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Empowerment of women cooperatives in the agro-food sector in Lebanon

Within parts of Lebanon women’s economic contribution to the family are still considered as secondary and supportive to men’s work due to the deep-rooted convictions around gender roles, whereby women are seen as the 'caretakers' and men as the main breadwinners of the household.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is implementing a three-year project supporting women and women cooperatives with an aim of improving the livelihoods of rural Lebanese and Syrian refugee women and contributing to their empowerment through training in business management, communication skills and legal issues related to women’s rights. The project also aims to contribute to creating an improved and enabling social and cultural environment for women’s economic empowerment. The expected result of the project is to supprt 150 women cooperatives or associations that are integrated in the local value chains and conducting sustainable income generating activities. The project is funded by the Government of Canada and is being implemented in coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture including the Directorate General of Cooperatives.

As part of this project, International Alert is seeking to increase awareness of the rights and roles of women at the family and community levels, and this among all levels of society in targeted rural areas. To do that, Alert is helping Lebanese and Syrian refugee communities better understand and challenge the social and cultural norms, adopt a transformative gender approach, develop new visions for relationship between men and women as equal human beings, and provide both communities, including women, men, girls and boys, with mental health wellbeing techniques to help deal with the gendered impact of Lebanon’s economic and health crises, as well as the Beirut blast in August 2020. This will be done through community awareness sessions. Alert has identified and collected gender equality data, analysed constraints hindering and addressed opportunities for promoting gender equality, and generated findings that would inform the gender equality awareness sessions and training educational material.

To achieve the above, Alert is implementing two awareness-raising campaigns targeting host and refugee community members, including women, men, girls and boys.

GBV Awareness Campaign

Alert is developing and implementing awareness sessions with Syrian women who work as agricultural labourers with women agricultural cooperatives in Lebanon with the aim to raise awareness of Syrian refugee women on gender-based violence (GBV) protection frameworks in Lebanon and provide them with knowledge and resources to ensure that the environment in which they are working is safe.

In order to develop a context-specific and relevant curriculum, Alert reviewed data on GBV risks and needs and conducted consultations with community members and national and international organisations that provide services on prevention and protection from GBV. The findings were used to inform the development and contextualisation of the curriculum to the needs of Syrian refugee women.

Following the development of the awareness campaign materials, Alert is delivering awareness sessions to Syrian refugee women across Lebanon, using a blend of online and offline methods. By the end of the sessions, we aim to increase awareness and accessibility of Syrian refugee women working in women’s cooperatives in the agro-food sector to GBV protection frameworks and mental health services in Lebanon and contribute to a safe and protective working environment.

Gender Equality Awareness Campaign

Alert is also developing and implementing awareness sessions with Lebanese and Syrian communities, with a primary focus on women working in agriculture and agri-food business. The sessions are also reaching out to family and community members including parents, husbands, children, community, and faith leaders.

A desk review on the gender context and dynamics in Lebanon was conducted to allow for the development of context-specific curriculum. The desk review provided an overview of current dynamics exacerbating pre-existing gender inequalities, the impact of COVID-19 and the economic crisis on gender relations, structural and legal barriers hindering balanced gender relations and equal access to employment in agriculture and the agri-food business, and frameworks for understanding masculinities in Lebanon.

To deepen the knowledge of gender dynamics in different contexts, we conducted an assessment with Lebanese and Syrian refugee communities and with key stakeholders working on issues of gender and women economic participation. Topics explored included but not limited to, perceptions of and conditions for prevalent gender norms and relations, their implications on the role and status of women in economic participation and opportunities for violence prevention.

The assessment findings informed the development of the awareness curriculum and materials, and sessions, to be delivered to Lebanese and Syrian refugee communities with the aim of raising awareness of women, men, girls and boys in rural areas, of the rights and roles of women at the family and community levels. The sessions also aim to improve mental health wellbeing of gender groups in order to contribute to balanced gender relations and promote a conducive environment for women to participate in economic activities and family decision-making.

All activities are maintained despite the changing conditions because of the COVID-19 pandemic and containment measures. As a result, modalities of implementation and delivery of awareness sessions were reviewed accordingly and are following blended online and offline approaches.

It started in March 2020 and will end in June 2021.