Country in Focus: Lebanon

The Republic of Lebanon, with a significant literacy rate (95.1%) and trading culture, has traditionally been seen as a commercial hub for the Middle East. Among Arab nations outside the oil-rich economies in the Persian Gulf, Lebanon holds the highest Human Development Index and GDP per capita.

Short History

In 1943, Lebanon established independence from a French mandate, followed by decades of initial political and economic stability. During these commercially prosperous years of the 1950s and 1960s, Lebanon was known as the “Switzerland of the East”, and its capital Beirut, known as a tourist destination, “the Paris of the Middle East”.

Between 1975 and 1990 Lebanon experienced a destructive civil war, accompanied by military occupations by Syria (1975 to 2005) and Israel (1985 to 2000). Merely recovering from these occupations, in 2006 Lebanon endured the July War, 35-days of conflict fought by the Hezbollah against the Israeli government.

Being the first Arab country to permit private radio and TV, Lebanon counts to the country with the most progressive media regulations, allowing freedom of speech and a reflection off the country’s pluralism. While women obtained the right to vote in 1953 and are active in education and politics, their participation in the government remains low.

Recent developments

Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Lebanon has been the host country to over 1.5 million Syrian refugees, making up almost a quarter of the country’s population. Since October 2019, Lebanon has experienced a series of civil protests opposing tax raises and condemning the stagnant economy, corruption, the high level of unemployment, and the state’s failure to provide basic services of water, sanitation and healthcare. Currently, Lebanon is experiencing its “worst financial crisis ever seen”, the biggest threat to stability since the civil war in 1975-1990, pushing many people into poverty.

The dire situation in Lebanon was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and by the recent explosion in Beirut’s port area on 04 Aug 2020. The explosion shook the capital and Lebanon’s population, killing at least 157 people, and injuring an estimate of 5,000. Furthermore, the explosion damaged Beirut port as an important logistical trade and stocking centre for grains, destroyed at least 12 primary health care facilities and rendered three hospitals fully inoperable, adding an additional burden to Lebanon’s existing “health emergency” of the COVID-19 pandemic with already overstretched hospital capacities. On 6 August 2020, two days after the devastating explosion, Lebanon registered a new record of COVID-19 infections.

On Monday 10 August 2020, few days after the explosion in Beirut’s port area, Lebanon’s prime minister Hassan Diab announced his government’s resignation, stating that the root-cause of the destructive blast in Beirut was widespread corruption.

Several countries and international humanitarian organisations have taken initiative to respond to the devastation in Beirut after the explosion. As such, Humanitarian organisations distributed psychosocial and food-support to the most vulnerable after the explosion, women and girls making up 60% of the affected.

Women’s Leadership in Crises

Amid crises, much urgently needed funding and attention circumvents women organisations, neglecting the needs and participation of women and girls in disaster and crisis response mechanisms. Often, at a time when women and girls are most prone to economic poverty, consequences of lacking health care, and to sexualized and domestic violence their needs are underestimated during post disaster needs assessment processes.

The proper allocation of sufficient resources is a follow-up of a non-discriminatory and gender-sensitive need assessment actions. Women’s roles and engagement in disaster management, needs to be recognized and appreciated. Gender Concerns International acknowledges that women are particularly affected during and after disasters and promotes women’s equal and parity based role in disaster management efforts. Women actors need to be included in disaster response activities, health emergencies and economic crisis. Simultaneously, support is needed to ensure that the crises do not negatively affect women’s economic and political participation, and to continue to fight sexual- and gender-based violence.

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