Elahe Amani – WNN Interviews
(WNN) Beirut, LEBANON: A new Lebanon based human rights and equality initiative is now partnering with men to reach the goal as advocates for equality of the sexes in the Middle East region and beyond. To do this ABAAD – Resource Center for Gender Equality in Beirut has partnered with the IMC – International Medical Corps to bring a new and innovative approach to advocacy – by bringing men into the mix with programs, including TV commercials, aimed to help men deal with anger management as part of their commitment to improving violence in society.
To find out more, WNN – Women News Network reporter Elahe Amani interviewed ABAAD director Ghida Anani, along with Anthony Keedi, Director of ABAAD’s new ‘Men Center’ which is located in Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut.
Elahe Amani for WNN – Women News Network: Can you share with us the notion behind ABAAD’s recent nationwide media campaign in Lebanon which is using the slogan “Mest’ edeen Nesma’ Haki,” which translates into English as: “We are willing – and here – to listen.” How are men joining in with this campaign in Lebanon?
Ghida Anani with Anthony Keedi:
The slogan “We are willing – and here – to listen” has a double meaning… “Someone is speaking to you in an abusive manner.” While men have long been addressed as perpetrators, now they are also being addressed as ‘partners in prevention.’ Many studies have argued that in associating men with violence, we should also ensure that men are part of the solution.
The IMC – International Medical Corps and the ABAAD – Resource Center for Gender Equality, along with the support of the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, are now launching a nation-wide media campaign. The campaign targets men residing in Lebanon, among other communities, in an inclusive approach to engage them in combating violence against women.
The ABAAD Men Center comes as a new approach in Lebanon, and in the Middle East, to revisit gender stereotypes. The Center also aims to change individual men and boys’ understanding of ‘acceptable’ behaviors as an essential component in ending violence against women and girls.
The IMC with ABAAD took the initiative to establish the Men Center as a space where trained professionals treat men with respect, anonymity, and confidentiality. Through specialized support, the Centre’s team provides men with ways of relieving stress, identifying triggers of anger, discovering possible alternatives for anger control and engaging [men] with their loved ones in a less aggressive manner.
WNN: What do you think is the current perception of violence in the community where ABAAD is offering its services? Do the ideas that are used in the program to define violence include verbal, emotional and psychological abuse as well?
Ghida with Anthony:
We asked ourselves this very same question when formulating our strategies for engaging men in attaining GE – Gender Equality and ending GBV – Gender Based Violence. We decided that the best way to know the perceptions of the people in Lebanon was to ask them directly.
ABAAD and the IMC are [also] currently overseeing a nation-wide research study – “Perceptions of Masculinity and Domestic Violence.” The participants of this study will be: both Lebanese and Iraqi Refugee men and women residing in Lebanon. The study asks: not only about the perceptions of violence but about the present gender roles of men and women. It also asks how gender roles have changed over the past 30 years and what initiatives are needed for combating GBV, – Gender Based Violence as well as the role men play in those initiatives.
The results of this study will be published within the next few months and the answer to your question (as well as ours) will be from the mouths of the men and women from our culture themselves.
We would like to add that our campaign, as well as all of ABAAD’s work, does not focus on one type of violence. All forms of GBV – Gender Based Violence exists in our society. They are all unacceptable and are always the focus of our messages.
WNN: In your campaign announcement you mentioned the importance of “partnering with men” as a main condition to sustain efforts to combating violence. Can you share your thoughts on how you would like to make this possible?
Ghida with Anthony:
The question is not ‘how is it possible to partner with men?” but “how…without partnering with men?”
In order to truly make sustainable advances towards a ‘gender equal’ society both genders must be addressed. Both genders must understand the prescriptive gender roles that have been placed upon them since birth.
The women’s empowerment movement is making real and visible advances in this respect, but the work is lacking for men. Men are largely unaware of the goals behind gender initiatives and might misunderstand them. As an added difficulty many women’s human rights initiatives in the region…depict men as the ‘opposition’ to women’s rights.
Often men have expressed that they feel that they are personally being blamed or attacked. In actuality it is the overall system that is to blame. Men and women are both raised according to that system. This is why men’s awareness is vital for sustainable development in gender issues. We need to include men as the targets of our messages and understand that they too are products of a flawed system. When men are regarded as partners and not as the ‘opposing gender,’ men’s resistance or apathy for gender issues will decrease.
Eventually men must play roles in all of the different ways of combating GBV – Gender Based Violence. This is why ABAAD is piloting this work through: mass media campaigns; services such as the ABAAD Men Center; awareness-raising workshops; trainings on masculinity with stress and anger management; along with research on our upcoming report on “Perceptions of Masculinities and Domestic Violence.” These activities target both women and men, and aim at transforming our cultural understanding of ‘what it means to be a man’ into an understanding of masculinity that is beneficial to men and women and is more in line with human’s rights principles.
WNN: As you know the ABAAD Men Center is a new approach in the Middle East. While a number of men – particularly younger and especially those men who can be found in Iran and in the MENA – Middle East and Northern Africa countries – participate and support the plight of women for human rights and dignity, the vast majority of men in the region do not embrace the idea of a ‘Men Center’ for ABAAD. What are your strategies to encourage men to join in?
Ghida with Anthony:
Our Strategy for having men embrace the concept of the Men Center is through empathy. The purpose and message of our campaign, and for the Men Center in general, is not to make excuses or justify anyone who acts out in anger or violence. Rather, it is to communicate our understanding of modern day gender roles and the rules and expectations that these gender roles dictate from men in our culture.
