Abstract : Gender is a major marker of social and economic stratification, and, as a result, exclusion. The degree of inequality varies over country and over time, but there are systematic gender differences in material wealth, regardless of socio-economic class. For this reason, domestic violence is a pattern of one person trying to dominate or control another person, usually men against women. Estimates published by WHO (2021) indicate that about 1 in 3 (30%) of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Domestic violence involves different types of abusive ways. It is a repetitive process of abuse where the perpetrator holds victims against their consent in a consistent manner. For example, assault on wives is a common yet under-reported crime. There is a need to capture its true extent in Lebanon. Oral history narratives (4 interviews) describing domestic abuse were conducted in this research to better understand the cases in Lebanon. Responses were transcribed, edited and analysed using a feminist theoretical framework (Allstate Foundation, 2009). This article highlights factors which contribute to the appearance of gender inequality and domestic violence which influence women’s experiences and reporting decisions, thus making a distinctive contribution to our understanding of the reasons for the persistence and adaptability of domestic abuse in Lebanon.

Key Terms

ABAAD: ABAAD is a non-profit, non-politically affiliated, non-religious civil association that aims to achieve gender equality as an essential condition for sustainable social and economic development in the MENA region.

Abuse: is when someone causes another harm or distress.  It can take many forms, ranging from disrespect to causing someone physical or mental pain, among other modalities, It generally starts with a lack of consent from the receiving individual.

Battered Woman’s Syndrome: Women who come from a family in which they witnessed their mother being battered and, as a result, are more susceptible to accept being battered themselves.

Consent: is a process that provides content or evidence that a procedure was agreed to. The main purpose of the informed consent process is to protect the interests of all individuals drawing the form as consent is a form of communication that assures equality. In the context of domestic violence, consent is also something that could be verbal. There is not always a form signed by partners and for this reason there is also more commonly abuse because the lines of consent in intimate relationships can be unclear but that does not mean that consent still should not be explicitly asked for and granted by all involved parties.

Domestic violence: also called “domestic abuse” or “intimate partner violence”, can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person and can be inflected by individuals of any gender or sexual orientation.

Femininity: also called womanliness, is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles generally associated with women and girls. Femininity varies across societies and individuals, and is influenced by a variety of social and cultural factors.

Feminist theory: this emphasizes the construct of gender as a social construct that interacts heavily with power dynamics to identify and bring equal societal interactions between genders that subvert any gender at the benefit of another. It focuses on the societal messages that try to identify and eradicate a male’s use of violence and aggression throughout life, and the proscribed gender roles that dictate how men and women should behave in their intimate relationships (Pence & Paymar, 1993). This theory sees the root cause of intimate partner violence as the outcome of living a society that condones aggressive behaviors perpetrated by men, while socializing women to be non-violent, thus reinforcing roles of inequality between sexes and genders (Allstate Foundation, 2009).

Gender – based violence: Any act of violence that is forced upon someone else because of perception of dominance over the other. Gender identification results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.

Gender identity: In Lebanon, gender identities are usually learned in early childhood and refer to one’s perception of him or herself as masculine, feminine, or any other gender expression.

Gender inequality: is the social phenomenon in which genders are not treated equally with one of the most common inequalities as those between men and women. The treatment may arise from distinctions regarding biology, psychology, or perceived cultural norms prevalent in the society.

Gender roles: are the characteristics, attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that society expects in the performance and interpretation of gender (mainly females and males).

Gender: refers to the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed. This includes norms, behaviours and roles associated with being a woman, man, girl or boy, as well as relationships with each other. As a social construct, gender varies from society to society and can change over time.

Justice: the state of being just, conformity to the principles of righteousness and rectitude in all things; strict performance of moral obligations. This is specific also to setting, context, individuals and has different levels of application.

KAFA: KAFA (‘enough’ Violence & Exploitation, translated from Arabic) is a Lebanese civil, non-governmental, non-profit, feminist, and secular organization seeking to create a society that is free of social, economic, and legal patriarchal structures that discriminate against women.

Masculinity: also called manhood or manliness, is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles could be associated primarily with men and boys. It is distinct from the definition of the biological male sex as anyone can exhibit masculine traits. Standards of masculinity vary across different cultures and historical periods.

Patriarchy:  is an analytical concept referring to a system of political, social, and economic relations and institutions structured around the gender inequality of socially defined men and women. Within patriarchal relations, women are collectively excluded from full participation in political and economic life.

