Beirut - Rising tensions against Syrian refugees in Lebanon affect Syrian women in particular and put them at a disproportionate risk of being subjected to gender-based violence (GBV) in Lebanon, said Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor. Global research indicates that the risk of women and girls in regard to GBV is especially disproportionate when they are accessing water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH), the rights group said, and this risk is worsened due to the Lebanese economic and monetary crises that escalated in October 2019.

Euro-Med Monitor recently conducted a study on Syrian refugee women in Lebanon and GBV-related issues that examined the women’s access to WaSH facilities. The study’s results highlight the nexus between lack of access to WaSH facilities and violations of Syrian refugee women’s rights.

The study includes a legal analysis of Lebanese national laws regarding GBV and discrimination against women, and their coherence with international law and the standards to which Lebanese law should live up to. A legal analysis is necessary to fully understand the reasons for displaced Syrian women being at disproportionate risk of experiencing GBV, and the barriers they face in attempting to access legal justice.

Only 50% of displaced Syrians in Lebanon are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the majority of those registered are men, said Euro-Med Monitor. Only 15% of Syrian women have legal residency. Displaced Syrian women in Lebanon are at disproportionate risk of experiencing GBV; in 2022, 74% of registered female GBV survivors in Lebanon were Syrian. The risk is exacerbated due to the multiple dimensions of marginalisation and discrimination these women face as a result of socio-economic status, gender, cultural and gender norms, nationality, education, and living and working status.

Euro-Med Monitor found that despite Lebanon having ratified the Human Rights Covenants and the Convention of Elimination of Discrimination and Violence Against Women (CEDAW), Lebanon’s national laws still fail to live up to its international legal obligations. The long-awaited Law on Family Violence, Law 293/2014, and the amended Penal Code are significantly flawed. These flaws include legitimising martial rape, failing to recognise GBV as violence, defining rape differently than it is currently defined under international standards, and generally reflecting patriarchal norms and discourse. The country’s sexual harassment Law 205/2020 lacks adherence to international standards and laws, as Law 205/2020 is not accompanied by any required preventative or monitoring measures, labour reforms, or civil remedies for monetary compensation for victims; it is also devoid of the internationally recognised definitions of sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation.

The study also addresses barriers preventing Syrian refugee women from seeking legal justice, showing that a lack of legal residency leads to valid fears of deportation, arbitrary arrest, and secondary violence, while financial barriers like lack of economic independence hinder them from seeking legal counsel. Socio-cultural norms legitimising GBV, combined with the structural legitimisation of GBV and intimate partner violence (IPV), create conditions allowing for the normalisation of this type of violence in society. This normalisation both legitimises the protection of perpetrators and discourages women from seeking help, as they risk being stigmatised and ostracised.

In Lebanon, 2.8 million persons have inadequate WaSH, half of whom are displaced Syrians, and 56% of displaced Syrians have reported they do not have sufficient water for basic washing and domestic purposes. These numbers point to the heightened risk of displaced Syrians experiencing GBV in relation to inadequate WaSH, with research indicating that women are at risk of experiencing GBV when accessing water, public latrines, or showers, whether at the hands of strangers, humanitarian staff, associate workers, or men in their households if they fail to  provide enough water for the household. More and more displaced Syrians are dependent on private water sourcing or humanitarian distribution of water or WaSH facilities, increasing dependency and leading to an increased risk of GBV.

The Global Women’s Institute (GWI) and Care International found in 2020 that displaced Syrian women experienced GBV and exploitation by humanitarian workers and associate workers who came to inspect, repair, or construct WaSH facilities, with these workers withholding such services until they received sexual favours, or allowing women to skip queues for water in exchange for sex.

The Euro-Med Monitor study also includes a section featuring interviews conducted with Syrian refugee women across different regions of Lebanon, including camps in both Beirut and Bekaa; specifically, the Saadnayel Camp and Mansoura Camp in late October and November of 2023. The interviews were designed and conducted following the UNFPA’s nine principles on good reporting on GBV during the Syria crisis.

The included interviews with women living in apartments in Beirut do not indicate any concerns or vulnerabilities regarding WaSH facilities in their apartments, though one woman sometimes experienced not having enough money to purchase the amount of drinking water her household required. Latrines and showers in Saadnayal and Mansoura, however, do not live up to the Inter-Agency Standing Committee guidelines and Sphere standards, the study found. 

Respondents living in tents in the informal camps raised security concerns over using the latrines and showers in their tents due to inadequate privacy; lack of locks and solid doors; inadequate light sources; having to collect firewood to heat water for showering; and having to make sure no men are at home prior to using these facilities. All of the women experienced men making them uncomfortable when using the latrines or showers, and felt unsafe both during the day and at night. The women felt that it would be a safer option to have a shower available outside of the tent. Further concerns were raised that “no one” cared about the state of their WaSH facilities, as well as the latrines having an awful smell due to lack of proper sanitary drainage.

The study also shows that the water collection point in Saadnayal is a 15-minute walk from the informal camp, and all of the women travelled with relatives or neighbours to collect water, in order to mitigate the risk of assault. A mother and daughter living in a tent in an informal camp in Mansoura experienced sexual harassment when using the public latrine and when walking arouthe camp in general. The fear of using the public latrine led the mother to build a private latrine in her tent. As the mother and her daughter were both widowed and divorced, they felt unsafe in the camps, having been sexually harassed and presented with offers of help in exchange for sexual services by men in the camp.

Throughout this study, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor proposes a series of recommendations for the government of Lebanon to improve the legal framework for eliminating gender-based violence and discrimination, and for ensuring that Lebanese laws meet the international standards and obligations to which the Lebanese government is obligated to follow. In addition, the second section of the study includes recommendations on how latrines, showers, and water points should be adjusted to reduce the risk of GBV and live up to Inter-Agency Standing Committee guidelines and Sphere standards, as well as ideas for future research that should be conducted on the nexus between GBV and access to WaSH.

To read the full report, click here.