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December 15, 2017

"Pity the Nations: Women Refugees in Lebanon" and "Being a Refugee Doesn’t Stop Political Engagement"

Janice Raymond's two-part series explores the situation of Syrian women refugees in Lebanon, based on her recent trip and research there.

Posted on December 6 and 7, 2017 in Truthdig

Part 1 -

Part 2 –


"In October, I was part of a nongovernmental organization visit to the Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon. We were a team of three from the international Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Italy’s Association IROKO and the American Traprock Center for Peace and Justice. Our goals were to document not only the situation of women in the camps but also to spotlight the significant role that women are playing as political actors, combating all forms of violence against women and creating programs that give them a future.

We traveled from Beirut to a town roughly three miles from the Syrian border in the Bekaa Valley. More than 365,000 of Syria’s registered refugees live in this poorest region of Lebanon. We walked through labyrinthine lanes of makeshift shelters housing hundreds of refugees, euphemistically called a camp. In actuality, this “camp” was nothing more than a patchwork of improvised structures that looked like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that never quite fit together.

There are several portable toilets throughout the camp, but the refugees told us they don’t use them because they are filthy. Instead, they create pits outside their tents to dispose of human waste. Those in tents on the edge of the camp dump their waste into shallow gullies where children often play. Many refugees have lived this way since 2011.

Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, 1.5 million refugees have fled to Lebanon. Earlier, over 450,000 Palestinian refugees also had sought refuge in the country. In contrast to Syria, Lebanon is a small country, with a population of 6 million. This means that refugees make up one-third of the Lebanese population, the highest concentration of refugees per capita of any country in the world.

It’s important to understand the rabbit hole into which Syrian refugees have fallen in Lebanon. Although the country has not closed its borders, it does not recognize the fleeing Syrians as refugees. There are no official refugee camps in Lebanon, so these people must fend for themselves. Refugees cannot obtain residency or work permits and are often forced to rent land from extortionate landlords. The government provides no tents, no food or water, and no sanitary facilities. Syrian children cannot be educated in Lebanese public schools.

Women and girls make up almost 53 percent of the refugees. Before the civil war, Syria had one of the highest rates of educated women in the Middle East. UNESCO estimates that since the war, Syrian girls are almost 2.5 times more likely than boys to be kept from attending school in conflict zones.

* * *

When agencies and advocates talk about the political economy of terrorism, they are referring to ISIS oil revenues or trade in antiquities. They seldom talk about the trafficking in women—for example, when ISIS captured hundreds of mostly women and children and demanded an $18 million ransom. Since the war, women and girls have become a “form of currency.” Women are used as the spoils of war in all types of transactions and trades, kidnapped for ransom, sold into marriage and traded for weapons and goods.

Since the beginning of the war in 2011, nearly 14,000 women and girls have been arbitrarily imprisoned in Syria, where many have been raped and tortured. A 2016 nongovernmental organization report found the Syrian government guilty of arresting women for purposes of trading them for weapons. Even Syrian rebel groups have captured women in an attempt to use them as bargaining chips for their fighters held as hostages.

In Lebanon, landlords have demanded a woman or girl from families that can’t pay the rent. Desperate families have traded women into marriage for various goods and services. Eman Obeid, a refugee now working for the Danish Refugee Council, said, “It’s like the price of a year rental is a young female.” ...
read full article here


Janice G. Raymond is Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies and Medical Ethics at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst (USA). She has been Visiting Professor at the University of Linkoping in Sweden, Visiting Research Scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Lecturer at the State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN Sunan Kalijaga), Center for Women Studies, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. more



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