Role conflict: refers to the frustration and uncertainties a person experiences when confronted with the societal expectations of incompatible roles. Roles of what they perceive as their identity and what society expects of their gender or sexuality performance/expression.

Sex: refers to the biological characteristics with which humans are born, generally categorized for human into male and female.

Toxic masculinity: is a set of attitudes and ways of behaving stereotypically associated with or expected of men, which are regarded as having a negative impact on men and on society as a whole.

 

Research Question

What are the factors that contribute to the existence of gender inequality and domestic violence in Lebanon?

Aim

The aim of this study is to provide an overview of gender inequality and domestic violence in the past, present and predict the future by understanding its existence in Lebanon, its causes and effects throughout history and the role of laws and regulations in the country for protecting the vulnerable.

Methodology

This study uses a qualitative approach research, based on the Oral History method (Mulvihill and Swaminathan, 2022). This method allows individuals to express their experiences, favoring the understanding of social relationships, thus allowing for a more subjective view of gender inequality and domestic violence to emerge. In this study, the oral testimonies of our interviewees constitutes the core of the investigation, favoring qualitative interpretations about domestic violence and its repercussions in the lives of those who experience it. We chose to conduct interviews with experts and victims to provide strong evidence for the thesis statement and our main argument related to gender inequality and domestic violence in Lebanon.

A total of four interviews were conducted to answer the research question. Of these four interviews, one was conducted with survivor of domestic violence to better understand violence effects on individuals. Another interview was conducted with a psychologist to understand the causes and effects of domestic violence and why men choose violence and why some women choose to stay despite violence. An interview with a Lebanese male was conducted in order to better understand Lebanese cultural and traditional roles as factors in domestic violence and gender inequality. Finally, an interview with a lawyer was conducted to understand where Lebanon fails in its laws and why they are not considered enough. Results from the interviews were classified into four factors (socio-economic-al factors, psychological factors, cultural factors and legal factors), and each was used to analyze our findings and deepen our understanding of the topic from these different perspectives.

Findings: Interconnected Factors that Contribute to the Existence of Gender Inequality and Domestic Violence in Lebanon 

Gender inequality has been visible throughout history, where masculinity is often personified by control, power and strength and femininity as vulnerability, submission and weakness. Domestic violence is considered to be a manifestation of beliefs around masculinity. In response to femininity, it is characterized by natural expression of power, dominance, and control over a subordinate being (Sharma 2010). It is also not just about physical abuse, however, as abuse comes in different shapes and types (economical, physical, psychological, etc.) In Lebanon, gender inequality and domestic violence are social phenomena and public health crises arising from intimate partner violence that has been growing considerably over the years, leaving visible negative effects on individual and community relations. For example, according to ABAAD records, 11 women have been killed as a result of domestic violence since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown (ABAAD, 2020).

There are many interconnected factors that contribute to the existence of gender inequality and domestic violence. From our interviews and secondary data, we were able to determine the existance of cultural, psychological, and socioeconomic factors, as well as the presence of legal factors as explanations for the appearance of such phenomena in Lebanon. Lebanon has suffered from economic and political insecurities, compounded by socio-cultural obstacles and a system of entrenched patriarchy. Therefore, Lebanese women in this case are challenging the social norms and the laws in the public and the private spheres (Valentine, 2003).

According to the psychologist that we interviewed, it was made clear to us that there exist socio-economical and psychological factors that explain the existence of domestic violence in Lebanon. The psychiatrist explained that most men who choose violence struggle from internal psychological problems. As the psychologist pointed out, men who batter are seeking a sense of power and control over their partners or their own lives, or because they are tremendously dependent on the woman and are threatened by any moves on her part toward independence (Itani, 2022). Some men batter because that’s the only way they know how to be close to or relate to a partner. Moreover, some men have grown up in violent households where they watched their mothers be abused by their fathers and/or where they themselves were abused (Itani, 2022). According to what was previously stated, we conclude that there are many social and cultural factors that contribute to encouraging women to stay in abusive relationships. Furthermore, the psychologist corroborated our argument when she stated that:

Abuse is driven by the desire for control to maintain power in the relationship and assume a position of superiority. Violence involves troubling cultural norms, particularly in cases of men sexually assaulting women. Moreover, the environment and the community are the very first reasons for the abuser to abuse. Many abusers learn violence from their family and repeat the same patterns and behaviors with their own partner or children.

