Lebanon projects empower women, refugees; strengthen independent journalism, SDG activism

An UNDEF project in Lebanon works to strengthen the autonomy of Syrian women refugees so as to increase their opportunity to fully participate in the democratic, economic and reconstruction processes -- whether they return to Syria or stay in the host country. The project has adapted to both the global pandemic and the multiple crises impacting Lebanon, including the devastating explosion in Beirut in August 2020. The women’s sub-projects, which include Syrian cuisine for charity and crafts such as face masks, allows them to demonstrate their skills as entrepreneurs and organizers for the benefit of local needs.

The Dar Zeytouna project, implemented by Mandat International, builds on a series of previous pioneering UNDEF pilot projects with Syrian women refugees in Turkey and Lebanon. It 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. The project operates a centre as a meeting place and shared resource to enable Syrian women refugees, and some Lebanese women from the host community, to implement projects they conceptualized and developed. Through the project, the group has learned small business management, online advertising, basic accounting, and a trade.

UNDEF Senior Project Officer Christian Lamarre visited the project in October 2021, participating in a workshop which illustrated how the project created economic opportunities for women, but also empowered them socially. They have more authority at home, respect in the community, and self-esteem generally. The project has also encouraged them to learn a trade to one another, and has inspired other Syrian women to start similar initiatives. Men are also now contacting the project to ask to participate in the project.

The above project was one of eight UNDEF Lebanon projects visited by Christian Lamarre in October. These included:

  • An initiative to address 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 categories. As a direct result, individuals are treated differently because of their religion and gender. Implemented by Kafa, a local civil society organization, 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 advocate for Lebanese legislators to support a unified, gender-sensitive personal status law. Watch the project’s awareness-raising video here: https://youtu.be/70TdjYtVBnc
  • A project to influence decision-makers for an adequate response to crimes of gender-based violence and shift social norms and attitudes towards zero tolerance. Implemented by Abaad, it is a sequel to a successful UNDEF-Abaad project campaigning to abolish Lebanon’s 'marry your rapist' law, which was finally revoked in 2017.  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.
  • An initiative to work through journalism to foster greater accountability and governance. Implemented by Journalists for Human Rights, the project works to advance media freedom and access to data and information; enhance the capacity for journalists to cover sensitive human rights related issues; engage underrepresented groups and ethnic minorities; provide journalists with resources to improve their legal knowledge through strong working relationships with civic actors. The project focuses on underrepresentation of marginalized communities in politics and media, and the mismanagement of national resources leading to an increased socio-economic divide, all of which threaten future democratic reforms.
  • A project to strengthen civil society capacity for policy dialogue on sustainable development and Agenda 2030. Implemented by the Arab NGO Network for Development, 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.