Last week, sitting alongside United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the Princess of Thailand, twenty-eight year-old Lebanese activist Ghida Anani delivered a fiery, unblinking address on fighting violence against women. Here's what we talked about afterward.
Anani is a co-founder of Kafa, an advocacy and support group focusing on violence against women that receives funding from the UN Trust Fund. (Kafa means "enough"). She got involved in the issue eight years ago, she told me, "because I felt that the issue of women's rights – especially when it comes to violence against women – is the core of development in any country." Anani has estimated that "as many as three-quarters of all Lebanese women have suffered physical abuse at the hands of husbands or male relatives at some point in their lives."
The obvious place for Anani to start, particularly with her background as a social worker, was supporting victims, which Kafa does. But it has since broadened its ambitious agenda: Anani and fellow activists are drafting a law to have family violence cases tried outside of the religious courts, have created a public awareness campaign to "air dirty laundry" (more on that here) and talk openly about domestic violence, and are convening men's forums to critically assess gender.
In Lebanon, cases that involve violence within the family are tried in courts that are organized by over a dozen sects, in what's referred to as the multiconfessional system. The treatment of the women in these courts can vary widely, with, for example, the acceptable age of marriage being younger in Muslim courts versus Christian ones. According to IRIN (a humanitarian news source operated by the UN), "Islamic religious laws do not prosecute marital rape nor so-called honour killing."
Under this new law, domestic violence cases would be "under the civil code, with a specialized judge, specialized in family issues," Anani said.
Overall, Anani has found she needs to tailor her message to the audience and downplay feminism per se. "When you address the issue as being women's rights, it's always provoking," she said. "But when we address this as, it's not about women's rights issue, it's about human rights, and it's about the family and the unit of the family, then things change."
Her latest project is helping launch a national men's forum in partnership with the White Ribbon Campaign, tying in with UNIFEM's theme this year of addressing men's roles in stopping violence against women.
"We discovered that men sometimes are allies to women's rights even more than women themselves are towards each other," Anani said. "Even if you go to a very conservative area of Lebanon, you can find men passionately talking about their sexual education and the right to select a partner, and criticizing early marriage in a way you can never imagine a woman criticizing it."
One of the questions posed at the forums, which in the pilot program have included university professors, mayors of municipalities, and members of the youth movements: "What is the gender role imposed by the society that you hate most?"
"They will tell you, 'I hate the way they expect for example that I shouldn't cry, or that I should be the one defending the country or bringing food to the table. Why not a partnership?' You hear amazing things," said Anani.
She added, "You should ask the readers of the blog the same question." Anyone?
Related: In Pictures: Enough Is Enough [Oxfam]
About Kafa [Official Site]
Move To Take Domestic Violence Cases Out Of Religious Courts [IRIN]