Beirut blast adds to women’s money and health worries in Lebanon

The blast killed 200 people, injured thousands, forced some 250,000 from their homes and left countless without work. (File/AP)
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Updated 16 September 2020

Beirut blast adds to women’s money and health worries in Lebanon

  • A charter signed by more than 40 civil society groups in Lebanon called for the humanitarian response to focus on women’s needs
  • The UN said women will be heavily affected by the blast as they are less likely than men to have enough food, savings, a bank account, a job

AMMAN: Almost six weeks after the Beirut port blast nearly blinded her in one eye, Kawthar Halabi has been unable to return to work as she is still having fragments of glass picked out of her flesh.
After eight days in hospital, more than 50 stitches, eye surgery and with lingering trauma, the 31-year-old mother has been unable to return to her job at a chocolate factory, with money worries compounding those about her health.
“I’m still going to doctors. I couldn’t go back to work and then keep taking time off every couple of days so I had to take a leave of absence,” said Halabi, who was visiting her sister on Aug. 4 when the windows shattered, knocking her unconscious.
“I wake up at night and cry in despair over the state of our country and all we lost,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
As Lebanon reels from the impact of the blast that killed 200 people, injured thousands, forced some 250,000 from their homes and left countless without work, campaigners warn that women face some of the heaviest financial and health burdens.
A charter signed by more than 40 civil society groups in Lebanon called for the humanitarian response to focus on women’s needs, as many of those living in parts of Beirut hit by the blast were female refugees, migrants, elderly or unemployed.
Before the explosion, Lebanon was already grappling with its worst economic crisis in recent history, worsening poverty and decades of state corruption and mismanagement.
“Considering the economic impact of the explosion and the ongoing deep economic crisis, the financial situation of women will most likely worsen with many losing their businesses,” said the charter, calling for a focus on gender in the aid response.
“This is especially critical for women-headed households, migrant domestic workers and women with disabilities.”
The governmental National Commission for Lebanese Women said it was working with civil society groups using a “gendered approach” to support health services for women and children and help women resume work.
“The damage... affected various segments of society and the response to the crisis on the part of the Lebanese state as well as civil society organizations reached all these segments without discrimination,” it said in a statement.
Difficult
Women will be heavily affected by the blast as they are less likely than men to have enough food, savings, a bank account, a job, legal residence or social networks beyond their families, according to the United Nations agency UN Women.
Displaced women also face greater risks of violence living in overcrowded shelters, without privacy or lighting, it said.
Volunteers and women’s groups have been providing women with shelter, cash and hygiene kits but the government has not properly prioritized their needs, said Aliaa Awada, co-director of Fe-Male, one of the charter signatories.
“Not all women have families to support them right now, not all can afford to rent homes or stay in a safe place,” said Awada, adding that prices have skyrocketed in the past year, leaving many unable to afford basics like sanitary pads.
“All the psychological impact they endured because of the Beirut explosion, whether they lost their children or their homes or their income, is difficult to overcome.”
Lebanon already had one of the world’s lowest rates of women in the workforce, with less than one in three in paid employment, according to UN Women, which predicts this will fall sharply due to the economic crisis and blast.
Halabi has been putting on a brave face and trying to stay positive to cope with the trauma.
“I look at myself and think I’m relatively much better than others,” she said.
“But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been affected.”


