BEIRUT: A sturdy metal grille covers the window in the Central Women’s Prison in Baabda, blocking the view over Beirut and the Mediterranean below. Either side of the window, two red shutters have been painted onto the bright blue wall.
The NGO Dar Al Amal has been working in women’s prisons in Lebanon since 1996, but has not only focused its energies on the buildings themselves, the organization’s director, Hoda Hamawieh Kara, told The Daily Star.
The most important thing, she said, “is not only to renovate the premises, but also to support the women themselves. We support them to consolidate their identity, not to be aggressive, to gain skills, to take the decision to do their own rehabilitation and then to prepare themselves for integration into society after their release.”
Kara oversaw Wednesday the graduation ceremony for a number of women inside the prison who had completed a range of educational, vocational and cultural activities and courses, attended by First Lady Nadia el-Shami Aoun and Social Affairs Minister Pierre Abou Assi.
Wafaa, who took part in a number of the courses, told the audience at the ceremony, made up of various dignitaries and inmates that in the short term the courses had helped build her self-confidence. Her name has been changed to protect her identity.
“I fear that if something happens to my children and I’m here, I cannot do anything for them,” Wafaa told the audience, leaving several of her fellow prisoners visibly moved. “My dream is to get out of here and be with them.”
While she never forgets about her children, Wafaa who is coming to the end of a 12-year sentence for killing another inmate added that the courses provided a short-term distraction. She told The Daily Star after the ceremony that she hoped she could use some of the skills that she had learned once she leaves prison to work at home.
Abou Assi told The Daily Star that he had seen a degree of hope in some of the drawings produced in one of the courses. “I’m sure [the prisoners] are suffering, but they’re holding to a hope expressed through these drawings,” he said. “What can be done while they are in jail [is to] prepare them ... for the moment when they get out of jail, [through] vocational training, whatever it takes.”
The minister talked up the relationship between his ministry and Dar Al Amal, who he said was doing “a great job. I believe in this partnership.” He added that he was in communication with the Interior and Justice Ministries to look at ways to tackle the high number of women in pre-trial detention. Of Lebanon’s total prison population, 4,097 out of a total of 6,330 were in pretrial detention. Women make up approximately five percent of prisoners.
“These persons, they are human beings,” Dar Al Amal’s Kara said. “They need to be supported, they need their rights. It’s our obligation, responsibility, for all of us in society to support these people because anyone can at any moment have a problem and [end up in] prison.”