AUGUST 6, 2020: A massive explosion erupted in Lebanon’s capital on Tuesday evening, killing over 150 people, injuring more than 5000 people, damaging homes, businesses, and already overwhelmed hospitals, and destroying food, medical supplies, and the Beirut port — a critical lifeline for the country. Local women-focused civil society organizations (CSOs) have been among the first to respond, supporting rescue and clean-up efforts, distributing food and medical supplies, and providing psychosocial services. As the country grapples with this disaster — on top of the COVID-19 pandemic and an ongoing political and economic crisis, all while hosting 1.5 million Syrian and Palestinian refugees and vulnerable migrant workers — the leadership, expertise, and contributions of women-focused CSOs are critical.
The following recommendations for humanitarian response at large are informed by Women Deliver’s years of consultations with women-focused CSOs in humanitarian settings, including the Women Deliver Humanitarian Advocates in Lebanon: the Lebanese Women’s Democratic Gathering (RDFL), the Palestinian Women’s Humanitarian Organization (PWHO), Marsa Sexual Health Center, Women Now for Development, and the Lebanon Family Planning Association for Development and Family Empowerment (LFPADE).
Women Deliver urges the international humanitarian community — including donors, multilateral organizations, and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) — to apply a gender lens in this crisis, and all humanitarian action. Our policy recommendations:
- Fund local women-focused CSOs as a priority in all emergency response efforts: To fully maximize their impact, at least 50% of all humanitarian funding for local response efforts should be directed to women-focused CSOs. These organizations are frontline responders in every humanitarian response as service providers, community leaders, unwavering advocates, skilled peacebuilders, and sustainable drivers of progress. International actors must consult and work collaboratively with CSOs to ensure these funds are flexible and accessible.
- Ensure girls, women, and local women-focused CSOs can meaningfully lead and engage in all humanitarian decision-making. Despite their significant documented contributions to crisis responses, women-focused CSOs consistently lack access to humanitarian coordination meetings and mechanisms. International organizations and INGOs have a responsibility to make these decision-making opportunities accessible to and led by women-focused CSOs. They can do this by conducting meetings in local languages, ensuring CSOs know if, how, and where meetings take place and disseminating key information to CSO networks. Additional outreach and accommodations must also be made to ensure that women-focused CSOs, in all their diversity, including organizations representing LGBTQIA+ communities, refugees, adolescents, migrant workers, and persons with disabilities, can meaningfully participate in humanitarian decision-making.
- Expand access to sexual and reproductive health services, including the full implementation of the Minimal Initial Service Package for Reproductive Health in Emergencies (MISP): In every crisis, the need and demand for sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services become more acute. International actors must work in partnership with local women-focused CSOs to fully fund and implement lifesaving SRH services as outlined in the MISP, including access to protection services, contraceptives, and safe abortion care for girls, women, and gender nonconforming people. This will also require global funding and support to improve and expedite the procurement of SRH supplies as well as providing personal protective equipment for SRH providers. Women Deliver also reinforces the Inter-Agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Emergencies (IAWG)’s recommendations for upholding SRHR during COVID-19, which can be found here.
- Protect funding and services for COVID-19 that place girls and women at the center: Humanitarian crises are multiplied and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which poses a significant and disproportionate risk to girls, women, and other marginalized communities. With strained resources, personnel, and infrastructure, there is an urgent need for integrated health services to reach those most vulnerable with accurate and timely COVID-19 and SRH information and services. Frontline healthcare workers must be supported and trained on the provision of gender-sensitive and non-discriminatory SRH services, and referral systems and pathways need to be strengthened to deliver comprehensive care to all. Women Deliver’s full list of recommendations for applying a gender lens to COVID-19 response and recovery can be found here.
- Create inclusive and evidence-based systems of accountability for girls, women, and gender nonconforming people: Feedback mechanisms in humanitarian response are critical for affected communities to call out service gaps and rights violations. Such mechanisms should be confidential and safe to ensure accessibility to all, including refugees, migrant workers, adolescents, LGBTQIA+ communities, persons with disabilities, and frontline healthcare workers – a majority of whom are women. Additionally, by tracking and utilizing sex-, age-, pregnancy status-, and disability-disaggregated data, international actors can also be held accountable in ensuring that the response places girls and women at the center. All humanitarian action must be grounded in good governance, accountability, and transparency — including to and with girls, women, and other marginalized groups.
Ensuring girls, women, and gender nonconforming people are at the center of all humanitarian response efforts is lifesaving. In the Lebanon response, as immediate humanitarian action transitions to recovery efforts, a gender lens must continue to be a priority, including in political, social, protection, and economic programs.
A sustained commitment to gender equality and local women-focused CSOs must be upheld at every step and in every emergency — without hesitation or exception.
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