Lebanon: Women and Men…Hand in Hand Against Violence

The global aid agency Oxfam Great Britain, along with Lebanese women’s rights organization, KAFA, today released a groundbreaking publication that will play a pivotal role in bringing men across the Arab world into the fight to end violence against women.   The first ever pan-Arab training guide on practical ways to engage men and boys in the fight to end violence against women throughout the region, titled ‘Women and Men…Hand in Hand Against Violence,’  was unveiled in Beirut at a high level event.  It was hosted by His Excellency the Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs Dr. Salim El-Sayegh, and attended by UNIFEM regional office’s representative Ms. Rania Tarazi and other government ministers, top UN officials and key ambassadors, among others.  KAFA and Oxfam have also today released a comprehensive study, ‘Women Facing Violence in Lebanon’ that reveals a shocking absence of men’s involvement in the struggle to combat abuse directed at women and girls.

Oxfam GB and KAFA, or ‘Enough Violence and Exploitation’ in English, have been jointly running a pilot initiative, known as a ‘men’s forum’, in the Bekaa Valley region of Lebanon for the past few months working with men and boys.   They hope to replicate the successful project in other Arab countries, aided by the new training guide. 

Ghida Anani, KAFA programme coordinator of the joint project, said:  “Men are part of the problem, but they are also part of the solution. We are against violence, not men.  But men in the Arab world almost always dominate the public and private spheres so working with them is strategically critical.  If we want to begin making real change in ending violence against women it is simply nonsensical to leave men and boys out of the equation whether it’s in Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen or anywhere in the world for that matter.” 

In its physical, psychological and sexual forms, violence against women can be found in the household, the community and in public institutions. It has serious economic, social and health implications for the whole family, including men and boys.  

Ghida Anani added: “Poverty increases violence, and in turn, violence increases poverty as abused women are often unable to help support the family.  It undermines and destroys women’s dignity, confidence, and self-respect, often preventing them from seeking out and taking advantage of opportunties that could better their lives, and that of their families.  While it is important that women learn about their own rights and how to receive help if they are abused, it is at least equally important that the mindset that allows for men to commit acts of violence begins to change.  Because once that changes, the abuse itself will decline.”  

Oxfam GB and KAFA consulted some 75 different non-governmental organisations based in Yemen, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Jordan in developing the training guide.   While all of the core messages remain the same, the guide was designed to adapt to different social, economic, religious or other realities in any given community in the region.   Educational techniques in tribal areas of rural Yemen, for example, might look completely different from less traditional societies in Lebanon.   

Magda El-Sanousi, Oxfam GB’s Lebanon Country Director, said: “The face of violence against women and girls may look different in different places.  It affects rich and poor, Christians and Muslims, educated and uneducated and rural and urban women. But fundamentally the problem is the same.  In Yemen, early marriage seriously affects the health of young girls and perpetuates poverty.  In Iraq, violence against women as well as sexual trafficking of young widows and other poor women is reportedly on the rise. In Jordan ‘honour’ killings is an enormous concern.  All of this amounts to violence against women.”    

Last week, men and women ministers in the Lebanese Cabinet passed a law that, for the first time, would criminalise violence against women in the country.  KAFA campaigned tirelessly for the new law – which still needs to be passed by parliament.  Both KAFA and Oxfam see its initial acceptance as a triumph, but also as but one of the first bricks in a long road that needs to be paved in Lebanon and throughout the region. 

El-Sanousi of Oxfam GB added: “We may not be able to change the balance of power between men and women in Arab society overnight.  However, this new law shows that change is possible, and the fact that the Minister of Social Affairs is hosting today’s event in Beirut in itself shows the investment men have begun making to end violence against women.  So change is possible elsewhere, even if there is a long road ahead of us.  This new training guide bringing men from around the Arab world into the discussion, will put us several steps farther down that road and closer to our goal of ending violence against women in the region.”

For more information, please contact:

Ghida Anani, KAFA Programme Co-Ordinator, +961 (3) 663052, +961 (0) 1 392220/1, ghida.anani@kafa.org.lb 

Madga El-Sanousi, Oxfam GB’s Lebanon Country Director, +961 (70) 974678, melsanousi@oxfam.org.uk