We understand that men have been raised with the idea that it is shameful for them to cry, share their feelings too openly (if at all) and to ask for help. They have also been told that an unfavorable, but acceptable, reaction to stress in their lives is to lose their temper. They react with anger. This may display itself in many forms, but primarily through physical or verbal violence. When one is raised with these notions it is understandable that they act in this fashion as fully grown adults.
Empathizing with men in our society, understanding the way that men are raised in our culture and communicating that the inability to emotionally express and speak openly about such issues is psychologically unhealthy for themselves and their loved ones, is a key message of the Men Center.
It is this message, with time, that will allow men to feel comfortable to call the center (keeping in mind that the phone call, and sessions of the center are anonymous, confidential, and cost free). Then, it is the task of the professionals within the center, and the work done with the men that call, that will prove the worth of such an initiative.
WNN: As you know in U.S. and other western countries, there are groups such as ‘men against rape and violence’ like the White Ribbon Campaign, etc. Do you think their experience can be utilized in mobilizing men against domestic violence in the Middle East?
Ghida with Anthony:
Yes, we believe that the experiences of such organizations can be utilized in our work. In preparing for our work, we reviewed the actions and the available resources of organizations outside of the Middle East in engaging men and boys in partnering with women for gender equality. The organizations were not only from the ‘west’, but Australia, England, Denmark, India, Sweden, Brazil, and South Africa to name only a few.
Learning from, and building upon, the experiences of these organizations are imperative for the success of our goals. We will continue to seek out these organizations as partners, mentors, and friends. We have, in fact, already set plans in motion to begin open discussions on masculinities and the work on engaging men in the fight for gender equality with leading figures from these organizations.
That being said, we are also very aware to the different cultures and contexts in which these organizations operate. We inherently believe that the work must be guided by our experiences from initiatives and research conducted in Lebanon and the Middle East. The excellent work that has been done on this topic from outside of the Middle East, will serve as a well of ideas, an example of what our work may achieve, and a springboard for our own projects. These projects, if guided with the vigor of an organization piloting this type of work for a Middle Eastern population, will better ensure cultural sensitivity and results with true impact.
WNN: Do you feel violence against women is the cause, or the consequence, of gender inequality? Is there a way to dismantle what many call ‘the patriarchal order’ in the complex web of masculinities that distribute more privilege to men than women?
Ghida with Anthony:
As your question aptly stated, the current patriarchal order is a ‘complex web’ of different factors. The solutions for transforming this order is also a ‘complex web’ of different factors. To mention and articulate all of these different factors would require space and explanation far beyond what we could offer in this article. This complex web includes the gender work of both women and men.
Women’s gender roles, specifically those that are contrary to gender equality, have endured despite decades of hard work by brave women in the field. Herein lays the importance of working toward a ‘partnership’ of men and women together in the work on gender issues. The relationship in working on gender roles is a reciprocal one. As work on women’s empowerment continues to grow, the work with men on gender issues will strengthen that work, making it a sustainable strategy for attaining gender equality in our culture.
Women’s roles are changing. This should not be threatening for men. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. Men now have the opportunity to develop and change in order to enjoy a partnership with this ‘new breed of women’. With this men can break the traditional gender roles that have hindered their growth, forcing them to play roles and not play roles that society has dictated, rather than just being themselves.
This is why mens’ awareness of gender roles is so imperative. From fighting wars, carrying the sole financial burden of the family, to not being allowed to express their emotions, these gender roles are not good for men either.
This partnership between the genders can only strengthen and enhance the lives of all men, women, boys and girls in our culture. It is an ultimate win-win scenario. Men and women side-by-side, as equal partners.
The ABAAD – Resource Center for Gender Equality with the IMC – International Medical Corps based in Beirut, Lebanon, has produced this short PSA – Public Service Announcement television commercial, as one in a series of upcoming TV commercials targeted towards men to help show them how anger can lead to harmful actions that can later be regretted when anger grows out of control. This media outreach is part of the launch for what is called the “Mest’ edeen Nesma’ Haki” campaign (which translates into English as: “We are willing – and here – to listen”). The ABAAD Men Center is a place where men can confidentially go to discuss topics such as stress, family life and relationship.
For more information on this topic:
- “The ‘White Ribbon’ Campaign in universities – Lebanon,” Engagingmen.net – A Gender Justice Information Network – website page article;
- “ Masculinities: Male Roles and Male Involvement in the Promotion of Gender Equality – A Resource Packet,” Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, October 2005;
- “Frequently Asked Questions about the White Ribbon Campaign,” White Ribbon Campaign, March 2011;
- “Exploring Masculinities – Working with Men and Boys towards Gender equality,” Gender Equality Group at WSF – World Social Forum, 2009.
Peace activist and WNN – Women News Network special reporter on Iran, Elahe Amani, works with immigrant women who are part of the South Asian, Iranian and the Middle Eastern ethnic communities in Southern California to help women from these communities build peace at home and in society. Amani is also chair of Global Circles at Women’s Intercultural Network, a global women’s organization with grassroot circles in Uganda, Japan and Afghanistan. Amani has also lectured through the Women’s Studies Department and is also on the advisory board of The Women Center at CSU – California State University in Long Beach, California.
©2012 WNN – Women News Network
No part of this article release may be reproduced without prior permissions from WNN and/or the author.