Syrian women ‘exploited for sex by aid delivery workers’

The practice is now so widespread in southern Syria that some women refuse to enter distribution centers out of fear that people will assume they are offering sex in exchange for aid provisions. (AFP)
Updated 28 February 2018
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Syrian women ‘exploited for sex by aid delivery workers’

LONDON: Men delivering humanitarian assistance for the UN and other international charities are trading aid for sexual favors from women in Syria.
According to an explosive BBC report, warnings about sexual exploitation were issued at least three years ago. One aid worker claimed the aid sector has known about the problem for much longer.
Danielle Spencer, a charity adviser, told the BBC: “Sexual exploitation and abuse of women and girls has been ignored. It has been known about and ignored for seven years.
“The UN and the system as it currently stands have chosen for women’s bodies to be sacrificed.”
Spencer said she first heard the allegations in March 2015 from a group of Syrian women living in a refugee camp in Jordan. They told her men from local councils in areas including Quneitra and Daraa had demanded sex in exchange for aid.
“They were withholding aid that had been delivered and then using these women for sex,” Spencer told the BBC. “Some had experienced it themselves, some were distraught.
“I remember one woman crying in the room and she was very upset about what she had experienced. Women and girls need to be protected when they are trying to receive food and soap and basic items to live. The last thing you need is a man who you’re supposed to trust and supposed to be receiving aid from then asking you to have sex with him and withholding aid from you.”
The alleged perpetrators are said to be “third parties” employed on the ground and local officials. Their cooperation is needed to get aid into dangerous parts of Syria, meaning some aid agencies are prepared to turn a blind eye to corruption and even criminality.
Despite warnings, the practice is now so widespread in southern Syria that some women refuse to enter distribution centers out of fear that people will assume they are offering sex in exchange for aid provisions.
“(The problem) was so endemic that they couldn’t actually go without being stigmatized,” said Spencer. “It was assumed that if you went to these distributions, you will have performed some kind of sexual act in return for aid.”
“Voices from Syria 2018,” a study carried out by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) last year, found the practice was common in various provinces of Syria.
Women or girls would marry officials for a short time in order to receive food in exchange for “sexual services.” Aid distributors would ask for telephone numbers of women and girls and offer them lifts to their homes “to take something in return,” such as a visit to spend the night in exchange for aid parcels.
Lone women, including widows and displaced persons, are “particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation,” said the UNFPA report.
In June 2015, a survey of 190 women and girls by the International Rescue Committee in Daraa and Quneitra found around 40 percent claimed sexual violence had taken place when accessing services, including humanitarian aid.
Both reports were presented at a meeting of UN agencies and international charities hosted by the UNFPA in Amman, Jordan, the following month. As a result, some aid agencies tightened up their procedures.
One charity, Care, stopped using local councils to distribute aid and set up a complaints mechanism, but was refused permission to carry out studies in refugee camps in Jordan.
The UNFPA said it had heard of possible cases of exploitation and abuse of women in southern Syria from Care, but stressed it does not work with local councils as distribution partners. There were no allegations of abuse concerning the two NGOs it works within southern Syria.
The UN’s children’s charity UNICEF was one of the organizations at the July 2015 meeting in the region. It carried out a review of its local parties and contractors in southern Syria and introduced better training. No accusations have come to light so far.
A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the allegations were known in 2015, but there was not enough information to identify and take action against individuals. The organization has now commissioned new research.


Lebanese election campaign fever turns into clash between Druze parties

Updated 25 April 2018
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Lebanese election campaign fever turns into clash between Druze parties

  • Lebanon's independent Sabaa party talks about exploitation of positions and money.
  • Several young men from the Sabaa party demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Ministry of Interior.

BEIRUT: Sectarian and partisan polarization resulting from fierce competition for parliamentary seats in Lebanon has led to the first armed clash between two rival Druze parties.
Machine guns were used in the clash between the Progressive Socialist Party, led by MP Walid Jumblatt, and the Lebanese Democratic Party, led by Talal Arslan, which took place on Sunday evening in the city of Choueifat, about 5 km south of Beirut.
The two parties’ leaders acted quickly to calm their supporters.
“When politicians plant seeds of hatred and grudges among people, they commit a crime against citizens who have been breaking bread together for centuries,” Jumblatt said in a tweet.
In a joint statement, the two parties stressed “the need to avoid any steps that could provoke anger among supporters or disturb citizens who look forward to freely exercising their right to vote in an atmosphere of democratic competition.”
The two parties, alongside other parties with supporters in Choueifat, such as Hezbollah, the Lebanese Forces, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Amal Movement, have agreed on “disowning anyone who breaches security, requesting that the security forces intensify their presence in Choueifat, identifying fixed locations until the elections are over, and restraining from carrying out provocative processions.”
Campaigning lasts 24 hours before polling and has seen various kinds of violations of the electoral law.
Several young men from the Sabaa party — a group of independent activists — demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Ministry of Interior, carrying banners questioning the ministry’s role in election-related issues.
“Serious violations are taking place because the country is out of control; many are exploiting their positions and pouring (in) their money, and conflicts are happening at grassroots level — people are tearing down photos of candidates and individuals are fighting with one another,” said Gilbert Hobeish on behalf of the demonstrators.
He added: “This is unacceptable, and the minister of interior must take responsibility.”
Hobeish criticized the Electoral Supervisory Commission, saying “it only oversees the civil society or change candidates.”
“We reject this in toto,” he said.
Ali Al-Amin, a candidate on the Shbaana Haki electoral list (who was assaulted last Sunday by Hezbollah supporters in the town of Shaqra because he hung his photo outside his house), held a press conference in the town of Nabatiyah Al-Fawqa and renewed his protest against “the tyranny that silences voices, oppresses liberties and acts on its own will and temperaments, making us feel as if we were in the law of the jungle era.”
He said that “resistance isn’t anyone’s property nor is it one party’s ownership.”
He also called on “the free people of the south to decide which life they wanted and to which homeland and identity they belonged.”
Campaign fever is rising in Lebanon 48 hours before the elections are held for the first time for Lebanese communities in several Arab countries. These elections are to be held 11 days before parliamentary elections take place inside Lebanon.