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Drafting a New Story: Women's Rights in the Middle East

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Originally Published in the Daily Star, December 11, 2010
By Emma Gatten

BEIRUT: A report focusing on the region of Baalbek has explored attitudes toward violence against women held by men and boys.

The majority of men questioned did not believe existing personal laws discriminate against women; 49 percent said they are “doing the right thing” when they become violent, and over 60 percent felt women should stay loyal to their husbands even if they are mistreated. There are currently no laws in Lebanon designed to protect women from domestic violence.

Dr. Jinan Usta, a professor in the department of family medicine at the American University of Beirut Medical Center, who led the study, explained the behind reasons behind the effort.

“If we go back in history, most of the interventions have been led … by women and directly target women,” she said. “It sends an indirect message that we are saying to the victimized woman: ‘There is something wrong with you and you have to change your behavior.’ By addressing men we are addressing the problem.”

The study is part of a three-year strategy that begun in 2009 to focus on male attitudes to violence against women in the Arab region, implemented in Lebanon by NGO KAFA, and the charity Oxfam.

The report, which Usta believes is the first of its kind in the Mideast, comes at the end of the region ’s first White Ribbon campaign, a worldwide movement that focuses on bringing men and boys into the campaign against violence against women, organized in Lebanon by KAFA.

“Men don’t really feel it’s their fight to fight,” said Anthony Keedi, a KAFA member who worked on the campaign. “There’s almost a negative stigma on a guy that would be involved in gender issues and women’s issues.”

The campaign and report also come after the launch of a men’s forum in the Baalbek region by KAFA, which targets local community leaders to use their influence to create discussion about ending domestic violence, including workshops in the region’s rural areas.

Baalbek is a particularly conservative area. Over 60 percent of the men interviewed were laborers, and the majority of women in their families were illiterate.

“I think if we can succeed in Baalbek, then we can succeed in, not everywhere, but maybe 80-90 percent of places,” Usta said during the launch of the report. KAFA and Oxfam hope to replicate the study on a national level.

The report’s recommendations, which will be published in full along with the study early next year, include encouraging religious leaders to offer support to end domestic violence.

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