Burj Barajneh, Lebanon
Eman* endured over 30 years of domestic abuse before finally liberating herself when she decided to do a vocational training course. Through her training, she was able to find a job with an NGO in one of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
At the age of 15, Eman married a relative in Kuwait she had only met once. Within a year, she was suffering marital abuse.
The verbal and physical abuse took many forms, and Eman had nothing to arm herself with except to keep silent and withdraw to corners of the house.
“I never thought of getting married at that age, but my family thought that it was best for me, especially with the political instability we endured. I didn’t say anything to my parents because I was scared and I was worried of being a divorced woman in a patriarchal community,” she said.
After facing many sleepless nights and multiple bruises on her body, Eman managed to get a divorce after running away from her husband’s house. However, she was later forced to go back to him to protect her five children.
Today she lives in a separate room and works as a beautician and hairdresser. By enrolling in various vocational training courses, Eman gradually rebuilt her confidence and life. She currently teaches students to take up careers in beauty and hairdressing.
Eman’s story can be an inspiration to other women. Speaking at an International Women’s Day event, Amina Ahmad Al Khatib, who works for Najdeh, a local NGO in Burj Barajneh, said: “Women should be empowered by educating them about their rights. When we start dividing roles in the household we are creating discrimination especially in male dominant cultures. Women’s rights are not requirements; they are part of human rights.”
She emphasised the need to change the cultural stigmas and to enforce changes to legislative rulings that deny women’s rights for political reasons. Her lecture was followed by a short documentary of two children telling a story of horrific domestic abuse they endured and which cost them their mother.
The film recounts the story of Latifa Qassir, who was murdered by her husband after being beaten for three hours. Her children, Jana and Khaleel, returned from school to find her dead in their family home.
Leading the discussion after the film, Amina said: “There are still many reservations on giving women their full rights. There are pitfalls linked to the penal code and to child custody laws that, for most of the sects, favour the man (the only differences are to do with the age at which the child is transferred to the father’s custody)."
Amina explained: "What is needed is a new legislation that sternly criminalises domestic violence acts, as well as civil personal status laws based on relevant international agreements and treaties.”
|Photographer Khadija Abu Daqah|
In another event in Burj Barajneh camp, the women’s programme centre conducted an awards ceremony to celebrate the determination of three women taking up unconventional professions in the camp.
Photographer Khadija Abu Daqah said: “I am constantly criticised for being in my late thirties and not yet married. But how many took a moment to realise I have great skills in photography and to see how my strong willpower has made me a professional photographer. I am the first female with a photography studio in the camps. Life is not only about marriage but about finding your talent and making the best out of it.”
Samia Sudan meanwhile, although supported by her husband, has to stand up for herself every day as she is mocked for driving a school van, a profession usually monopolised by men.
Sana Derawi established a bakery to support and educate her children, who suffered years of domestic abuse. “When my husband started taking my money and deprived my source of income from our children, I knew I had to battle to get a divorce and win my freedom back,” she said with a smile, holding her award from the women’s programme centre.
Like many of the courageous women celebrating International Women‘s Day, Eman concluded with a message of hope: “Abuse is abuse no matter how much we as women try to justify it in our lives. It’s never too late to get out of it and to build your life from scratch. I have a basic right to live in dignity and that’s my goal from now on.”
*Not her real name