NGO launches campaign against abuse of women
By Dalila Mahdawi
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
BEIRUT: Abeer’s story will resonate with thousands of women in Lebanon and millions around the world. Literally trapped in an abusive marriage for 30 years, she was only able to divorce her husband in 2002 after a law giving women the right to file for divorce came into force in Jordan, where she lived.
Her daughter Nisreen, who lives in Beirut, told The Daily Star that although her mother worked as a school teacher, her husband forbade her from accessing her money. “When we moved, my father took all her savings and bought a house in a very remote area. He sold my mother’s car and every morning would lock her in the house and give the key to the shopkeeper who lived nearby,” Nisreen said.
“I think it goes without saying that my father always used to beat her, too” Nisreen added.
Abeer made repeated attempts to leave her husband, but with no money and three children, she had few options. Nisreen said that every time Abeer tried to leave, her father would threaten to take the children away. All requests Abeer made for a divorce were ignored.
Luckily for Abeer, she had a son from a previous marriage who was able to pay for the education of his half-siblings, something Abeer’s husband had refused to do. “When I finished university, my brother bought our mother a house,” said Nisreen. “Also around that time, the new divorce law came into force, so my mother left my father, went to live in her new home and within three months was granted a divorce.” If it hadn’t been for the introduction of legislation allowing women in Jordan to divorce their husbands with greater ease, Abeer would still be in a violent marriage.
After the divorce, said Nisreen, her father married a 16-year-old Bedouin girl. “When I went to visit my dad, I saw he was doing to her exactly what he used to do to my mom,” she said. “I felt that there was nothing I could do for her except be her friend and give her support.”
Marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Tuesday, both men and women across the world campaigned to bring an end to the horrific experiences suffered by the likes of Abeer. Violence against women is “the most pervasive yet least recognized human rights abuse in the world,” the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has said.
According to the World Health Organization, one-third of all women in the world have been forced into sex, beaten, or otherwise abused, usually by someone known to them, during their life. Most women are more likely to die or be disabled due to domestic violence than from disease, war or car accidents.
In Lebanon, KAFA: Enough Violence and Exploitation, a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to eradicating gender-based violence, child abuse and human trafficking, launched Tuesday the annual “16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence” campaign, along with a number of other NGOs.
During the campaign, which will run until International Human Rights Day on December 10, awareness stalls will be set up at Lebanese universities, shopping malls and supermarkets, and signatures will be collected for a petition calling on the Lebanese government to adopt a family-violence protection bill.
The KAFA-drafted law is needed, said program coordinator Ghida Anani, because “the Lebanese penal code’s view of violence does not take into consideration the intimacy and specificity of family relations.” Lebanese law does not consider marital rape a crime either. “The law we are asking for is preventative,” said Anani. “It would see the establishment of special police stations to deal with family violence, the establishment of a family court, and force the abuser to pay all expenses related to violence, such as medical care,” she added.
The draft law reflected a “huge need” by Lebanese women, said Anani, for legal protection, “considering all the obstacles they face” to escape domestic violence. “Many women suffer from economic dependence, the threat of having their children taken from them and difficulties in obtaining divorce,” she said, adding that most divorce cases in Lebanon were filed “because of abuse.”
Clause 61 of the Ministerial Statement issued in August noted that the government would “work toward implementing Lebanon’s commitment to international conventions and in particular to CEDAW [the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women]. It added that the government would “also seek to address all forms of violence against females.”
The clause was “the first time ever that mention has been made of violence against women with an explicit promise for legal reform,” said KAFA. But Lebanon has yet to ratify CEDAW.
In a statement to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said Tuesday: “We call on people and leaders around the world to join forces to make violence against women history. Let us reaffirm our faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women.”
But with the number of women seeking help from KAFA increasing, the fight to protect women from violence still has a long way to go.
KAFA’s helpline can be reached on 03 018 019
‘A year of missed opportunities’ for migrant workers – human rights watch
BEIRUT: Many migrant and domestic workers continue to face abuse and exploitation in the Middle East and Asia because of a lack of laws protecting their rights, US-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday. In a press release issued to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Tuesday, HRW said domestic workers have little access to the justice system in the countries where they work, and even when they do complain, “rarely receive redress.”
“Governments need to punish abusive employers through the justice system, and prevent violence by reforming labor and immigration policies that leave these workers at their employers’ mercy,” said the deputy director of HRW’s Women’s Rights division, Nisha Varia.
Hundreds of thousands of African and Asian women work in Lebanon and the Gulf as domestic workers, but most are excluded from the labor laws of those countries. “Employers control a worker’s immigration status and ability to change jobs, and sometimes whether the worker can return home,” said the press release. “Many employers exploit this power to confine domestic workers to the house, withhold pay, and commit other abuses.”
“2008 marked a year of missed opportunities,” said Varia. “While most governments have started to think about some level of reform, many of these discussions have stalled. Providing comprehensive support services to victims of violence, prosecuting abusers, and providing civil remedies are reforms that just can’t wait.”
HRW called for a number of measures to be taken to protect the rights of migrant domestic workers working in the Middle East and Asia, including the abolishment or reform of “immigration-sponsorship policies so that domestic workers’ visas are no longer tied to their employers,” the prosecution of perpetrators of psychological, physical and sexual violence, the creation of support services and legal aid for workers who face abuse, and training for law enforcement officials “on how to respond to domestic workers’ complaints appropriately.”
A HRW report issued in August found that migrants workers in Lebanon were dying at a rate of more than one per week, either as a result of suicide or while trying to escape abusive employers.