Since 2014, the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) has been working to foster economic empowerment among Syrian refugees and their Lebanese host communities by providing vocational training.
The programme, conducted in partnership with the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Fair Trade Lebanon Association, is active in a number of regions.
The initiative provides women with the skills and training they need to establish income-generating projects that enable them to become self-reliant and care for their families. It also aims to enhance the role of the private sector in supporting women in host communities by providing them with practical training.
Thousands of Lebanese and Syrian women have benefited from the programme so far, with a February 27th graduation at the Development Services Centre in Ghazir, Keserwan, sending another group into the workforce.
Among them is mother-of-three Samira Nafeh, a native of Khreibet al-Jundi in Akkar, who until last summer had faced financial difficulties as her household was without a breadwinner.
"My situation is different today," she told Al-Mashareq. "I took part in a cooking course that enabled me to work at a co-operative that opened in town three years ago and employs women who have participated in the project."
Nafeh works in the co-operative's kitchen, preparing food, preserves and jams that are sold at exhibitions and in shops in the town and surrounding areas, in addition to dishes she is asked to prepare on special occasions.
"We Lebanese and Syrian women work together on preparing dishes and preserves, and are currently preparing dishes and jams for an exhibition to be held on March 22nd in Tripoli," she said.
Opportunities for women
The cooking course was launched in 2015 and continues to attract Lebanese and Syrian women of all ages, the project’s logistics officer in Khreibet al-Jundi, Ghinwa Nafeh, told Al-Mashareq.
There is an urgent need for the project in the town, which hosts Syrian refugees and faces a lack of services and employment opportunities, she said.
Fatima Hussein, a Syrian refugee who works part-time in the kitchen of a supermarket in Jbeil (Byblos), is preparing to begin a full-time job at Byblos Sur Mer restaurant.
Last year, she told Al-Mashareq, she took part in a five-month training programme at Dar el-Set restaurant.
"The circumstances of our displacement and the need to help my husband support our three children drove me to participate to gain experience in cooking," she said. "I have changed my life for the better and we are now enjoying the financial stability that we need, living outside our country."
More than 38,000 trained
The project has been implemented at 13 Social Development Centres (SDCs) in the Bekaa Valley, Akkar, Tripoli, Mount Lebanon and Beirut, UN Women programme manager Faten Tibi told Al-Mashareq.
"The project aims to transform women from being dependent on others and on relief aid into active and productive members [of society]," she said. "We believe that change begins by giving women the opportunity to acquire skills."
Before the programme began, she said, a study of the market and labour market needs was conducted "to determine services and trades that are in demand".
The project has since trained more than 38,000 women, she added, 60% of whom are Lebanese and 40% Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees.
The project provides cooking, sewing, cosmetology, computer, photography, cell phone repair, carpet weaving, first aid and handicrafts training, Tibi said.
It culminates with the trainees being awarded with certificates of experience and provided with job-related equipment, she added.
"Today, Lebanese and Syrian women are working ... side-by-side as if they were one family," she said.