الأربعاء، 18 مارس، 2009

The Daily Star: 'Silence around domestic violence must be broken

BEIRUT: Civil society groups, lawyers and the government must work together to break the silence surrounding domestic violence, a leading Arab-American social worker said Friday.
"We deny we have a problem with domestic violence in the Arab world," which was as pervasive here as anywhere else, said Itedal Shalabi, co-founder and executive director of the Arab American Family Services in Illinois. At a two-day workshop at the Lebanese American University, Shalabi discussed with more than a dozen women's organizations how to better tackle gender-based violence in Lebanon. Organized by the university's Institute for Women's Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW) and the US Embassy in Beirut, the seminar strengthened ties among experts on gender-based violence and developed uniform procedures in advocacy and support services.

Violence against women is the most pervasive human-rights abuse in the world but more often than not, it goes unpunished. According to World Health Organization estimates, a third of women across the globe have been forced into sex, beaten, or otherwise abused, most often by someone known to them, during their lifetime. Domestic violence is also more likely to result in a woman's death or disability than disease, war or car accidents. Statistics are harder to come by in Lebanon, where domestic violence remains a taboo subject both in public and private. The country's penal code has no special laws relating to domestic violence; nor does it consider marital rape a crime.

Although it was impossible to eradicate domestic violence, better education and frank discussion about it could help drastically reduce its pervasiveness, Shalabi said, urging Lebanese groups to form a coalition. Her message didn't go unnoticed. According to IWSAW assistance director Anita Nasser, by the end of the workshop, all the organizations had made a firm pledge to work with one another. "Before this, some of these organizations didn't even know about each other," said Nassar. Participants will be meeting again soon under the umbrella of IWSAW to plan a number of advocacy events, including a march against domestic violence - Walk in Faith Not in Fear, which is already an annual event at Shalabi's organization.
What message did Shalabi have for Lebanese women suffering from domestic abuse? "Keep up the hope - there is a light at the end of the tunnel." She meanwhile urged women to make use of the many Lebanese support groups working on the issue and to promote a culture in which gender-based violence is not tolerated. As one participant put it: "We must break the silence once and for all."

If you or someone you know wants to talk about domestic violence, call KAFA's confidential helpline on 03 018 019.
By Dalila Mahdawi
The Daily Star
14-03-09

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