By Alex Taylor
BEIRUT: Women’s rights organization KAFA (Enough Violence and Exploitation) launched its fourth annual White Ribbon Campaign Monday to raise awareness about gender-based violence around the slogan “toward different forms of masculinity.”
With support from Oxfam Great Britain and the European Union, KAFA will conduct 16 days of activism, holding events around the country calling on men and women to re-examine gender roles in society.
“We are calling on you to reconsider the widespread concepts of masculinity and femininity, to review them from the angle of their contradiction with human rights principles and the harm they do to women in particular,” said KAFA director Zoya Rouhana, who noted how gender roles also limit men to unfair social stereotypes.
“The first concept that should be repelled is linking masculinity to violence, strength and intellectual and physical superiority,” Rouhana said.
The White Ribbon Campaign is an international movement that encourages men and boys in particular to speak out against all forms of violence against women. Present in more than 50 countries, the campaign kicks off annually on Nov. 25, the international day for the eradication of violence against women.
Since 2009, KAFA has implemented programs to incorporate men into the struggle for gender equality. This work has ranged from setting up forums for men and women to discuss gender roles as well as initiating family violence training for the Internal Security Forces.
Representing ISF chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi at the campaign launch, Lt. Col. Ziad Kayedbey called violence against women a “violation of freedom” and highlighted the ISF’s role in “fighting such crimes, conducting investigations and protecting victims.”
He pledged that the ISF would continue to incorporate a teaching course on family violence, designed by KAFA, into its training programs, and policemen would wear white ribbons on their uniforms for the duration of this year’s campaign.
Speaking at the launch, EU Ambassador to Lebanon Angelina Eichhorst drew specific attention to a draft law intended to protect women from domestic violence that has been stalled – along with the rest of the legislative agenda – by the current suspension of parliamentary sessions.
Eichhorst praised civil society efforts to promote the law but called commitment on the part of the Lebanese government “lacking.”
“While civil society is very active and we [the EU] are very pleased to work with KAFA, Oxfam and many others, we see that at the executive and legislative levels there is still some way to go,” Eichhorst said.
The draft law has passed through the subcommittee phase and will be on the agenda of the joint parliamentary committees once legislative activities resume, Rouhana said. “The law has made big steps forward but the problem now is that Parliament has stopped meeting,” she told The Daily Star.
Rouhana added that KAFA and other activists will continue to lobby against controversial amendments introduced during the subcommittee phase, including the clause on marital rape and prioritization of personal status laws, which she said detract from the legislation’s effectiveness.
At the campaign launch, KAFA presented awards to MPs Shant Janjanian and Nabil Nicolas, who both resigned from the subcommittee to protest the amendments. KAFA also recognized Rifi, MP Michel al-Helou, Lebanese national football team goalkeeper Ziad al-Samad and the actor Badih Abou Chakra for supporting the campaign.
TV spots featuring Chakra to raise awareness will air over the next 16 days. KAFA will also hold forums in Sidon, Baalbek and the Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp for men and women to discuss domestic violence and gender roles. The Lebanese American University and Haigazian University will participate with awareness-raising events.
“As many as seven out of 10 women around the world report having experienced physical violence at some point in their lifetime,” Eichhorst remarked, emphasizing the urgency of actions to end gender based violence.
“Violence against women is arguable the most widespread human rights violation of our time.”