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March 19, 2013

Lebanese NGO Collaborates with Religious Leaders to Combat Domestic Abuse

by Paige Kollock

In Lebanon, it's difficult to obtain statistics about gender based violence and domestic abuse because of family honor and a culture of silence. According to one report by the Lebanese non-governmental organization Kafa, some 75 percent of Lebanese women have reported at least one incidence of domestic violence. In a society that relies heavily on religious leaders for guidance, a group called Abaad decided to take a novel approach to combatting violence against women.
 
Samah al Turk lives in a one-bedroom apartment with her four daughters, her mother and her sister. The oldest daughter is 12, the youngest, five. Their father is absent from this picture and from their lives. They divorced when she could no longer tolerate his abuse.

"He hit me for things I never did, and people used to shout in front of me: 'Stop hitting her.'  When we called the police hotline, they told me they could not interfere," she recalled. "And I believe that this is a tragic mistake. They wait until the husband kills the wife, or their children get hurt, until anyone interferes. We should make this generation much more aware than they are now."
 
That's not easy in a society that shies away from talking openly about domestic violence. Many organizations have tried to tackle the problem without success. Recently, Abaad solicited help from religious figures.

Lebanon is a country with 17 sects. Although most Lebanese are Muslims, Maronite Christians make up about one fifth of the population.

Abaad wanted to represent all of Lebanon's religions in a video for Lebanese TV, the Internet and on billboards.  But in the end, the message was the same, “Violence against women is a sin. Jesus Christ denounced acts of violence against women.”
 
"Many people wait for these men to speak to gain some sort of insight towards their lives and how they should live their lives, and so these men coming out with a powerful, direct message about ending violence against women and how the religion stands against violence against women, is so important for the cause," stated Anthony Keedi, program coordinator at Abaad.
 
Nabil Shehadi, pastor at All Saints Church in Beirut, says religious figures have more clout in the Middle East than in the West. "In the Middle East and in Lebanon, there isn’t such a separation between faith and daily living," he said. "And so religious leaders have a big say in society and can be political mobilizers, not just religious leaders, and they’re social mobilizers."
 
Human rights activists in Lebanon believe civil society campaigns like this one are having an impact, but that violence against women and domestic violence require greater attention from both the government and law enforcement for things to truly change.