Palestinian men neglected by aid agencies

Palestinian men neglected by aid agencies
Comment: Emotional, physical and psychological support is needed to help men overcome perceived deficiencies and build stable family relationships, writes Mat Nashed
4 min read
09 Oct, 2015
UN agencies focus on women and children when refugee men are also in need [Anadolu]

Palestinians in Lebanon face insurmountable challenges.

First expelled from their homeland during the creation of Israel in 1948, most dwell in refugee camps and settlements around the country. But while abject poverty and harsh legal restrictions have taken their toll on the community, they have equally strained relations in camp households.

According to UNRWA - the primary agency assisting Palestinians in the Middle East - those in Lebanon comprise the poorest of their people in exile. Most men are consequently unable to fulfill their conventional gender role by providing for all the needs of their family.

Yet because aid agencies consider refugee men as less vulnerable than women and children, few, if any, programmes are designed to assist them. With nowhere to turn, many turn to substance abuse and inflicting violence against their families.

Easy access to drugs 

Pharmacies are completely unregulated in Palestinian confines, allowing just about anyone to pick up medical narcotics without a prescription.

Tramadol and Xanax are the most commonly abused medications in the camps. Tramadol is an opiate derivative used for pain relief, while Xanax is prescribed to alleviate anxiety. Both drugs can produce side effects such as nausea, hallucinations and sedation, and as user tolerance increases, addicts consume heavier doses to achieve the same high.

     Parents dealing with their own hardships may be unable to attend to the emotional needs of their children

And while narcotics clearly affect the health of abusers - the majority of whom are overwhelmingly men - their spouse may also experience depression as they become more alienated from their partner.

Adding to the problem, parents dealing with their own hardships may be unable to attend to the emotional needs of their children.

For a community forced to live on the fringes of Lebanese society, the family remains the only support structure intact. Without it, children and youth will search for belonging elsewhere, attracting many to militias and gangs.

Helping the victim, ignoring the cause

In a study released by Najdeh, a Lebanese NGO working to combat sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), nearly 29 percent of Palestinian women reported that their husbands had beaten them at least once during their marriage.

This amounts to the highest rate of domestic abuse among any protracted Palestinian population in the Middle East.

In many cases, men said their wives did not have the right to live without harm.

Saja Michael, the emergency response programme associate for ABAAD, one of the few local NGOs engaging men and boys to end violence against women, said that while men are typically responsible for nearly all cases of domestic abuse, aid organisations who only target women are missing the bigger picture.

"Our overall approach is to create a safe space for men to express their anxiety," said Michael. "The fundamental issue is to have them [men] reconsider traditional norms of masculinity."

     Locating abusive households is equally challenging, as many women sacrifice their security to avoid creating more 'issues'

Men unable to assume the role of breadwinner, may, for example, abuse their loved ones to reinforce their image as the protector, or enforcer, of the household.

The arrival of more than 90,000 Palestinians from Syria has compounded the problem, as post-traumatic stress is thought to have prompted a rise in domestic abuse.

Despite the efforts of NGOs, targeting men remains a difficult task. While most are searching for employment during the day, others refuse to openly express weakness or fear. And in a climate of lawlessness, where multiple factions vie for control of the camps, men often don’t have the luxury to do so.

Locating abusive households is equally challenging, as many women sacrifice their security to avoid creating more "issues" for their family.  

This is why breaking the silence remains as vital as ever. Yet to better protect women and children, more attention must be directed to the hardships of Palestinian men. Only by doing so, can aid agencies encourage positive coping outlets and prompt a critical reflection of gender roles.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.