April 2015 - Lebanon
Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) is one of the dark realities that have been exacerbated by the Syrian Crisis. Young women are increasingly affected by its multiple forms, ranging from negative coping mechanisms (such as prostitution or early marriages) to domestic violence and rape.
RET’s programme in Lebanon therefore has a strong SGVB prevention component. The tool we use to protect, as always, is education. However, it is not about teachers and experts giving information, rather RET believes that young women themselves are the actors of change. To achieve this, SGBV survivors are brought together with at-risk young women to exchange, advise and share their stories; stories such as Salwa’s and Rania’s, who hold this very role in RET’s centres (both their names have been changed to provide anonymity).
Salwa was for many years a victim of domestic violence. On multiple occasions she had to be taken to the hospital for injuries and fractures. When the conflict in Syria began, things got worse. The family had to flee to Lebanon where they all had to live in a single room, working long hours in agriculture. Their wages barely covered their basic needs and her husband’s beatings did not stop.
For years, crying and silence had been Salwa’s response. However, the crisis pushed her to stand up to her husband. She too was fighting for the survival of the family. She too deserved a better life and she deserved respect. For the first time she confronted him.
Breaking the silence was key and her children, neighbours and landlord supported her in her stand. Despite her husband’s initial threats he was pressured and convinced to modify his behaviour and today the relationship between all family members is stronger and healthier.
Rania, a Lebanese, has a story similar to Salwa. In Syria, where she had moved to live with her husband, she was regularly beaten. As a consequence Rania was hospitalised four times with permanent damage to her ears and right eye. Her husband also had intentions of making her work as a prostitute.
One day Rania decided to cross the border to Lebanon with her two children and seek refuge with her family. This decision was the right one as her family supported her and she managed to successfully file a complaint against her husband. Today she thinks that she would be dead if she had not managed to react in the way she did.
An important lesson of both these stories is that women themselves have to break the silence. Help often does not initially come from outside. To go from victim to survivor requires an incredible amount of will power, however interacting with women who have succeeded is an important advantage.
This is why RET’s programme in Lebanon, made possible through the generous support of the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, has an SGBV component that provides the safe spaces where at-risk women and survivors can talk and exchange. Not only does telling these stories have a strong psychological benefit, it also shows the way out and prevents those at risk from being captured in the vicious circle of SGBV.
Education as a means of protection can come in many shapes and sizes, but when it is participative and experience-based, it is optimal for all in the long run.