Archive | December, 2009

UNRWA determined not to scale back amid crippling funding crisis

6 Dec
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Saturday, December 05, 2009
BEIRUT: The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees is struggling with a “dire” financial crisis but will not cut back on its provision of services, its head of operations in Lebanon said Friday. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said on Wednesday it was facing its worst budget deficit in history. According to a recent document posted on the agency’s website concerning UNRWA’s financial situation, a shortfall of $79.6 million for 2009 and $125.7 million for 2010 has been projected. It said a continuing lack of funds since 2005 had “resulted in the complete depletion of UNRWA’s working capital.
“UNRWA is faced with a dire financial crisis,” Salvatore Lombardo, director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, told The Daily Star. He said the agency’s operations in Lebanon were facing a $9 million deficit for 2010. “We have been operating with approximately the same budgets for the last [several] years whilst the needs are growing considerably and the cost of services is increasing,” he said. “Our expected budget is 14 percent less than what UNRWA needs to cover the most basic requirements of Palestine refugees.” 
The UN official added that although the agency would continue to provide health care, education and relief and social services, the standards of those services would drop. “Whilst UNRWA strives to ensure services are not cut, the overall environment it operates in will deteriorate,” he added. 
There are over 422,000 Palestinian refugees registered in Lebanon, most of who live in the country’s 12 squalid refugee camps. 
The figure may no longer be accurate, however, as UNRWA does not remove refugees who have moved abroad from its records. There are also an unknown number of nonregistered refugees and an additional 40,000 Palestinians residing in 42 so-called “gatherings,” or ghettoized neighborhoods. 
UNRWA has routinely faced funding shortages in the past, but the ongoing international financial crisis and a lack of financial reserves have resulted in a “situation of unprecedented gravity,” the UNRWA website said. 
The agency held its annual pledging conference at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, hoping the international community would respond to its financial emergency. “It would be timely, and extremely welcome, if UNRWA was to receive new pledges of support from unexpected quarters or else the announcement of increase in funding from those that have historically underperformed in this respect,” said Andrew Whitley on behalf of UNRWA Commissioner General Karen Abu Zayd ahead of the conference. 
“The refugees and our 30,000-strong Palestinian staff, who live in great anxiety these days about the prospect of further reductions in their modest living standards, would be enormously relieved.” UNRWA has warned salary cuts were straining relations with its employees. 
But Lombardo said that while pledges were made at the conference, it was “not enough to cover the shortfall for 2010.” 
Speaking in September on the occasion of UNRWA’s 60th anniversary, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged the agency’s serious funding shortages and appealed to the international community to give generously. “The agency’s work is too important for it to suffer budget crisis after budget crisis,” he said. 
UNRWA’s funding shortfall will impact other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with Palestinians, said John Viste of ANERA, an American NGO which provides humanitarian relief aid to Palestinian refugees. “It does affect us when UNRWA services are cut back.” 
Medicine, normally provided by UNRWA, was a case in point, Viste said. “If they don’t have any medicine available, others have to fill in the gap. If they can’t provide then the Palestinians are forced to buy, which places greater strain on their resources.” 
In spite of the financial difficulties, UNRWA is pursuing internal reform that requires no additional funding, Lombardo said. “We are committed to improving the management of our services. We will do so through decentralizing decision-making to the head teachers, medical officers and relief workers that run our schools, clinics and camp officers, communicating better with our beneficiaries and eliminating bureaucracy in our processes.” 
Nevertheless, the cutbacks have raised fears that the security situation in the camps could explode. “The consequences of the financial deficit extend beyond the level of quality of services we provide,” Lombardo said. “Instability feeds on poverty and a lack of opportunities. There are very concrete steps that can be taken to push back against such scenario. 
“Providing health, education, and relief and social services means not only teaching the young, caring for the sick and fending for the poor. It means creating a platform of stability on which future political progress can rest. UNRWA is part of the solution here in Lebanon,” he said.