EU criticizes Lebanese politicians over failure to form government

Mustapha Adib. (AP)
Updated 53 sec ago

EU criticizes Lebanese politicians over failure to form government

  • French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his fury with the Lebanese political elite on Sunday

BEIRUT: The EU on Monday criticized Lebanese politicians for their failure to form a government, after the country’s prime minister-designate quit at the weekend due to pressure from Hezbollah and its allies over key ministerial jobs.
Lebanon has experienced almost a year of intense turmoil, which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the devastating Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut. It is in desperate need of a bailout, but the international community will only give this aid when Lebanon delivers the required reforms. 
Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib was tasked with forming a new government when the previous one resigned after the blast. But Adib, who was nominated to the job on Aug. 31, said he was stepping down.
The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell on Monday expressed his “disappointment and concern” over Adib’s exit and the circumstances that had led to his decision.
He said: “Lebanese leaders must come together and do everything in their power to form a government quickly. The swift formation of a government would be also crucial to reach an urgently needed agreement with the International Monetary Fund.”
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his fury with the Lebanese political elite on Sunday, describing the collapse of negotiations as “a betrayal and a failure to respect the commitment they had made in his presence” during his two visits to Beirut after the explosion.
His tough stance sparked protests against Lebanese authorities on Sunday night, with the army deployed the following morning to prevent possible roadblocks. There were calls on social media for people to take to the streets again, but traffic remained normal.
Macron has left the door open and given political leaders an additional six weeks to form a new government whose mission is to implement long-overdue reforms.

BACKGROUND

President Michel Aoun reiterated his commitment to French President Emmanuel Macron’s initiative and praised the French leader for his interest in the country and its people.

But Lebanon’s presidential palace did not release a statement regarding the future steps to be taken to find a solution to the deadlock undermining the government’s formation, and it appears unlikely that a date to hold binding parliamentary consultations to name a new prime minister will be scheduled in the coming days.
Sources at the presidential palace said that Macron’s words were “harsh and we will evaluate it,” while President Michel
Aoun reiterated his commitment to Macron’s initiative and praised the French leader for his interest in the country and its people.

Aoun, according to his office, “regretted Adib’s inability to form a government according to the French president’s initiative, particularly when it comes to the reforms that should be implemented, whether those that require laws to be approved by parliament or those that will be issued by the government after its formation and after gaining the confidence of parliament.”
Hezbollah and the Amal Movement have not commented on Macron’s statement.
But statements in the past 24 hours from those close to Hezbollah regarded his remarks as unfair, and called on people to wait for Tuesday’s speech from Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.
Ali Hassan Khalil, an Amal Movement-affiliated member of the Development and Liberation Parliamentary Bloc, refused to comment on Macron’s statement, saying “the initiative that was approved was codified and distributed, while its content is well-known.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, said: “The situation in Lebanon is a domestic matter that needs to be solved between the Lebanese themselves. There are talks between Iran and France. However, Iran does not call on any foreign country to intervene in Lebanon.”
Mustafa Allouch, a member of the Future Movement, said that the French president was criticizing everyone so that nobody could accuse him of bias.
“Macron directly criticizing President Michel Aoun, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, along with the rest of the Lebanese parties including the Future Movement, was aimed at holding everyone responsible so that nobody can consider he is siding with a party against another,” he told Arab News.
The Future Movement was not interested in naming any figure to entrust with the government’s formation before reviewing other options, he said. Saad Hariri, the country’s former prime minister who resigned last year, would not suggest any name and would not be a candidate, Allouch added.
“Aoun expressed his commitment to the French initiative and everyone knows, including Hezbollah, that things are not that simple. The Amal Movement started to feel like it is cornered, but nothing will change as long as Hezbollah does not change its position.”
Allouch believed that overcoming the deadlock required a significant event, such as the US presidential elections, a major security event or new understandings for a new country.
Two anti-Hezbollah bodies, the Lady of the Mountain Congress and the National Initiative Movement, said the lesson the Lebanese had learned from the French initiative and Macron’s words was that going against the constitution, the national reconciliation charter and UN resolutions would not lead to the establishment of a state in Lebanon.
They added that restoring the state in Lebanon was impossible under the influence of Hezbollah’s weapons, just like it was impossible to abide by the constitution by establishing sectarian councils.
They also announced that they were working with other political formations and figures to draft a joint periodic program to “free Lebanon from Iran’s tutelage” and establish a state based on the rule of law, sovereignty and independence.