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S.I.B.A: Report on Women's Prison - Baabda, Lebanon
Starting February 2012, a group of young activists from the NGO S.I.B.A (Safer Interventions & Broader Acceptance) launched their workshop at the women's prison in Baabda, Lebanon. Under the title "Harm Reduction & Sexual Health", the sessions were offered to women incarcerated with drug-related charges, most still awaiting sentencing. 15-20 female participants attended and their ages ranged from 18-30 years old. The prison is overcrowded and the living standards are meager. 90 to 100 women are held there and they are distributed into 5 different rooms (essentially, each room is designed to fit 12 individuals). Their only outlet is the rooftop and they have access to it an hour each day.
The sessions were given in a supportive atmosphere and participants were encouraged to express themselves freely. The group dynamics developed gradually in a cohesive manner and the interactions among the women facilitated the success of the dissemination of the information presented to them. At first, almost all the women were reserved and hesitant to share any of their stories. Soon enough, that changed as they became more familiar with the facilitators and the group per se. Many complained of the unjust sentencing they received (that's if their court case has been reviewed), the treatment of police officials towards them, and the futility of keeping them in prison. They don't receive any "proper" medical checkups nor do they get any treatments for their previous drug misuse. They get to see a nurse if necessary and a psychologist once a week (that's if they are lucky enough to get an appointment).
One of the main objectives of the workshop was to empower the women with appropriate knowledge by clarifying certain misconceptions and reaching a mutual understanding on certain key issues related to the harms (whether physical, psychological, and/or social) associated with drug misuse. The sessions started off by introducing the different classification of drugs, their purities, and which were the most available/prominent ones in the country. The key tenants of Harm Reduction were presented along with the possible strategies each can adopt individually. After reflecting on motivations behind drug misuse, the group discussed alternative ways and life skills a person can reformulate in order to avoid relapse. Also, many treatment options and services were explained. The group showed great interest when tackling the issue of overdose prevention. Alongside the topics covering drugs, health-related issues were discussed, mainly safe sex practices, HIV and STDs.
One of the main drawbacks of the workshops had to do with logistics. There wasn't enough space to fit all the participants in a comfortable manner, as the designated room was an office. Also, other activities were happening simultaneously, such as the play Sheherazade by Catharsis, which made it difficult to finish the sessions on time, given that many of the participants were involved in both activities and there was no other place to conduct the sessions.