By: Malak Sekaly

It’s a man’s world indeed, with the patriarchal system globally subordinating women. ABAAD, however, is here to remind us that there is so much that must be done to prevent gender based violence.

ABAAD, a non-profit organization located in Beirut, Lebanon, is working towards decreasing the prominent gender gap in the Middle East and North Africa.

Specifically, they seek to promote equality and active participation through policy development, legal reform, gender mainstreaming, eliminating discrimination, in addition to supporting the advancement of women and empowering them to participate effectively and fully in their communities.

The organization works towards its mission through promoting women empowerment, engaging men in ending violence against women, advocacy and policy development, protection and support, development of resources and information, education and communication materials, as well as behavioral changes through national public opinion campaigns addressing gender based violence.

Being a resource center for gender equality, ABAAD provides several services, including women and girls safe spaces, safe shelters for survivors of gender based violence in three different governorates in Lebanon, as well as a men center that works to aid men in coping with stress.

The organization also takes part in 16 days of active campaigning every year. This year they’re focusing on the issue of rape in Lebanon. Organizing the “A white dress does not cover rape” nationwide campaign, ABAAD was able to pressure the Lebanese parliament to abolish article 522 of the Lebanese penal code, which exonerates rapists if they marry the victim.

Gender and Communication Associate at ABAAD, Soulayma Mardam, explained that rapists marrying their victims is a problem in the Lebanese society. Nevertheless, she clarified that Athe organization does not have official statistics regarding this issue, as women remain very private about this form of violence.

“It is already very hard to deal with rape. Add to that a marriage with the rapist and society’s perception of rape and women’s honor… All  these combined make it very difficult for women to express themselves,” Mardam told us.

She then further clarified the campaign’s objectives, which also included emphasizing that women rape survivors have the right to refuse marrying their rapists. Mardam also added that ABAAD attempted to explain that forcing women to marry their rapists is in itself repressive and simply legitimizes rape against women. “Rape is a crime, and the rapist should be punished,” said Mardam, elaborating on the campaign’s goals.

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The campaign also included a sit-in in Ryad El Solh Square in Beirut, where women wore white dresses and wrapped themselves in bandages.

Prior to launching the campaign, ABAAD collected statistics regarding the state of the Lebanese public opinion about article 522.

The data firstly conveyed that only 1% of the respondents knew about article 522 before the campaign.

According to Mardam, when informed of its content, 60% of the Lebanese population is in favor of repealing article 522, 85% of the Lebanese population believes the article compromises the dignity of raped women, and 84% of the Lebanese population believes it protects the rapist from prosecution and punishment.

Mardam clarified that “before the Committee agreed on repealing article 522, we were quite optimistic about the final result as the MPs we had met were positively responsive to our initiative.”

Commenting on the abolishment of the article, Mardam said, “It is a great victory for women and girls in Lebanon. We are very happy that the committee agreed on the abolition of article 522 and we are now waiting for the final draft law to be sent to the Parliament.”

For more about ABAAD, check their Facebook page here!

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