Ongoing conflicts define the world society nowadays and refugee camps are growing in number, burdening hosting communities to handle the ever increasing number of asylums and continue to provide good management for the camps. Nonetheless, the real burden falls on the refugees themselves, as they face difficulties with safety, violence, aid distribution and violations of rights during their stay. During an emergency or conflict, people who have fled their country of origin need urgent support: Water, food, shelter and medical care. It is important that these basic needs are turn out fulfilled.
More is required for women and girls, as they are at great risk of being victims of gender-based violence (GBV). Gender-based violence amongst refugees, a dramatic reality existent in most societies and diverse cultures, is a global problem and it happens to increase in contexts where refugees are driven by conflicts and wars. It is therefore important to address the matter with urgency and with special considerations according to the particularities of each refugee camp. The relationship between design and GBV starts to appear as an acute and a prominent issue, something that the standards around preventive measures fails to address. Ideally, gender-sensitive design could be implemented at early stages before the arrival of refugees into the camp to mitigate violence.
Through design and planning, we create environments that offer greater or lesser opportunities for violence against women. This consists of creating new spaces with equal consideration for women and men. Focusing on physical interventions in order to create women friendly space is important. Bad design, isolation, poor maintenance in public spaces and infrastructure can increase the risk of violence, while gender sensitive planning that emphasizes visibility and encourages diverse use of public spaces promotes women’s safety.
The role of an architect can ultimately stretch beyond building luxurious villas, towers and malls. Whether in refugee camps, urban settings or slums, we, as Lebanese Architects, have a bigger role to play in our society and that is to improve the livelihood of the vulnerables. We always tend to build for the rich minority, the fancier our building is, the more Starchitect we become. We apply for the largest architecture firms in the country and wait for them to acknowledge our presence while nonprofit organizations are calling out for our help on a daily basis.
It is time more than ever to call for social, humanitarian architects, let go of your ego and make a change. “[…] Which way you will go, architect? Will you succumb to the Bourgeoisie, which shall earn your wealth, fame and perhaps success in a world of the scantily housed and homeless? Or will you march into battle to fight for a different society? Progress – what is it to you? Beautification through decoration? Perfection of details? Cutting off cost? To whose benefit. You have to decide. Which side you’ll be on? […] (Claude Schnaidt “Hannes Meyer, 2009:32)