Photographs show Lebanon’s dark world of domestic violence

3 Dec

Victims of abusive partners display work in effort to break taboo
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Thursday, December 03, 2009

BEIRUT: For many women throughout the world, the place where they are most vulnerable to violence is not the street, but their own home. For Layla (not her real name), home brought a daily ritual of violence and humiliation at the hands of an abusive husband. Last year, he married another woman behind her back and left for another country, kidnapping his and Layla’s three children. She has not seen them since.
Documentary photographer and women’s rights activist Dalia Khamissy has been working with Layla and nine other women since August to create an exhibition of photographs, “Behind the Doors: Through the Eyes of Women Survivors of Violence.”
For the project, Khamissy partnered with KAFA: Enough Violence and Exploitation, a Lebanese non-governmental organization dedicated to eradicating gender-based violence, child abuse and human trafficking. The 10 participants are among hundreds of survivors of domestic violence who receive social, psychological, legal and other support from KAFA.
Khamissy’s project, funded by the Italian Embassy in Lebanon and the Italian Cooperation Office, opens to the public Thursday afternoon. The exhibition falls during the annual “16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence,” which sees a flurry of activity across the globe toward ending domestic, family and gender-based violence from November 25 to December 10.
Khamissy said she hoped the exhibition would help thrust open the doors on a highly stigmatized topic.
“I hope it will make people more aware about domestic violence and make some women speak out and seek help,” she said.
Reflecting their different experiences, each woman explored a particular theme through their photographs. One woman shot images of her body, the so-called source of all her problems with her partner. Another chose to grimly document the tools of torture used by her husband.
“Dalia taught us how to compose, to adjust the light, and other technical issues about the camera, so we could give photos that reflected our feelings and suffering but that were also good quality,” said Tala (not her real name).
Because of the women’s need to remain anonymous, many of the photographs are dark, blurry, and completely untraceable back to their creator. But despite their somber and often grainy nature, the photographs look professional.
“I’m so proud. These are the pictures by women who never touched a camera before,” Khamissy said. In one striking black and white photograph, a pair of virginal white underpants lies on a stone wall. The caption, written by someone identified only as B.H, reads: “I am in my fifties and this image keeps haunting me.”
In order to produce the photographs, the women involved had to reflect on their experiences, stirring up memories of violence and disgrace they might rather not recall.
“We consider this work as a form of therapy,” said KAFA social worker Rima Abi Nader.
“At the beginning, it wasn’t easy to go deep inside myself and show what was hurting,” said Tala, who took five weeks to start shooting photographs she felt truly represented her feelings. “When you have good memories, you want to remember them. When you have bad memories, you’d rather forget.”
The photographs “represent a visual framework of the pain that [a] few women went through over many years, and of a suffering that remained absent from the social awareness and buried in the maze of the privacies of [the family home] and social taboos,” said KAFA director Zoya Rouhana.

While they reveal the experiences of only 10 women, the exhibition’s photographs bring into relief the experience of many more Lebanese women who have or are living through domestic violence.

Violence against women is the most persistent human-rights abuse in the world yet also the most unpunished.
A third of women across the globe have at some point been coerced into sex, beaten, or otherwise abused, most often by someone known to them, the World Health Organization has said. According to the World Bank, women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more likely to be raped or experience violence than cancer, war or car accidents.
No statistics about domestic violence exist in Lebanon, where domestic violence remains very much a taboo. But legislation clearly favors men: the penal code has no specific laws relating to domestic violence and does not recognize marital rape a crime. Rapists can be pardoned if they propose to their victims and men granted lenient sentences if found to have killed a female family member to preserve the family “honor.”
Khamissy said she hopes the exhibition will highlight the urgency of adopting a family-violence protection bill. A law has been drafted by KAFA, and if introduced, special police stations and courts would be opened to address family violence, and perpetrators of violence would be required to pay all expenses caused by their actions, such as medical care or legal fees.
The draft law is especially urgent, said Nader, because of the legal and social obstacles women encounter when trying to escape abuse. “In our confessional system [where personal matters are governed over by religious courts], it’s rare to give women the right to custody or their right to obtain divorce,” she added.
Many women are also economically dependent on their abusive partner, making it even more difficult for them to leave. Some of the women participating in the exhibition still live with violent husbands.
Still, for Rouhana, the photos are a symbol of “resistance to male power and to the rule of some tyrants empowered by the patriarchal system [which grants them] an almost unrestricted control over the destiny of their wives, daughters, sisters.”
“Before I got married, I thought I was a strong and free person,” said Layla. “After marriage, I was imprisoned.”
Tala agreed: “Everything [you do] is limited – what you are going to wear, where you are going, even your political views he decides.”
“This [exhibition] is a salute to the women who decided to revolt against what others consider an inevitable fate and unchangeable reality, despite the fact that their resistance is still unrecognized, unprotected and unsupported,” said KAFA director Rouhana.
“Behind the Doors” is showing at the Ministry of Tourism in Hamra from 4 p.m Thursday, December 3, to Wednesday, December 9, 2009.
If you or someone you know wants to talk about domestic violence, call KAFA’s confidential, round-the-clock helpline on 03 018 019.