American University of Beirut

A gender lens on informal livelihoods in displacement: The case of Syrian refugee females as heads of households in the Bekaa Valley camps in Lebanon

​​Resear​​​ch R​​eport

Rouba Mhaissen, Independent Researcher
Osama Alaa Aldien, Independent Researcher

Refugee Research and Policy Program, February 2020


Syrian female heads of households in general, and in refugee communities in particular, lack proper representation in research on informal adaptive mechanisms. If found, studies on this topic are often quantitative in nature, and lack the ethnographic element that unpacks women’s lived-realities, and recognizes their differing experiences. This mixed method study mainly gives an in-depth look at the journey of a few women tackling the challenges and opportunities that emerge throughout their displacement and refugee-hood. A combination of ethnographic research, open-ended individual interviews and focus group discussions revealed that not one generic ‘gender mainstreaming’ approach will present the optimal strategy to address Syrian women’s needs in refugee communities, but rather flexible and dynamic approaches that accompany the women’s transformations at the individual, household and community levels. The overview of women’s informal modes of income generation points to the vulnerabilities, changing manifestation of agency and resilience that women develop, and the gaps in current legal and regulatory frameworks that remain. Moreover, the findings suggest that, even today, further work is still needed to ensure female heads of households get targeted support, notably access to education, protection and livelihoods. The paper problematizes decision-making, agency and the changing roles of women heads of households within the existing structures of aid systems, structural and legal barriers to economic independence, and continued patriarchal practices in the community. This study ends with recommendations for programming, policy and further research.​

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