create them for themselves.

 

[1] The Blue Line, stretching for 120km along Lebanon’s southern frontier, is a “line of withdrawal.” It was set by the United Nations in 2000 for the practical purpose of confirming the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the south of Lebanon.