The Arab Institute for Women

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The AiW Statement on Lebanon Tragedy

The Arab Institute for Women at the Lebanese American University stands in solidarity and sorrow with Lebanon.

Lebanon was already debilitated by layers of disaster. The explosion in the port of Beirut brought the city to its knees in a matter of minutes, and yet its impact will be felt for decades to come.

Lebanon’s already weakened systems of social protection, reduced access to safe services and support, displaced communities, and increased vulnerabilities will only be magnified. Those who were hungry before, now will risk starvation. Those who could hardly pay for their homes before, now will lose them.   

When lives are lost, when livelihoods are destroyed, when economies collapse, when people are struggling for survival: they turn on women.

One might think that it makes no sense – or even perhaps is selfish – to speak only of women and girls now. But we speak about women and girls because women and girls are so often forgotten – especially now.

In these settings, women’s rights and freedoms are the first to be stripped and the hardest to revive. Conflicts and insecurities magnify pre-existing vulnerabilities, and women are the first to suffer, the last to recover, and the hardest hit by these insecurities.

Before Beirut’s latest tragedy, increased levels of poverty were driving women to resort to risky measures for survival. Economic insecurity brings shortages of food, fuel, medicines, and creates new dependencies. Sex for food, sex for rent, sex for supplies – all of these things were taking place even before the explosion, and even in “quarantine centers”, security checkpoints, health facilities – places where women should be safe.

New homelessness will drive people to makeshift housing or temporary shelter without lighting, water, toilets. These spaces will be over-crowded, putting women and girls next to men they do not know. All of this increases risks for women.

Even before the disaster, resources were stretched and many basic services were lost. Traffickers prey on these vulnerabilities, taking advantage of those who have no other means.

Women who were employed before, will not likely be able to re-enter the workforce, unless it is the informal economy, with its own risks and lack of protections. Women without family now have no economic support. Women’s burden of unpaid care will be beyond measure.

Education for children – particularly girls – will be compromised. Child marriage will increase as an effort to reduce the economic burden on the family by “offloading” girls.

And finally, violence against women will increase. I have seen this in every single emergency I have been in. Intimate partner violence is the world’s most common – and best hidden – form of violence against women. In Lebanon, this was already exacerbated as a result of the economic crisis and the COVID pandemic. And now, what will happen?

In contexts of insecurity, even the fear of violence is a form of violence.

The Lebanon that we knew is gone. What is the Lebanon we want now?

We need to rebuild a Lebanon that treats all equally. Let us start with women. We can build a country that prioritizes the lives and well-being of women. We can do more – and do better – to make sure women and girls everywhere feel safe. If women are not safe, then no one is safe.

As we try to reconstruct our lives from the rubble, we can provide funding and support to women’s groups, to give them a voice in the new Lebanon. We can ensure that they have the tools and resources they need to advocate and act on behalf of women and girls. Women must be engaged at all levels of leadership and decision-making for this response and beyond.

Women are the face – and the force – of our recovery and our resilience. I do not need to tell you what male leadership has done for Lebanon. Perhaps it is time for women to rise from the ashes.

Given this dire situation, The Arab Institute for Women has put together a list of women/LGBT/queer/refugee/migrant-led and -focused initiatives, researchers, and journalists in Beirut for you to follow, fund, and support. For more information, please click here.

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