Four profiles in courage: UNDEF visits Beirut project teams after port explosion

In the aftermath of the 4 August explosions that devastated large parts of the Lebanese capital, UNDEF Programme Officer Jaime Palacios visited four Beirut-based civil society groups implementing UNDEF projects. Jaime, who was in Beirut at the time of the disaster in the Port, visited the Beirut offices of Mandat International-Dar Zeytouna, ABAAD, Kafa, and Arab NGO Network for Development, to express UNDEF’s solidarity and support and to explore how to adapt their projects in response to the devastation. While all the teams were physically unharmed and their offices only slightly damaged, it was clear that new planning was needed to take in Lebanon’s multiple crises -- political, economic, medical, security, and infrastructure.


A meeting with Halla Al Shoura, local project coordinator of Mandat International-Dar Zeytouna, discussed the impact of both the explosion and Covid-19 on UNDEF’s ongoing Lebanon project to strengthen the autonomy of Syrian women refugees and their participation in local economic and democratic processes. The project, which builds on a series of previous UNDEF-Mandat pilot projects with Syrian women refugees in Turkey and Lebanon,  works to establish and maintain a centre for Syrian refugees to meet and support a variety of enterprises projects, while encouraging collaboration between Syrian refugees and Lebanese host communities. It has pivoted to smaller working groups and prevention responses to Covid-19.


A discussion with Ghida Anani, founder and director of ABAAD, also addressed the impact on project priorities of both the explosion and Covid-19. This new project follows a successful UNDEF-ABAAD project campaigning to abolish Lebanon’s 'marry your rapist' law, which was finally revoked in 2017. The new project aims to influence decision-makers in Lebanon to build an adequate response to crimes of gender-based violence and shift social norms and attitudes towards zero tolerance. For women and adolescent girls in Lebanon, the main protection concerns remain rape, marriage as a result of rape, forced and early marriage, domestic violence, and sexual harassment and exploitation. Unaccompanied girls, single female heads of households, child mothers or spouses and women and girls living with disabilities are particularly vulnerable given lack of legal protection, lack of economic resources, social norms and attitudes. The new project thus aims to address the structural issues in the Lebanese Penal Code, specifically in Articles 503-521, that do not adequately protect survivors of gender-based violence. The project hopes to achieve this by engaging survivors in campaigns for legal reform and cooperating with religious leaders, government officials and civil society partners to change norms.


With Kafa, Jaime discussed ways to adapt an UNDEF project addressing differential treatment, especially by gender, under Lebanon’s personal status laws. Lebanon lacks a civil code regulating personal status matters such as marriage, inheritance, child custody, and so relies on 15 separate personal religious-based status laws and courts for the 18 recognized sects. As a direct result, individuals are treated differently because of their religion and gender. The project seeks to raise awareness of the discriminatory impact of religion-based status laws, equip civil society and media to advocate changes to personal status laws, and pressure Lebanese legislators to support a gender-sensitive personal status law drafted by Kafa.


Meetings with the executive and programme directors at the Arab NGO Network for Development explored how to adjust training approaches and ways to promote sustainable development and accountable institutions in light of the multiple crises. The UNDEF project implemented by Arab NGO Network for Development seeks to enhance civil society capacity for policy dialogue on sustainable development and Agenda 2030 in Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. It works to develop and implement a training curriculum that embraces an integrated perspective on human rights and sustainable development. It will hold national and regional training for over 100 Arab civil society leaders from across the region, to be disseminated to Arab States through e-newsletters, pamphlets and infographics.