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Mariam and Hanaa thinks that the meetings with Abaad are important Mariam and Hanaa thinks that the meetings with ABAAD are important

How we fight violence against women in Lebanon

Poor finances and vulnerability increase the risk of forced marriage and domestic violence. These problems have accelerated in Lebanon, especially among those forced to flee from Syria. Diakonia’s partner organization ABAAD supports both Lebanese and Syrian women and informs them of their rights.

It is hot and crowded. Around 20 women and just as many young children are sitting squashed together on a floor in a small room with no windows.

“Those of us living with domestic violence, we become stronger by coming here,” says Yasmine, who is 19 years old and married.

A film about a young girl is projected on the bare cement wall. It is based on a true story. The girl has hopes and dreams. She wants to carry on studying – she’s a good student. But then her father forces her to get married and all her dreams are shattered.

She’s not allowed to continue her studies, nor to leave the home – her tasks are to cook food and bear children. She has six in total. And her husband is not satisfied. He taunts her and beats her. All the children are girls. Why can’t she give him a son? The seventh child is a son, but the harassment doesn’t end there.

The women in the room watch attentively. The children are almost silent.

When the film ends, the conversation starts. Salma Atwi and Muhammed Moussawi from Diakonia’s partner organization ABAAD stand beside a flip chart. The women on the floor are enthusiastic, they talk quickly and at length, and the room buzzes with energy. The conversation alternates between serious comments and jokes that make everyone roar with laughter. Salma and Muhammed write some keywords on the flip chart – they make comments and ask follow-up questions to challenge ingrained thought patterns.

In Lebanon, problems with forced marriage and domestic violence are on the rise. Over a million Syrians now live as refugees in Lebanon. Many are in dire straits financially, they are traumatised by the war and they often live in very simple and cramped accommodation. Running parallel to these developments, the roles of men and women are changing. Many men are unemployed and unable to assume the role of breadwinner, which often leads to frustration. All these are factors that increase the risk of domestic violence.

“This was a great discussion,” says Salma when the meeting is over. “The women are realising they have rights and demanding them in their lives.”

The group meets once a week and is just one of several women’s groups that ABAAD collaborates with. Each meeting has a theme – this may be domestic violence, depression, how to talk to your children, how to make well-considered decisions or how to communicate with your husband.

“Some women have difficulties extracting themselves from the situations they are in. We can provide support and help them. And if they can’t or don’t want to change their own lives, they say, ‘I can in any case change my children’s lives’.”

Having a man co-host the meetings is not entirely common. But it works well, and the women appreciate it. They have been asked several times and always reply, ‘Yes, we want Muhammed to be here!’

“It’s important that they also get a positive image of men. Because gender equality is not a women’s issue. It’s an issue for the whole of society,” says Salma.

After each meeting Salma and Muhammed give out the number of ABAAD’s helpline. The women can call if they feel they want to talk anonymously to someone who can help them.