Last Updated: Fri Aug 19, 2011 15:43 pm (KSA) 12:43 pm (GMT)

Sarah Sfeir / Saying no to domestic violence

Women wanting to leave an abusive partner can find support and assistance in Lebanon. (Photo by Amarjit Sidhu)
Women wanting to leave an abusive partner can find support and assistance in Lebanon. (Photo by Amarjit Sidhu)

As I was driving back home yesterday, I was stunned to see a man holding a woman by the head and slamming her face on the dashboard. I was mortified; even though I was on the highway, I could hear her screaming.

I’m not usually a passive person but I couldn’t find the guts to stop the car and interfere. I kept imagining different scenarios and as I tried to steady my shaky hands on the steering wheel: What if I had stopped him? Would I have saved her or worsened the situation? Would he have felt ashamed?

Unfortunately many questions will remain unanswered.

I am uncomfortable being part of a community that still believes we live in a man’s world or worse, that it’s acceptable for a woman to be beaten.

I was once in a cab and the taxi driver kept talking negatively about women, telling the man next to him: “Women are like carpets, they must be beaten from time to time.” Needless to say that I felt the urge to empty my hot cup of coffee on his head but it would have been a waste.

The topic has been taboo in Arab society for some time. Violence against women was perceived as an internal family affair, be it physical, emotional, sexual, or so forth. There was no legal structure to provide women subjected to violence with some protection.

After all, women’s rights are human rights; it is not something that is supplementary or an additive. I can still remember reading this statement by Amina Ahmad Al Khatib, who works for Najdeh, a local NGO in Burj Barajneh: “Women should be empowered by educating them about their rights. When we start dividing roles in the household we are creating discrimination especially in manly cultures. Women’s rights are not requirements; they are part of human rights.”

Today, in Beirut, violence against women is being discussed and dealt with on different levels. Although the number of women speaking out against violence is increasing in Lebanon, experts say that few actually file complaints with the authorities. They are afraid to do so and they continue to lack awareness of their rights. Some women even believe that their husbands are entitled to abuse them.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, size or strength but the problem is often ignored or denied. The first step towards halting domestic violence and abuse is recognizing the warning signs. No one should be scared of the person they love; help is available.

Although wounds leave a mark on the body, wounds of emotional abuse can be more painful. Imagine a woman having to live with someone who thinks it’s normal to tell her, amongst other negative things, that she never does anything right, that the food is not good enough, the house is not clean enough, she’s not thin enough, her clothes are never right, she embarrasses him and that her life is a joke. This is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Unfortunately some women, however, live with this and this has always made me wonder why abused women say that they love their abuser.

Many of you may feel I've said too much, but believe me I haven't said enough. To the woman who was in the car, I really hope you are reading this: please know that you are a wonderful human being who is entitled to a peaceful life, and despite the economic support or whatever else you think you will lose if you leave your abusive partner, you do not need to accept his behavior. There are people who can help you -- and I am one of them.

For more information on how to combat domestic violence and abuse in Lebanon, please visit the website of Lebanese Council to Resist Violence against Women: www.lebanesewomen.org

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