Oxfam reports on a campaign in Lebanon which the organisation believes to be unique in the Arab World. Instead of involving women in arguing for female rights, the campaign focuses on young men. With support from Oxfam, the local organisation KAFA is spearheading the campaign in Lebanon. KAFA’s mission is to eradicate all forms of gender-based violence and the exploitation of women and children through legal reform and changing public opinion.
With its ‘White Ribbon’ movement, young men are being encouraged to speak out against violence directed at women and the subordination of young girls within families. As part of the campaign, young men are taking part in focus groups and surveys to chart attitudes and raise awareness of the issues. In 2010, male students at The American University of Beirut were asked to fill in questionnaires about gender roles and their attitudes to abuse, as well as being asked to sign a petition advocating the passing of a new Bill for ‘Protection of Women from Family Violence’. In 2011, a play is being staged called ‘Out of Hand’ which depicts a father punishing his daughter for eloping with the man she loves.
By educating men in Lebanon about the issues facing girls in society, KAFA hopes to change attitudes towards violence against women. Gender-based violence is often ignored in the Arab region, with thousands of women each year suffering domestic abuse. A United Nations Population Fund study in Lebanon revealed that over two thirds of women in the country had suffered some kind of domestic violence. As the KAFA programme coordinator says “men are part of the problem, but they are also part of the solution”.
Supporters of the ‘White Ribbon’ movement hope that by involving men, they can change attitudes towards women in Middle East society. One young activist believes the current play is one way to get the message heard and hopes it will help to “bring about a new reality for women affected by domestic violence in the Arab World”.