Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Dimensions of Gender-Based Violence against Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Dimensions of Gender-Based Violence against Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Article excerpt

Assessments of the impact of the Syrian crisis indicate high levels of sexual and gender-based violence, with rape, assault, intimate partner violence and survival sex appearing increasingly common. Humanitarian agencies urgently need to work together to address this trend.

In times of conflict everyone is affected by violence; however, women and girls in particular are more at risk of facing different forms of violence including sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) due to the lack of social protection and lack of safe access to services. There is wide recognition of sexual violence as a weapon of war but other forms of violence against women during conflict also exist, including domestic violence, sexual exploitation and early marriage.

In early September 2013 UNHCR estimated the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon at 720,003 and the number of the displaced is still rising. Several local and international organisations have conducted rapid assessments to better understand the magnitude and impact of the crisis on displaced Syrians in Lebanon. Some of the main issues identified by these assessments include overcrowding, inadequate access to basic services, rising rent and food prices, and competition for the limited work opportunities. The assessments also helped to identify women and children as among the most vulnerable groups, solely by virtue of belonging to a particular gender, a certain age group or social status. This in turn shed light on the increase in SGBV among the refugees and the need for humanitarian agencies urgently to develop a tailored response to reduce this form of violence.

There is no quantitative data in respect to violence against women but many displaced Syrian women and girls report having experienced violence, in particular rape. A rapid assessment conducted in 2012 by the International Rescue Committee in collaboration with ABAAD-Resource Center for Gender Equality assessed the vulnerabilities of Syrian women and girls to increased exposure to GBV both prior to crossing the borders and in their new host communities, and concluded the following:

* Rape and sexual violence were identified by focus groups and key informants alike as the most extensive form of violence faced by women and girls while in Syria.

* Intimate partner violence (IPV), early marriage and survival sex were identified by adult women and adolescent girls as other forms of violence experienced since arriving in Lebanon. Adult female participants in several focus groups reported that IPV has increased since their arrival in Lebanon, while adolescent girls stated that early marriages have increased, most frequently framed as efforts by families to 'protect' girls from being raped or to ensure that they are 'under the protection of a man'. Survival sex, typically linked to women's and girls' desperate need to earn money to cover the cost of living since arriving in Lebanon, was also identified as a type of violence frequently experienced by Syrian women and girls.

* Many newly arrived women and girls are living in unplanned and overcrowded refugee settlements, with minimal privacy and compromised safety, particularly among those refugee populations inhabiting abandoned public buildings.

* Survivors are reluctant to report SGBV or seek support due to the shame, fear and 'dishonour' to their families. Women risk further physical and sexual violence, including death, often from their own families, when reporting GBV, a pattern that exists in many contexts

* Minimal coordination and lack of adherence to international standards of humanitarian assistance have hindered women's and girls' ability to access services. Discrimination and mistreatment are key barriers to accessing services.

* Women and girls have restricted access to information about the availability of services and support, particularly those that are relevant to survivors of GBV. Key informants strongly agreed that there are few services currently in place specifically designed to meet the needs of survivors of GBV or that are accessible to Syrian refugees. …

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