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Let’s Not Forget Vulnerabilities of Women, Girls after Beirut Port Blast
A woman is shown on August 6 sitting amid rubble in her Beirut home, damaged by the port blast two days before. (AFP via Getty Images)

Let’s Not Forget Vulnerabilities of Women, Girls after Beirut Port Blast

The Arab Institute for Women at the Lebanese American University expresses its support, sorrow and solidarity with Lebanon in the aftermath of its recent tragedy.

On Tuesday, August 4, the port of Beirut – along with the city of Beirut – was decimated by an explosion whose impact will be felt for decades to come.

Beirut has once again been brought to its knees. Lebanon was already debilitated by layers of disaster – economic collapse, government ineptitude, unprecedented levels of poverty, the COVID-19 pandemic.

The explosion in the port of Beirut collapsed large parts of the city in a matter of minutes. Total casualties are unknown and rising. The impact of this will be felt for decades to come.

Lebanon was already paralyzed by weakened systems of social protection, reduced access to safe services and support, displaced communities and increased vulnerabilities. These will only be magnified as a result of this tragedy.

All of Lebanon grieves and suffers. And yet, when lives are lost, when livelihoods are destroyed, when economies collapse, when people are struggling for survival – they turn on women.

All of Lebanon grieves and suffers. And yet, when lives are lost, when livelihoods are destroyed, when economies collapse, when people are struggling for survival – they turn on women.

It might appear inappropriate to speak of women and girls now, at a time when the entire population is crippled. But we must speak about women and girls so they are not forgotten. Despite common perceptions, it is precisely in these settings that women’s rights and freedoms are at risk.

In contexts of insecurity – such as the one we are now living in – pre-existing vulnerabilities are amplified. And women in Lebanon were vulnerable before the explosion, before COVID and before the economic collapse.

Before Beirut’s tragedy on Tuesday, increased levels of poverty were driving women to resort to risky measures for survival. Economic insecurity brings shortages of food, fuel and medicines, and creates new dependencies.

Sex for food, sex for rent, sex for supplies were already taking place before the explosion.

New homelessness will drive people to temporary shelter without lighting, water, toilets. These spaces will be overcrowded, putting women and girls next to men they do not know. All of this increases risks for women.

For several months, Lebanon has struggled. Resources have been stretched and basic services are at breaking point. It is at these moments that traffickers take advantage of those who are vulnerable and have no other means.

For several months, Lebanon has struggled. Resources have been stretched and basic services are at breaking point. It is at these moments that traffickers take advantage of those who are vulnerable and have no other means.

In the workforce, there will be less space for women, meaning they will be forced to resort to the informal economy, with great risks and no protections. Women’s burden of unpaid care will increase. Women’s role as the social safety net for the family and the community will further compromise their time, energy and resources.

Education for all children has been severely compromised, but girls in particular face the additional risk of child marriage, viewed by the parents as an opportunity to reduce the family’s economic burden by having one less mouth to feed. Such is the reality in contexts of severe poverty.

Violence against women will also increase, as it does in every emergency around the world. Intimate partner violence is the world’s most common – and best hidden – form of violence against women.

Violence against women will also increase, as it does in every emergency around the world. Intimate partner violence is the world’s most common – and best hidden – form of violence against women.

In Lebanon, this was already exacerbated as a result of the economic crisis and the COVID pandemic. In contexts of insecurity, even the fear of violence is a form of violence.

It is time to focus on the Lebanon of the future. It is possible to rebuild a Lebanon on a stronger foundation – one that treats all equally.

Let us start with women. Building a country that prioritizes the lives and well-being of women is a non-negotiable imperative. Women and girls have the right to feel safe. After all, if women are not safe, no one is safe.

Women have the right to be heard. Let us build a Lebanon that respects and protects the choice and voice of women in Lebanon.

We can start by providing funding and support to women’s groups so they can have a role in the new Lebanon. Let us ensure they have the necessary tools and resources to advocate on behalf of women and girls.

We can start by providing funding and support to women’s groups so they can have a role in the new Lebanon. Let us ensure they have the necessary tools and resources to advocate on behalf of women and girls.

Women must be engaged at all levels of leadership and decision-making for this response and beyond. This is not an afterthought; it is an immediate necessity.

We often speak of Lebanese resilience. Women are the face – and the force – of our recovery and our resilience. Now is the time to let women rise from the ashes.

The author of this blog or other opinion piece is a third-party contributor who is independent of The Media Line Ltd and its partners or supporters. All assertions, opinions, facts, and information presented in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and are not necessarily those of The Media Line and/or all parties related thereto, none of whom assumes any responsibility for its content.

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