Crisis upon crisis: A qualitative study exploring the joint effect of the political, economic, and pandemic challenges in Lebanon on Syrian refugee women's fertility preferences and behaviour

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: Starting in October 2019, Lebanon experienced overlapping crises that caused a significant deterioration of the living conditions for Syrian refugees and the host community. Previous studies have shown that difficult living conditions and refugee status alone do not impact the fertility preferences of Syrian refugees. This study seeks to explore the effect of the overlapping crises on the fertility preferences and behaviour of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Methods: In this qualitative study, we carried out focus group discussions (FGDs) with married female Syrian refugees recruited purposively from two cities in West Bekaa (Bar Elias and Saad Nayel) and from inside and outside the Informal Tented Settlements (ITS). Transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis. Results: The overlapping crises (political, economic, and Covid-19) in Lebanon influence Syrian refugee women’s reported desire for fewer children. Two themes emerged that explained the change in Syrian refugees’ fertility preferences towards limiting their number of children or delaying having children, and potentially a change in their fertility practices: the sudden deterioration in their living conditions triggered by the effect of inflation on their daily needs, and decreased support and changes in the job market that led to more women working to support their families. Consequently, refugees expressed a preference towards limiting their number of children due to concern about the consequences of the crisis on their children’s physical and mental well-being. This was combined with decreased pressure on women from men and in-laws to have (additional) children and concern over the effect of Covid-19 on pregnant women. Conclusions: The sudden deterioration in living conditions due to the overlapping crises may have influenced Syrian refugees’ preferences towards limiting their number of children or delaying having children until the situation improves. The potential shift in power dynamics in households caused by more women working outside the home also may have increased women’s autonomy in making decisions regarding family size and use of modern contraception. These findings have implications for developing programs that focus on female livelihoods and engagement in work outside the home to influence family size and other reproductive health outcomes and gender equity indicators.


Related dataset






Expanding Capacity to Serve At-Risk Adolescent Girls and Young Women in the Lebanese Syrian Diaspora