Contributing to a Sustainable Shift in Gender Roles Despite Crises

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By Lilian Halls

For over a decade, EuroMed Feminist Initiative members and partners have been emphasizing the need to integrate women’s rights and gender equality as a cornerstone for migration and refugee policies. The protracted Syrian crisis with its multi-layered repercussions urged us to think more broadly how to address the needs and defend the rights of the most vulnerable, not only in Syria but in the region: Syrian women refugees and women from the host communities in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq/Kr-I. This is how ‘Madad for Women’ came to life. This regional gender programme is funded by the European Union’s Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis, the EU ‘Madad’ Fund.

In 2020, the Syrian armed conflict entered its tenth year. 2020 witnessed immense challenges worldwide and now, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the globe, bringing to light existing inequalities and exacerbating challenges faced by women. In my daily work at EuroMed Feminist Initiative in support of the rights of women in the Euro-Mediterranean region, I have witnessed first-hand how women across the countries where we operate have to face the devastating consequences of the COVID-19 health and now economic crisis. Women’s oppression is the silent face of the pandemic. The loss of income and the closure of schools have put an added burden on women, who traditionally suffer from unequal familial and domestic responsibilities. As tensions rise, the rates and severity of domestic violence against women, including sexual violence and restricted access to sexual and reproductive rights, are growing. Moreover, the closure of appeal and rescue services creates additional difficulties to secure some cases when women’s lives are at stake.

To face these challenges, we have intensified our support for the fight of women in the Euro-Mediterranean region, for their socio-economic, legal, constitutional, and political rights. We have worked hard to readjust to the rising challenges, and the ‘Madad for Women’ programme has taken a leading role in addressing the devastating consequences of COVID-19. The response has included distribution of health kits to women in vulnerable communities, as well as counselling, remote case management, and psychosocial and legal support to victims. Helplines have been put at their service 24 hours a day — 7 days a week, and online meetings have been held with institutions, civil society organizations and community-based organizations to make sure the main referral pathways remain effective during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Paris Peace Forum is a unique opportunity to showcase this programme as an example of applying a global gender-sensitive approach to find concrete solutions to the huge difficulties on the ground generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as it gathers key actors from different backgrounds: women´s rights organizations, heads of states and ministerial representatives, decision-makers from the private sector, as well as the women themselves.

The comprehensive approach applied by ‘Madad for Women’ combines emergency intervention to address the immediate needs of the most vulnerable women, such as the provision of multiple and accessible services and decent work opportunities, with long-term development to contribute to a sustainable shift in gender roles through engendering national policies and strategies linked to the crisis response and supporting more broadly the gender mainstreaming of national policy frameworks. This involves addressing gender-based legal discrimination and advocating for comprehensive laws for gender equality.

In this line, the National Gender Observatory in Lebanon was established in 2018 as a unique body to sustainably inform policymaking through gender-based research of the situation on the ground. In Iraq, the development of the second national action plan for UNSCR 1325 was supported to improve protection, prevention, and participation of women. Developing long-term livelihoods and social programmes to enable women to be agents of change was supported in Jordan.

Furthermore, involving local communities allowed for raising awareness of the public through national campaigns, such as on early marriage in Lebanon, on violence against women and girls in Iraq, and on women economic participation in Jordan.

The achieved results provided a strong foundation upon which we built our response to the pandemic, in order to bring an urgent and comprehensive support to women’s health, socio-economic condition, rights and status, and as much as possible exempt them from the repercussions of one of the most severe challenges of our time.

About the EU Regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian crisis, the EU Madad Fund:

Since its establishment in December 2014, a significant share of the EU’s non-humanitarian aid for Syria’s neighbouring countries is provided through the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis, the EU ‘Madad’ Fund. The Trust Fund brings a more coherent and integrated EU aid response to the crisis and primarily addresses economic, educational, protection, social, and health needs of refugees from Syria in neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, and supports overstretched local communities and their administrations.

For more information about the EU Trust Fund, please visit

Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.

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Ms. Lilian Halls-French is a French sociologist and a long-time defender of women’s rights. She taught sociology and worked as a researcher in different institutions, public firms and public administrations on the issues of work, mobility and security from a gender perspective. She also held the positions
of member of the French Inter-Ministerial Commission on Violence Against Women, Minister’s advisor on women’s rights and Head of Ministerial Cabinet. She is the co-President of the EuroMed Feminist Initiative (EFI).

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