This consultancy report was produced by Rana Hajjar as a participant in the “Executive MSc in Cities” at the London School of Economics. The 6-month consultancy was provided to NRC in partial fulfilment of the MSc requirements.
Rana is a civil engineer with specialisations in Project Management and Urban Development with over 13 years of experience in the Middle East region.
In the context of the Syrian refugee crisis that Lebanon has endured since 2011, this consultancy provides NRC, a leading shelter programme provider, with real-time information on the challenges female heads of households (FHH) refugees face while accessing NRC’s shelter programme (OFC) and the rental market generally. The aim of this consultancy is to improve gender mainstreaming within NRC’s OFC programme as well as to enhance OFC’s impact on FHH’s accessibility to the rental housing market, thereby reducing any gender inequities.
The consultancy’s key findings were as follows:
- Based on face-to-face interviews held with 20 FHH (OFC beneficiaries of NRC in South Lebanon), the top 4 challenges reported by FHH in accessing rental markets were (in decreasing order of importance):
Financial vulnerability/ Affordability
The risk of security, privacy, and exploitation threats during occupancy
Landlords’ discrimination on FHH’s access to housing - this was further validated through phone interviews held with 14 Landlords briefly gauging their gender bias.
Inadequate knowledge of the housing market and weak negotiation skills
NRC’s OFC programme acts as a buffer between FHH and the market thereby mitigating the above reported challenges and the ensuing protection risks. This was further demonstrated by the fact that the majority of FHH preferred an OFC-type shelter instead of cash assistance.
Further to a detailed review of NRC’s OFC process and to interviews held with NRC’s shelter team as well as with other similar key actors in the Shelter Sector, there was a clear determination across the board to further enhance the response to address FHH’s reported challenges and adopt gender mainstreaming at a deeper level going forward, with a focus on “protection”. Yet, the actions taken to date on this front are still in the early stages and leave room for improvement.
Recommendations were provided accordingly to NRC and to the entire Shelter Sector based on an analysis of the key findings, supported by a literature review as well as by propositions from both FHH and interviewed NGO’s. The key recommendations are themed along the following lines:
General: Enhance the OFC programme beyond merely becoming more “gender-sensitive” to becoming “gender transformative”. In this sense, the recommendations go beyond mitigating FHHs’ exposure to gender-related risks in the short run during the OFC period, to additionally explore the opportunity of using OFC as a capacity-building platform that increases the beneficiary FHH’s chances in overcoming the identified housing accessibility challenges once the OFC “buffer” disappears. The outcome is transforming the vulnerabilities and the reasons behind the current gender order in the long run.
Address the security/protection challenges during occupancy by introducing measures such as: strengthening contracts with Landlords, focusing on “shelter location”, and creating a monitoring system for abuse instances.
Prepare FHH for the rental market through capacity building programmes that improve their knowledge of this market and grow their negotiation skills.
Improve the financial vulnerability of FHH by increasing their employability, which in turn improves their accessibility to housing and reduces exploitation risks.
Raise awareness amongst the FHH beneficiaries and the hosting community to alleviate exploitation risks and gender biases.
The key recommendations to the Shelter Sector mainly relate to having a structured collaboration amongst key shelter actors aimed at improving gender mainstreaming in shelter programming, as well as a stronger coordination with other sectors such as Livelihood and Protection on this subject. Furthermore, the sector is to adopt a unified approach towards donors regarding advocating for the peculiar situation/needs of FHHs for whom affordability is not the only key deterrent to accessing housing markets, and for whom an OFC-type programme is therefore a much-needed buffer notably on a “protection” level.