In addition, Some women remain emotionally or economically dependent on the batterer, despite the fact that they face continued abuse (Itani, 2022). This was proven by one survivor of domestic violence when during an interview she told us:

I had no other option, I was financially dependent on him, especially after losing my job and my family was not supportive I had no other option, I was financially dependent on him.

In addition, in abusive families we can witness a cycle of abuse occurring. Life begins to revolve around anticipating violence; coping with actual acts of violence; and then recovering from the violence. The cycle of abuse can only be broken with awareness and professional help. Hence the first step is recognition. For example, the psychiatrist claimed that:

Survivors first need to acknowledge the abusive relationship. Second write down a partner’s behavior to identify patterns and speaking with a trusted friend or family member that can help. Moreover, reach out to trusted Nongovernmental organizations.

Domestic violence also affects children in several ways. For example, some children may be traumatized by witnessing violence in their family. The children in these homes are at high risk of being battered themselves by either the batterer or the victim. From our interviews, we find that many men who are abusive witnessed their mothers being abused and many men were victims of physical abuse themselves. Also, women who come from a family in which they witnessed their mother being battered are more susceptible to developing what is called “battered women’s syndrome.” In our interview with the psychologist we learned that:

Children who witness domestic violence are more likely to struggle with cognitive and verbal challenges as an adult. Girls either hate their mother or want to grow up to be a powerful woman where no one can beat or abuse. Or believe that women should be abused and remain silence to grow up to be prone to abuse. Boys as well either hate their fathers and try to defend the women at home whether a mother or a sister which leads to a future man that refuses any abuse. Or help the father with beating both and grow up believing that a real man should beat woman, control her life to become a new version abuser.

Furthermore, cultural factors are ingrained in us from the day we are born and can play a role in either ending or perpetuating violence. Cultural norms still exist that perpetuate the problem. For example, the Lebanese tradition of not interfering in matters between family members that occur in private has led to a reluctance of government and the criminal justice system to respond to domestic violence, even after it has become a crime. For example, from our interview with a Lebanese married man, we learned from his story that marriage is a private matter that no one has the right to give opinion about it. This was demonstrated through his claim that:

I don’t allow anyone to interfere with our personal and private life. Since I believe that once third party interfere with marriage. Our marriage will be filled with a lot of complexity and challenges. They might be a cause to fill her with negative thoughts that may hurts us both and affects our marriage.

Moreover, Lebanese culture continues to portray domestic violence as “lover’s quarrels” and domestic violence homicides/suicide as “crimes of passion” by men who are in love, that if they cannot have their beloved one than no one will.  This “romanticizing” of domestic violence allows it to be excused or explained, something not done with any other type of assault or battery. This was proven by the interview when the Lebanese married man when he said:

I do not like to assault my wife physically, but sometimes I am obliged to do so. It depends on the severity of the argument and her reaction. I don’t like her to raise her voice or insist on her opinion because I always offer what is best to her and I always try to help her with her decisions, as I mentioned before. I will not deny the fact that I hit her once, but my intentions were never to hurt her.”

The Lebanese cultural norms dictate how individuals may experience domestic violence and how they may react to it.  For example, most women in the Lebanese society may adhere to strong values of dependence that prevent them from seeking help from “outsiders”. This was shown during the interview with the Lebanese male when he stated that:

I take most decision related to our marriage, since in our Lebanese societies men take the decisions and have the final word and since we like to provide our women with all their needs. Men are wise and women are emotional.

Moreover, toxic masculinity plays a large role in domestic violence. In Lebanon, men are encouraged to refrain from being emotionally vulnerable and to show less emotion. The perception of men is then seen as dominating, aggressive, and unemotional. Lebanese society puts so much pressure on men to behave in an unconnected way that sometimes men can begin to normalize power and control as perpetrators. They can also then ignore or not recognize when they are victimized by domestic violence because they are taught at an early age to believe that they should be able to handle physical and emotional abuse. Not having recognition of their own victimization can lead to a non-representation of male domestic violence victims as well. Many cultural factors can reliably predict the risk of perpetrating violence. One key set of factors is to do with masculinity– that is, the attitudes and behaviors stereotypically associated with being a man. Longstanding ideals about manhood in Lebanon include ideas that men should be strong, forceful, and dominant in relationships and households. This was shown during our interview with the Lebanese married man who pointed out that

My wife should always take into consideration her husband’s image in society. Since women in our society have a lot of limitations. For example: my wife isn’t allowed to go out at night with her friends for her safety, whereas I can go out to a nightclub with my friends alone. Moreover, that not only my perspective, it’s what our culture and traditions say.

