The Lebanese bus that fights gender-based violence
BEIRUT - While many women and girls in marginalised areas of Lebanon have no access to protection from gender-based violence, ABAAD, a local NGO that advocates for gender equality, has been reaching out to those in need for such services through its Jina al-Dar project.
Jina al-Dar involves a bus touring the most underprivileged areas of towns and villages, transporting a specialised team to provide services on the prevention and reduction of violence against women and girls, said project co-manager Hani al-Salhani.
“The idea behind the project is to access people in the most isolated, remote and marginalised areas in Lebanon who have poor access to public services, social services or associations that deal with issues of domestic or gender-based violence,” Salhani said.
“We aim to raise awareness, respond to cases of violence and refer victims to the relevant services they need. We assist all those who are in need regardless of race, nationality, background and religion.”
The Jina al-Dar bus spends two days in each location, contacting victims of gender-based violence, raising awareness about legal rights and informing about medical and mental health associated to physical and verbal violence.
“Over two days, we have five sessions covering relevant subjects, including health problems, legal rights, who they can resort to in case they are victims of gender-based violence, how to access the needed services, where to find psycho-social and medical support and assistance, et cetera,” Salhani said.
“We are seeking to inform people in remote areas who are not aware that such services exist and how to access them,” he said.
Since it was launched in August 2016, Jina al-Dar has reached 60 central villages around Lebanon, covering more than 300 communities.
“In the past three years since the project started, we have come across various cases of domestic abuse and gender-based violence, including early marriages and early childbirth. Such cases are found in all backgrounds and social classes, though they are more common in underprivileged and poorly educated rural communities,” Salhani said.
In Lebanon, early marriages and girls having children at a very young age tend to increase in poorer socio-economic conditions, especially among Syrian refugees who live in informal camps in remote rural areas near the Syrian border. Girls as young as 14 years old are sometimes married out.
In the case of physical abuse, health hazards and risks of childbirth among young girls the beneficiaries are referred to the relevant services and in severe cases of violence and sexual abuse they are taken in by ABAAD in its secret safe shelters.
“Each case is treated individually,” Salhani said. “Depending on the case, some are transferred to social care or medical centres, while others are offered immediate safe sheltering.”
ABAAD runs several emergency safe shelters, referred to as Al Dar (“Home” in Arabic). They are free and safe temporary houses for women at risk or survivors of gender-based violence, including single and married women, their children, as well as adolescent girls.
In parallel to Jina al-Dar, ABAAD promotes a Masculinities programme, which seeks to engage men in working towards achieving an equitable society, free of hegemonic masculinities and violence against women.
“Special sessions are conducted with men to highlight what we call ‘positive masculinity’,” Salhani explained. “We run a documentary titled ‘Men in the Shadow,’ which exposes positive experiences of men — both conservative and liberal — who have played positive roles in their community by championing women’s empowerment and rights. This helped us establish a constructive dialogue on gender equality.”
Reaction to Jina al-Dar varied depending on how open and permissive the communities are, Salhani noted. “In certain places we visited we were asked to come back and conduct more activities. In other places they were not as receptive but they were always welcoming,” he said.
Given that in many Middle Eastern countries, patriarchal cultures tend to permeate all elements of society, the lack of political and religious will to include women has strengthened social “norms” that support male dominance and amplify the conditions that have led to inequality, violence and unfair access to resources.
Jina al-Dar was specially designed to mitigate the adverse effects of marginalisation and exclusion on health, gender-equality, non-violence and social cohesion. “It has an added value especially for the most relegated communities because of their geographic location,” Salhani said.