In the Arab world, the topic of "violence against women" is rarely ever addressed explicitly. It is still - in 2020 - treated as a taboo topic, pushing women to stay silent in the midst of violence.
And when that violence is coupled with a pandemic, its effects are bleeding, quite literally, as lockdowns have left women with no escape. The nationwide lockdown in several countries around the world amid the novel coronavirus outbreak has led to a tense spike in violence against women. From France and the UK to Lebanon and Egypt, lockdowns have, unfortunately, turned into lockups for many women.
A month ago, Lebanese authorities ordered people to stay at home as they took the necessary measures to limit, or at least try to restrict, the spread of COVID-19 in the country. At the time of writing, a total of 641 cases of coronavirus have been reported in the country.
But as this happened, domestic violence reports have also gone up.
Lebanese officials have reported a 100-percent increase in the number of hotline calls during the month of March in relation to violence against women at home. Thus, ABAAD has taken matters into its own hands as well, launching a campaign titled #LockdownNotLockup to help all those in need during these tough times. One of the key factors of the campaign is to spread awareness on the helpline number (+961 81 788 178) dedicated to women enduring violence at home; another is standing together in solidarity with victims of gender-based violence (GBV) at 6 p.m. on April 16 in neighborhoods across the country. People are encouraged to share the helpline number on a sheet and hang it on their balconies on that day.
"The campaign was launched as a fast response to the alarming increase of domestic violence happening during the lockdown in Lebanon," Ghida Anani, founder and director of the ABAAD Resource Center for Gender Equality, told StepFeed.
The campaign's aim is to "first, send solidarity messages to women of gender-based violence and second, to mobilize the neighborhood to play an active role in communicating the helpline number," Anani added.
Domestic violence, as ABAAD's founder explained, is "not new to our societal system," one that puts women and girls in an incredibly vulnerable position with no proper laws for protection. Between 2010 and 2013, 25 women were killed by a family member in Lebanon. The violence, regrettably, has not been any different during the novel coronavirus outbreak.
She added that in scenarios where there was a predisposition for violent behaviors, being locked at home has caused those vile practices to increase. In other scenarios, factors such as stress, anxiety, and being locked up have allowed for the development of violence against women.
"Women are not aware of where to get support, about hotline numbers that are operational around-the-clock," Anani explained, adding that ABAAD's campaign is to help spread awareness to such vulnerable groups.
Reports on domestic violence across Lebanon in 2016 uncovered the fact that 44 percent of Lebanese people know a victim of domestic abuse. These numbers are still high considering the Lebanese Parliament introduced a law aimed at protecting women and families from domestic violence and physical abuse in 2014.
However, as Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlighted, it is incomplete. The law defines domestic violence as "an act, act of omission, or threat of an act committed by any family member against one or more family members... related to one of the crimes stipulated in this law, and that results in killing, harming, or physical, psychological, sexual, or economic harm." In doing so, it fails to criminalize certain forms of abuse, such as marital rape, which is not a crime under any other Lebanese law.
Patriarchy is deep-seated in Lebanese society and in many other Arab societies, making it extremely difficult for female victims of domestic abuse to come forward. If and when they do, they are often blamed for the abuse and shamed for bringing humiliation to their families in societies where men are always considered right.
In Lebanon, organizations like ABAAD and KAFA have been diligently fighting against the social stigma that domestic abuse victims often face and have also been demanding that the already existing domestic protection law be properly enforced.
ABAAD has been fighting to protect victims of all forms of abuse in Lebanon one powerful social media campaign at a time. In 2018, the NGO broke the internet with a campaign titled "Meen El Felten?" (Arabic for "Shame on Who?"). The video campaign was the result of a social experiment conducted in various areas across Lebanon. The experiment sought to observe the reactions of people upon learning a woman named Manal was raped and left stranded in the streets.
Unfortunately, the majority of the reactions from people resorted to victim-blaming and shaming. The experiment did not fail to reflect the reality of things in Lebanon when it comes to rape cases. The campaign aimed at toughening sanctions against rapists in the country and changing social perceptions that "stigmatize and shame female rape victims, pushing them to cover up the crime."
One of the ways it pressured authorities to look into Article 522 of the Lebanese penal code - which previously exonerated a rapist if he or she married their victim - was through yet another successful video campaign.
After years of continuous efforts made by activists including ABAAD, Lebanon's Parliament repealed the law in August 2017. A year earlier, campaigners at ABAAD made an appearance at the House of Parliament in an effort to encourage lawmakers to abolish the law.
Lebanese MP Ghassan Moukheiber said at the time that Parliament has been working to put forward an amendment to the article. However, the NGO rejected any modification to Article 522 and demanded the law be abolished altogether.