As for the legal factors, the domestic violence law, Law 293, was passed by Lebanon’s parliament on April 1, 2014. The law should advance women’s rights and safety but falls short in key areas (Human Rights Watch, 2020). This law (Law on Protection of Women and the Rest of Family Members from Domestic Violence, 2014) establishes important protection measures and related policing and court reforms such as a provision to enable a woman to get a restraining order against an abuser. Moreover, Lebanon needs a system that ensures women can obtain emergency orders at any time of day.  There is the need to address the country’s discriminatory personal status laws since only 175 official protection orders were released since the statement of Law 293 until today and fourteen Lebanese women were killed in domestic crimes after the statement of Law 293 (KAFA, 2020). Serious changes regarding women’s rights in Lebanon still need to be implemented. The lawyer, an expert on this topic, told us:

This law fails on several levels. The law take into consideration only the severe physical abuse and neglect completely any other type of abuse. Also, there is no coordination between the legal references regarding the domestic violence, and even a lot of judges looking at these files don’t have enough knowledge about the details of the law. For this, unfair decisions are issued against victims. In addition, the law itself is not fully implemented in its two parts: the first part is completely neglected and absent; the second part of the law is only applied, which is also not sufficient to protect women against violence. It takes a lot of time until a protection decision is issued and this puts women at greater risk of violence.

As the lawyer pointed out, the government should move immediately to put the law into effect, establishing a monitoring mechanism to ensure the law is being carried out and crafting national protocols and strategies relevant to all ministries involved in responding to domestic violence. Moreover, parliament should fix the domestic violence law without delay and develop a national strategy to implement the law. They also need to reform the personal status laws that often enable such violence.

Discussion

The interviews helped us in discovering a lot of interconnected factors (such as socioeconomic, psychological, cultural, and legal factors) that contribute to the occurance of domestic violence and gender inequality in Lebanon. The interviews also helped us to answer our research question, which asked ‘‘What are the factors that contribute to the existence of gender inequality and domestic violence in Lebanon?’’

Historically, it was common to hear about how women are marginalized and their rights are not taken seriously. Based on our interviews and secondary data, we conclude that education plays an important role in protecting women from being victims of gender inequality and domestic violence. From interviewing a psychiatrist, however, we also realized that educated and economically independent women are not immune from these kinds of violences. Everyone can be a victim of domestic violence. The way of coping with such phenomena, however, can differ by how to reduce the hard effects of domestic violence. The interview with the psychiatrist showed us that the abusers may also be victims due to their past experiences (childhood experience with violence) and the community that they live in (cultural norms). The psychiatrist was herself also a victim who chose to support her husband and help him to heal in order to protect him, herself, and their children. From her story, we were able to further conclude that educated and economically independent women can be a victims of domestic violence but may have the resources to survive, heal, and to protect their families. Moreover, the psychiatrist informed us that most of the women who have experienced domestic violence or any type of abuse are at a significantly higher risk of mental health conditions. We discovered that the psychological factors and personal experiences can significantly affect someone’s actions around people and that a small incident or experience can turn someone into a future abuser.

In addition, from the legal perspective, according to the lawyer these problems are compounded by the absence of proper enforcement of the laws that exist in Lebanon. In the interview done with one if the victims, she complained of the lack of implementation of laws. She cited this as the very first reason for her not to report or even trust the religious courts once she recognized her situation as one of abuse. Domestic violence should not be common among people and the law must be applied correctly to eliminate the existence of violence.

On the other hand, it was made clear to us from the perspective of a victim of domestic violence how the abuse from someone who is supposed to love you can be a great disappointment and source of pain. There are many domestic violence victims who need to talk and explain their experience to others as a form of therapy. This was obvious from the interview with the victim who spoke with mixed feelings, sorrow in her eyes, and a quiver in her voice as she told us about her story. In Lebanese society, victims fear being charged with desertion, losing custody of children, or losing joint assets. Moreover, we learned that some women choose to stay in abusive relationships because of an economic dependence upon their abusers; love, as they think that the abuser might change; and guilt, as some victims may be manipulated by their abusers to remain quiet.

