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Unpacking Gendered Realities in Displacement: The status of Syrian refugee women in Lebanon

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Now in its eighth year, the Syria crisis continues to forcibly displace hundreds of thousands of people. This has caused neighboring countries such as Lebanon to absorb displaced populations at an extraordinary rate, adding additional pressures to already overstretched national infrastructure and social services.

Estimates put the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon at well over 1 million, though this cannot be confirmed as the registration of Syrian refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ceased in 2015 at the request of national authorities. This suspension is just one of a number of social, economic, and legal barriers that Syrian refugees face when trying to meet their basic needs, all of which taken together leave the majority of Syrian refugees (75%) in Lebanon living under the poverty line (US$3.84 / LBP5815.10 per person per day).

Female Syrian refugees make up more than half of the total caseload of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon.
Gender inequalities and discrimination leave women and girls at heightened risk in displacement, including being disproportionately vulnerable to physical and sexual violence, and to exploitation in both the public and private sphere. Changes to traditional gender roles, including the need for women to work outside of the household, contribute to amplifying these risks.
Within this context, UN Women sought to assess the impact of the Syria crisis on women and girls in Lebanon, with a focus on understanding the changing nature of gender dynamics, women’s roles and responsibilities, their experiences of and access to humanitarian aid, and their experiences of violence. Using information gathered from 503 survey responses and five in-depth interviews, all conducted with female Syrian refugees, this report highlights the situation of women and girls living in displacement in Lebanon.

Seventy-nine percent (79%) of women interviewed stated that they were unable to meet their basic needs. Of those reporting that they could not meet their basic needs, many developed negative coping mechanisms including borrowing money. Some of the negative coping mechanisms adopted by those women were food-related including depending on less nutritious food or restricting the food intake of adult or female household members. In addition, 21% of women said that they either withdrew children from school, relied on children to contribute to household income, or both, (predominantly affecting boys).

Thirteen percent (13%) of women reported that they were currently working, the majority of whom live in female-headed households. However, 42% of women living in female-headed households stated that they would like to work more than they currently do, and 16% of women in male-headed households stated the same. The most universal sentiment expressed by the women interviewed for this study was that access to decent work and a livable income would create a much better environment both for themselves and their families, and that this is critical to ensuring their family’s security in the long-term.
Women also noted difficulties in accessing humanitarian aid. These included challenges to traveling to services, particularly due to restrictions on women traveling alone and to an inability to afford vital transportation services. In many cases, women were actually unaware that humanitarian services even existed, especially economic and income-assistance programming, areas where need was expressed most clearly. Women also spoke of the desperate need for more and better mental health services. They reported limited access to mobile phones, with less than one-third (31%) reporting regular access to a mobile phone for their own personal use