The Arab Institute for Women

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The Pandemic, The Blast and Their Effects on Gender Rights

Engaging with LAU students is one of The Arab Institute for Women (AiW)’s main pillar of work to ensure that gender is integrated on campus and to spread awareness among the students for a gender-equal world as they are the leaders of tomorrow. Every year we conduct a worldwide campaign called the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Gender-Based Violence that starts on 25 November - International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women - and ends on 10 December - International Human Rights Day.

On International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women, we held a webinar titled “The Pandemic, The Blast and Their Effects on Gender Rights” tailored to the needs of our LAU Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI)- Tomorrow’s Leaders (TL), specifically  MEPITL Gender scholars, in which around 215 participants attended the webinar.

The discussion was very vibrant and interactive- and this is the vision behind our Food 4 Thought (F4T) speaking series, which is an informal monthly speaking series, that engages LAU faculty, staff, and students in gender discussions- check out our previous discussions. We hosted gender experts to share their own experience while also providing theoretical concepts.

Our Executive Director, Dr. Lina Abirafeh, who has more than 20 years of experience in humanitarian and development contexts and who was listed twice as one of the Gender Equality Top 100: The Most Influential People in Global Policy, provided a general view on how gender rights are affected deeply in emergencies and how the pandemic raised Gender-Based Violence (GBV) cases globally especially domestic violence due to the lockdown imposed by the governments where it left many women stuck with their perpetrators. She also tackled the laws criminalizing GBV mentioning that over 50 countries in the world still do not criminalize many forms of GBV and the majority of those who have laws that protect women do not implement them while also mentioning how to improve the response of the authorities towards GBV.

Jumanah Zabaneh, program coordinator at UN Women working mainly on engaging men and boys to end violence against women, building on Dr. Abirafeh’s points emphasized the importance of including a gender lens in the work that we do. Zabaneh also discussed the role UN Women played in bringing together leading civil society organizations (CSOs) to mobilize their efforts to issue a feminist charter of demands that renounces the World Bank’s rapid assessment post the Beirut blast and the fact that it was gender blind. The AiW was one of the signatories on the charter. Zabaneh also tackled the importance of having women in leadership and decision-making positions, the importance of engaging men in the fight for gender equality, and the essential need to produce gender-desegregated data.

Hayat Mirshad, Co-founder of Fe-Male and who was recently listed as one of BBC’s most 100 influential women for 2020, discussed the impact of the Beirut blast and the economic crises on women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in Lebanon specifically their access to dignity kits. She also talked about the absence of a gender lens in the measures taken to subsidize certain products in Lebanon where the government decided to subsidize shaving kits for men and refrained from subsidizing sanitary pads for women.

Zeina Mezher, Project Coordinator at the International Labor Organization (ILO), was the last speaker on the panel where she discussed the Kafala system in Lebanon and the impact of the economic crises and the pandemic on migrant domestic workers. Mezher mainly highlighted how the lockdown imposed by the government increased the burden of work on migrant domestic workers and how the economic crisis affected their salaries and their rights giving an example of how their employers left them on the streets by without money or official documents. Under any circumstance, and especially in the light of the pandemic and the current economic crisis, migrant domestic workers must have their full rights respected with the freedom of movement, the right of breaking their contract, and get paid fairly as the Kafala system is inhumane and needs to be abolished.

Q&As followed the discussion, and the panelists concluded the session by addressing the attendees, specifically the students, encouraging them to start changing their perspectives and making change where they are as they are the future leaders.

Students provided great feedback on the session, among their comments, were “Thank you to the AiW for a great discussion”, “I enjoyed the discussion thank you for the information that you provided”, “I hope we can get more information like this in the future” “how can we be involved in the movement”.

As part of the F4T series, we are holding another webinar with MEPI-TL students about the legal, political, and economic implications of gender discrimination.