From our interview with a male from the Lebanese society, we found support for our hypothesis as the male expressed thoughts related to gender inequality proudly. His proclamations and justifications for the abusive actions toward his wife made us realize that Lebanon can be seen in some ways as male-dominant or patriarchal society at the moment where men are allowed to dominate women and constantly subdue them. Moreover, it made us recognize that some discriminatory behaviors may be seen as ‘normal’ in our culture, allowing the male indirectly or directly to control his wife’s choices in life since Lebanese culture expects certain behaviors from each gender.

Furthermore, the economic crisis was also mentioned as a factor where individuals are stressed and might use violence as an outlet to express frustrations. As it is known that individuals who experience a severe decrease in the ability to control aspects of their lives related to unemployment and financial security may feel angry or seek control and dominance in other arenas of life such as in the home, the especially challenging economic context currently faced by many in Lebanon can be a further cause of domestic violence. Discriminatory behavior from a perpetraitor may also manipulate a victim, preventing them from reporting abuse. For this reason, the victim herself, family members, and neighbors play a major role in reporting any case of violence from the home.

In conclusion, gender-based violence (GBV) is the most extreme manifestation of gender inequality and a fundamental human rights violation. The root cause of GBV lies in unequal power relations between women and men. There exist a variety of factors on the individual level, family level, and community and society levels, often combining to create a raised likelihood of violence occurring in a household. Important to also consider, the effects of GBV are far reaching and extend beyond the individual survivor to the family and society as whole. In this study, multiple interconnected factors were found to lead to gender inequality and domestic violence in Lebanon, including cultural factors, psychological and socioeconomic factors and legal factors. All of these contribute to the continuation of violence between genders. Potential social responses to GBV are most effective when there is a common understanding of the nature and causes of GBV and it is addressed from all angles through the participation of multiple sectors and entire communities. Moreover, GBV needs to be a priority and seen as a key public health issue and the real pandemic that it is. It’s time to form a society where such violence is unacceptable as no individual deserves to be beaten, sexually abused, or made to suffer emotionally and economically.

Women are empowered when they can make their own decisions about their lives and well-being in their families and society.

References:
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  • Mohamad Hassan. 2022. Interview. 9 May 2022. Lebanon-Beirut.
  • Sylvana Ibrahim. 2022. Interview. 9 May 2022. Lebanon-Ein Remeneh.
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Annex I: History Dialogues Informed Consent and Deed of Gift Form

The History Dialogue Project is sponsored by the Global History Lab at Princeton University. Its purpose is to teach international learners the skills necessary to undertake their own history projects.

You are being asked to participate in an interview for Rawan Abou Hamzeh and Zainab Msaddi’s oral history project.

Rawan Abou hamzeh and Zainab Msaddi are a Global History Lab students. You will be asked about Gender inequality and Domestic Violence in Lebanon.

The interview will be recorded and potentially transcribed for use in Rawan Abou Hamzeh and Zainab Msaddi’s oral history project.

The interview will take maximum 20 minutes. There are no risks to participation; however, you may withdraw from the interview at any time or place restrictions on the use of the interview, such as requesting anonymity or sealing certain parts or the entirety of the interview for a period of time.

Your signature indicates that the purpose of the project and the use of the recordings have been explained to you and that you have agreed to participate in the oral history interview.

It further indicates that you give, convey, and assign your interview to Rawan Abou Hamzeh and Zainab Msaddi.

Name:

Signature, Location, Date:

Address:

Rawan Abou Hamzeh and Zainab Msaddi
Rawan Abou Hamzeh and Zainab Msaddi are Public Health Students at the Modern University of Business and Science (MUBS) in Lebanon. Best friends, they chose public health as a major not only for its great effects on the community but also for to its great impact on evolving their personalities. The researchers are passionate about gathering data about health, psychology, social dynamics and creating interventions focusing on behavioral change. Author emails: Rawan.abouhamzeh@mubs.edu.lb and Zainab.msaddi@mubs.edu.lb
Rawan Abou Hamzeh and Zainab Msaddi

3 Replies to “Lebanon: Gender Inequality and Domestic Violence”

  1. Rawan and Zainab, you have brilliantly monitored a research that has been of great concern to the Lebanese society. I hope your research raises awareness towards this issue and hopefully women who have been abused may find a way to speak up and stop their busers with the help of the mentioned social community advocates.

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