Lebanon’s economic collapse prompts rise in gender-based violence

All through the first eight years of her marriage, Gouri’s husband abused her. But as Lebanon’s massive financial crisis plunged the household into economic distress, the violence got worse.

Gouri, 23, who asked that her name be changed for fear of retribution, told The New Humanitarian that at the beginning of the marriage the abuse was mostly emotional – her husband constantly insulted her – but gradually he began to physically hurt Gouri and her son, too.

“During the economic crisis, I had my second baby, a baby girl. [Then] his violence increased; he beat me almost every day,” recalled the mother of two from Lebanon’s Chouf region, south of Beirut. “He tried to hurt my children… especially when I asked for milk or diapers… I always defended them, so he hurt me.”

When her husband tried to shoot and kill her six-year-old son in May of this year, Gouri decided enough was enough. She told trusted family members what had been going on, sought help from a local NGO that helped find safe shelter for herself and her children, and obtained a court order of protection against her husband.

Women’s rights advocates say Gouri’s story is just one example of how Lebanon’s economic collapse has led to greater stress in homes, equating to more gender-based violence against women and girls.

Since late 2019, Lebanon’s currency has lost around 90 percent of its value, and 80 percent of the population are in poverty, according to the UN. Unemployment is up, and the prices for basic goods are rising too, sometimes by the day.

Calls to resources that provide help are up too and, according to Mohammad Mansour, deputy director of the Resource Center for Gender Equality (ABAAD), an NGO that advocates for gender equality in the Middle East and North Africa, so are murders: Mansour told The New Humanitarian that the first seven months of 2022 saw 14 women killed by their partners in Lebanon, compared to 18 in the whole of 2021.

Gouri’s husband has been out of work for the last 11 months, which she believes was one trigger for his rage. “He was not able to cover our children’s needs and provide for them… that really blew things up,” she said.

Mansour, whose NGO was Gouri’s first point of call and put The New Humanitarian in touch with her, said the severity and frequency of violence against women in Lebanon is rising due to the increased level of stress from the economic crisis coupled with “cultural norms that oppress, degrade, and accept violence against women”.

“We all know the most vulnerable are children and women in general society, and in every crisis they will be most affected,” Mansour said. “It’s like a snowball. It’s getting worse and worse. I don’t know when this situation will reach its end.”

Calls for help
The numbers of people who received help from the Lebanese NGO Kafa – which aims to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence and exploitation – show a general upward trend over the past five years: 1,082 in 2017, 1,107 in 2018, 907 in 2019, 1,583 in 2020 (when many parts of the world saw a rise in gender-based violence during COVID-19 lockdowns), and 1,396 in 2021.

“The problems that exist in Lebanon are exacerbating the problem of [domestic violence]. With this economic and financial crisis, the social crisis, things are getting worse in Lebanon,” Kafa’s director, Zoya Rouhana, told The New Humanitarian.

ABAAD said 1,090 women sought its services during the first half of this year, compared to 832 in the first six months of last year.

At the same time, as more women need help, it has become harder for them to get it: The last remaining government subsidies on fuel were recently lifted, promising even further price hikes on transport, internet, and phone calls.

It has become more expensive to make a phone call since July, as government-owned telecoms companies set higher rates to deal with the cost of fuel to run their generators.

This makes reaching out to a helpline even more difficult, Mansour said. “Due to the economic situation, people are letting go of their phones. So now, for the whole household there is just one phone, usually [owned] by the husband, or the man, the father, [making] it hard for women… to contact us.”

In July, the NGO Mercy Corps said the hikes in telecoms prices were preventing people in need from calling aid hotlines.