Lebanese activist wins recognition for making a difference in women’s lives

Ghida Anani hopes to expand her Lebanese advocacy to other MENA countries.
Friday 22/06/2018
Building capacities. Ghida Anani, the founder and director of ABAAD, an NGO addressing gender-based violence in Lebanon. (ABAAD)
Building capacities. Ghida Anani, the founder and director of ABAAD, an NGO addressing gender-based violence in Lebanon. (ABAAD)

BEIRUT - At 37, she has been listed by the World Bank as one of the ten inspiring women entrepreneurs making a difference in the Middle East and North Africa in 2018. Ghida Anani, the founder and director of ABAAD, an NGO addressing gender-based violence in Lebanon, described the award as a call to move forward.

The listing, which she said came as a “complete surprise,” meant two things for Anani.

“The efforts that we have been doing daily and striving all over the place to achieve is visible and appreciated, which is very motivating,” she said. “Also, it entails more responsibility, in the sense that we need to take what we are doing to a higher level.

“Basically, it was like ‘Oh wow’ the kind of change we are trying to bring is appreciated.”

Anani, a medical social worker and counselling expert by education, saw her vocation develop at an early age.

“Being raised in a nuns’ school and learning about the values of giving, caring for others’ sufferings and being generous affected me a lot,” Anani said. “Also, hearing incidents like child sexual abuse and being in situations in which an older male cousin trying to corner us in an abusive behaviour in play made me think why girls should feel like uncomfortable in such situations and be uncomfortable to talk about it.”

Before founding ABAAD in 2011, Anani worked as a social worker at the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence against Women and co-founded the association KAFA for combating gender-based violence. Her disappointment with the way civil society groups work was what she said drove her to establish her own “model organisation.”

“I wanted to establish an organisation with a clear vision, integrity and well-defined mission. An organisation that addressed both sides of the equation of the problem of gender-based violence, because men if they are contributors or are the problem, they cannot be excluded from any planning for the solution,” she said.

“It is not only about supporting survivors of gender-based violence but also helping rehabilitate the perpetrators and neutralise opponents. For example, the religious institutions might be contributing to the problem and to patriarchy; so we need to talk to them to neutralise them.”

Starting seven years ago with a modest office and a staff of two, today ABAAD has 138 full-time employees, including human rights activists, lawyers, social workers, psychotherapists and researchers dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment. Services provided free of charge range from legal consultation to court representation, forensic medicine reports, psychotherapy and group therapy.

The association runs three emergency safe shelters for women affected by gender-based violence and their children, several clinics and safe spaces for counselling in partnership with the Ministry of Social Affairs and three centres providing men who have abusive behaviours with free and anonymous psychotherapy services. Victims of gender-based violence or at risk of being abused can seek safety at the shelters with their children regardless of nationality, religion or race.

ABAAD’s activism was crucial in the campaign that led to the abolishment of Article 522 of the penal code, which exempted the rapist of prosecution if he marries his victim in less than a year.

“Much has been achieved so far with the tireless efforts of women’s organisations and the cost that many women and children paid with their lives all along the way. We have a ministry for women’s affairs at present and this is an achievement by itself,” Anani said.

“The utmost success can be witnessed with the raised awareness of women and the increased disclosure about violations of their rights. However, for Lebanon, still the road is quite long for strengthening and activating women and children protection systems through ensuring quality services for victims while preserving their dignity and respecting their choices.”

Anani said she hoped to expand her advocacy to other MENA countries. “Sharing and replicating the work in Lebanon. Building capacities in ministries to help them do what they should be doing since it is their role in the society,” she said.

“This is where I see ABAAD in the coming years, putting at the disposal of government entities all the expertise on gender issues to actually have a sustainable policy reform.

“ABAAD is for the MENA region, especially countries with which we share the same issues and same cultural background, like Jordan, Syria, and the Palestinian territories, Egypt and also in the Maghreb, where we do lots of work through partners. Ultimately we are looking for having a local presence and registering as an international organisation.”

Anani, who is also a lecturer at the Faculty of Public Health at the Lebanese University, was granted the Women Leadership Achievement Award attributed to outstanding women professionals/leaders in 2014, and the Womanity Award in 2008. She was a guest speaker at the UN secretary-general’s conference during the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in 2009.

ABAAD is engaged with more than 68 donors and partner organisations in various development and humanitarian programmes to promote gender equality and end gender-based violence in Lebanon.