Cover Image
close this bookDevelopment in Conflict - The Gender Dimension (Oxfam, 1994)
close this folderII. Case studies
close this folderE. The evolution of Oxfam's gender strategy in conflict
View the documentCase Study 9: Lebanon

Case Study 9: Lebanon

Lina Abu Habib

Oxfam's role in Lebanon has evolved in response to the general situation in the country, and in particular to the way the Lebanese NGO' which Oxfam supports have developed their own response to the unfolding conflict. Factors internal to Oxfam have also played a significant part in determining the policies and actions of Oxfam in the Lebanon.

This evolution can be seen by looking at four periods of significance in the progress of the war:

1. The Israeli invasion, which took place in 1982 and which led in 1983 to the war on the southern suburbs of Beirut.

2. The Israeli withdrawal from the mountains and parts of South Lebanon was progressive, extended over the period 1984-87, and precipitated the (:amps War (Palestinians versus Palestinians, Lebanese versus Palestinians), the Mountains War (Druze versus Christians), and the East of Saida War (Christians versus leftist militias). There was massive, long-term displacement of population as a result of these conflicts.

3. The height of the Lebanese war of 1989-90, in which more than half the country was affected by intense and devastating fighting with huge numbers of casualties.

4. The period following the 1990 peace treaty in which security was restored and political and economic reform has been under discussion.

The first of these periods saw the establishment of an Oxfam office in the country running an emergency programme through local NGOs and UNRWA. It is hard to tell how far Oxfam was attuned to gender issues at this time since little documentation survives, but gender was not generally seen as an issue then, either within Oxfam or among the partner NGOs.

Some women's groups did exist, often affiliated, as the KWO in Burma, to political parties —and the majority of NGO field staff were women; however, decision-making was largely in the hands of men. The priority of the NGOs was to cope with the social repercussion of the invasion.

During the second period Oxfam began to focus on a number of non-confessional NGOs, supporting the work they were doing in the fields of relief and rehabilitation and social services, together with primary health care. NGOs-and especially secular ones-were facing pressure exerted by de facto militia powers (which are necessarily sectarian), and Oxfam's aim was to help them survive. A substantial number of projects supported dealt with women, and employment of a part-time gender PO was contemplated. The war and economic situation had given rise to an increasing number of female-headed households and many NGOs were starting to work with women on, for example, child care and income-generation projects. Though the Oxfam office recognised the need to look at women in development (WID) issues, it did not have the skills to deal with them, and these were in any case obscured by the pressures of the emergency situation.

The third period (civil war) could be characterised es 'lousiness as usual' for Oxfam, which continued to support NGOs and their work in relief at community level. Despite the intensity of the war, Oxfam's programme was oriented towards development projects while maintaining some emergency intervention. However, the Oxfam office began to think about carrying out a review of the programme's basic assumptions. As far as gender was concerned, WID was definitely recognised as an issue by this time: partner NGOs recognised women as a main target group in this conflict situation, and Oxfam made deliberate attempts to involve women in project-related discussions. However, women's issues were on the whole addressed at the level of individual projects, and no formal gender analysis had appeared at this stage.

During the latest stage, internal factors had a greater bearing on developments. Oxfam's strategic planning process was in place, and within the Lebanon, Oxfam began discussions with partners on rethinking their and Oxfam's strategies and identifying for the first time a coherent shape and direction for the Lebanon programme. Gender and the environment emerged as main themes in the future programme, helped both by the Gender and Development Unit (GADU) incorporating gender into the strategic planning process, and by the NGOs' awareness of the term. This awareness coincided with an increased interest by donor agencies in promoting gender as a condition of funding.

The present situation is that political and economic reform and the optimism of the Middle East peace process is coinciding with Oxfam's first year of strategic planning. Gender training and a new gender analysis within the country's own context are in process, and gender will be promoted within a joint review with partners. The atmosphere within Oxfam is now conducive to gender work and there is a consensus on gender within the Lebanon office. The peace process provides some space to discuss gender issues, even though it may ultimately not succeed. Lebanese NGOs are having to consider their position on gender issues very carefully, partly because of the increasing conditionality of donor agencies who believe the Lebanon is no longer an emergency situation, and partly because they-like Oxfam - will soon have to analyse the implications and causes of the rise of fundamentalism, and the effect it might have on gender relations and the situation of women in the country and the region.


In the Lebanon, the growth of local NGOs has been closely linked to the course of the war and the emergency needs of the people.

Oxfam's view of its role has been oriented towards developing the capacity of its counterparts to cope with growing political, social, and economic problems and helping to ensure their survival through very difficult times, and this gives Oxfam the credibility to raise new issues such as gender in a positive environment.

Gender awareness in Oxfam and its partners has been stimulated by the socio-economic changes in Lebanon, and also encouraged by institutional factors within Oxfam.

In order to promote discussion of gender issues among its partners, Oxfam recognises the need first to equip its own staff with appropriate skills.