BEIRUT: Women are bearing the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon, with many employing “harmful coping strategies” so that their families don’t go hungry, a report issued Tuesday by Oxfam and local partner agency ABAAD suggests. Conducted to examine changing gender roles in refugee communities, the report entitled “Shifting Sands” is written based on qualitative data collected through 11 focus group discussions involving more than 150 people as well as individual interviews with key people and refugees. The research was conducted in March and April this year and involved both Syrian and Palestinian refugees from Syria.
In addition to finding that most refugees don’t have enough to eat, the report said that 90 percent of the women interviewed regularly skipped meals because there was not enough food to go around.
“Most refugees participating in this research said they do not have enough food to eat. About 90 percent of women participants in the FGDs [focus group discussions] confirmed that a common coping mechanism is for women to cut down on their own food intake to prioritize children and men’s access to food,” the report said.
The report also comments on the increasing level of domestic violence many women confront, contending that men struggling with reduced employment options and a decreased ability to provide for their families often lash out.
“Findings from a number of the focus groups revealed that lower self-esteem among refugee men has, in some cases, led to a negative expression of masculinity. Some participants told how violence toward women and children has increased as men abuse their power within the household,” the report said.
Women also face fear outside the home – of kidnapping, sexual harassment, robbery and attack.
“Syrian women refugees avoid going out now that they are in Lebanon because of security concerns and fear of sexual harassment. ... Women, girls, boys and men have different needs, face different threats, and have different skills and aspirations,” ABAAD’s gender equality program coordinator Roula Masri said.
A number of parents also told the researchers that financial and security reasons had forced them into giving their daughters to marriage. While some interviewees reported instances of girls as young as 15 being married to much older men, many also noted that it was not unusual to be married by age 18 in Syria.