|Date: Sep 25, 2020|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Toward women-centered response to Beirut blast|
It is with a heavy heart that I write this piece. We are surviving a pandemic that took many dear and loved ones. Our lives are under constant risk because of the very simple act of breathing. Hand washing and preventive measures, like staying home, have been our only saviors. It came down to basic sanitary measures.
However, I can’t begin to fathom the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Beirut, Lebanon, due to the ongoing crises, the pandemic and financial troubles. As someone who had lived and visited some of the most impacted areas in the world, I recognized the impact of this traumatic experience on people’s faces as I watched the news reporting the third strongest explosion in our human history.
The explosion was powerful; it killed nearly 200 people, injured more than 6,000, and left 300,000 people displaced. In a country like Lebanon that has been hosting hundreds of thousands of Palestinian and Syrian refugees, out of the 300,000 people displaced by the blast, 150,000 are women, 81,000 of whom are of reproductive age, including 48,000 adolescents. The specific reproductive health needs of these women and girls should not be overlooked, as they often do in other emergencies. That is why we at UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, are taking the lead, with key partners, in preserving the reproductive health, dignity and rights of these women and girls, so that they can uphold their livelihoods and well-being, as well as those of their families and communities.
An estimated 4,000 women in the affected areas are pregnant, in urgent need for antenatal and emergency obstetric care services, and might be at risk due to the struggle of the health systems in containing the virus and to the disruption or elimination of their services in some areas due to the blast. UNFPA wants to make sure that each one of these women can access antenatal checkups and deliver their babies safely. To achieve that, we have so far recruited and deployed 10 midwives in 10 primary health care centers to provide these women with first aid support and ensure the continuity of health care services.
Emergencies expose women, pregnant women and girls to additional risks because of the lack of health care services, including sexual and reproductive health services. Many women in affected areas have incurred economic losses that have curtailed their ability to pay for professional consultations, exposing them to additional risks due to the loss of medical services. To ensure that affected women and girls are able to access life-saving medical care and reproductive health services, we have deployed three mobile medical units, run by Al Makassed Association, Amel Association and SIDC (Soins Infirmiers et Developpement Communautaire), to canvass Beirut’s affected areas. Each unit is equipped with a doctor, a nurse, a pharmacist, a paramedic, a midwife and, sometimes a pediatrician.
There are requirements that should not be neglected. In Lebanon, the effects of COVID-19 have placed a greater burden of care on women and girls and increased the incidents of gender-based violence (GBV). Since the beginning of the pandemic, an assessment of GBV cases has shown a marked surge in the number of calls received by the hotlines related to domestic violence, compared to the same time last year. In these challenging times, UNFPA is spearheading efforts to ensure that women and girls receive quality GBV services and to facilitate their access to Women and Girls Safe Spaces. Working with nine implementing partners since 4 August, we have been able to help around 300 Lebanese women and Syrian refugees, through case management services, including a comprehensive assessment to identify survivors’ conditions and immediate needs related to the incidents of violence.
Finally, let us not forget the psychological shockwaves produced by the blast. Many have sustained physical wounds of varying degrees. However, the mental health consequences are immense, and their scars will remain with the victims for months or years to come. I recall what Laurice, an 85-year-old lady in Mar Mikhael, said: “All I need is someone to listen to my sorrow -- I live alone and days feel like years.” UNFPA has been leading the efforts to provide integrated mental health and psychosocial services to affected women and girls, either through door-to-door visits or via group sessions. To this end, we have so far trained more than 40 social workers and community mobilizers to strengthen women’s capacity and provide them with a sense of empowerment and self-realization in the midst of such an emergency.
Our job is far from over, but these are some of the ways to tell women that they are not alone. We strongly believe that access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in this tragic situation is bound to save lives, uphold human rights and dignity, and ensure that no one is left behind.
Dr. Luay Shabaneh is UNFPA Regional Director for Arab States.