Press Statement on the Opening Ceremony of the Final Conference of PHRO’s Programme “Advancing Palestinian Refugee Women Rights in Lebanon’s Gender Equality”

Israel / OPT, Migration and Asylum, Press Release, Women’s rights and gender justice

On June 28th 2012, the Palestinian Human Right Organization (PHRO) opened the concluding conference of its programme “Advancing Palestinian Refugee Women Rights in Lebanon’s Gender Equality”. The programme was run in the biennium 2010 – 2012 thanks to funding from the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality (FGE). The ceremony was held at the Dunes Center in Beirut and saw the participation of around 100 persons. Among them were representatives from: the EU Delegation to Lebanon, UN bodies (UNRWA, ESCWA, OHCHR, and FGE), the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, the Norwegian Fund for Human Rights, the Arab Fund for Human Rights, Palestinian popular committees, youth movements and NGOs from both Palestinian and Lebanese civil societies. Diplomats were present as well, particularly: the Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon, Mr. Ashraf Dabbour, and the Danish Ambassador to Lebanon, Mr. Jan Top Christensen.

The ceremony was opened by a speech of His Excellency the Ambassador of Palestine to Lebanon, Mr. Ashraf Dabbour. In his speech, Mr. Dabbour remarked the establishment of a 20% minimum ‘Women Quota’ in Palestinian offices of the Palestinian National Authority, as well as the historical role played by Palestinian women in supporting the community and preserving its identity since the events of the Nakba. Concluding, he acknowledged that, even though some steps in the right direction had been taken, the situation of women rights among Palestinian communities was still far from ideal.

Afterwards, the Regional Representative from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Fateh Azzam, underlined in his speech the need to develop a less discriminative legal framework that would enable women to express themselves freely, without necessarily playing the stereotyped roles men like to assign them. He also stressed the need to adopt a human rights-based approach on women issues in order to fulfill the commitments made by signatory States of UN treaties on these matters.

The Lebanon Field Protection Officer at UNRWA, Ms. Emily David, underlined the newly increased efforts made by the agency in supporting human rights defense and closing the protection gap affecting women. Additionally, she emphasized the role now played by UNRWA in negotiations with State institutions to further advance the human rights situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Subsequently, Mrs. Rana El-Houjeiri, Programme Specialist for Arab States at the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality, complimented PHRO for the programme ran in these last two years and for the achievements it reached. Mrs. El-Houjeiri also stressed the important role played by the Fund for Gender Equality in this and in other programmes throughout the world that the FGE is sustaining since its inception in 2009.

Finally, PHRO President Sylvia Haddad welcomed all the attendees on behalf of the organization and briefly outlined the programme’s activities that took place in the last two years. Mrs. Haddad also reminded of the difficult situation Palestinian women live in Lebanon: not only they are subjected to the same discriminations men and children are subjected to, especially in the fields of work, education and health, but they also suffer from peculiar gender based violations and abuses inside their own community. She also remarked the fact that, despite this situation, several challenges were encountered by the programme during its execution. The main obstacles came from the Palestinian community itself because of the lack of interest and support characterizing most refugees, who perceive the struggle for the Right to Return as the only meaningful battle for Palestine refugees at this stage.

Afterwards, the first screening of the documentary “Beyond Silence” took place. Directed by Bechara Damouni, this documentary was produced by PHRO in 2012 as a part of the above mentioned programme. It provides an overview of the situation of Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon, mainly in terms of their access to Justice and political participation. The documentary sheds light on the different types of violence against women perpetrated within the Palestinian community as well as on the protection gaps afflicting them. It further addresses the efforts that are taking place to improve the situations and the challenges that women rights’ supporters are still facing when addressing these issues.

A discussion on the documentary and the problems it touched upon followed. The documentary received mostly positive feedbacks by the attendees with some calling for a broader approach that would have allowed presenting examples of successful Palestinian women in Lebanon as well as dealing with the role of the Nakba in determining the current gender-based discrimination.

The conference will continue on June 29th and 30th. The first day will include sessions addressing Palestinian refugees’ situation in Lebanon from a gender perspective, Lebanese women’s movement and Palestinian refugee women issues. The second day will be based on parallel working groups that will address the issues of access to Justice and political participation. Outcomes from the working groups will contribute to drawing the headlines of the programme’s follow-up action plan.

PHRO is an independent non-governmental organization, established in 1997, recognized in Lebanon under registration no. 36/AD and works for promoting, protecting and defending the Human Rights of the Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon. PHRO is a member of the international Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) and the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR).