Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. November 25th is a day set aside to raise awareness and trigger action on this global problem. Here, Nay el Rahi tells us the story of Nada, one of the beneficiaries of the Women’s Access to Justice programme in Lebanon.

In November 2013, following years of physical and emotional abuse at home, Nada’s husband locked her out of the house and denied her the right to see her children.

“He had prevented me from taking my car, so I took the bus because I had to collect money from a sewing job,” Nada says “Then when I came back home, I couldn’t get in. He had locked me out. He didn’t even let me collect my clothes.”

“Women are brought up to think that they should not go to court and have to endure violence and abuse.”Nada was then forced to stay with her brother and his family, her only remaining relatives in Lebanon. She eventually had to sell her jewellery to be able to rent a flat that she later had to leave due to financial difficulties. She then moved into a girls’ dorm, and began proceedings to file a lawsuit against her husband so she could collect her belongings from their home; this process took 11 days. The police eventually called her
husband in to take his statement and sign a restraining order, when he refused, he was arrested. Nada went to collect her clothes, accompanied by a police officer.

“The lawsuit has been ongoing since then, and I still don’t have my children,” she says.

After not being allowed to see her children for six months, a court granted her the right to see them once a week, though this took another two months to be enforced. Still, Nada was in a vulnerable position with very little control over her situation.

Inaccessible justice

According to Brigitte Chelabian, the founder and director of Justice Without Frontiers, these challenges are not unique to Nada: “One of the most prominent challenges facing women’s access to legal services in the region is that women are brought up to think that they should not go to court to resolve their marital issues and that they always have to endure their husbands’ violence and abuse.”

But the solution doesn’t only come from education and the awareness of women of their rights; organisations and government institutions also have a role to play: “To stand by the woman seeking justice without humiliating her,” states Chelabian, noting the significance of how women are  perceived by court officials and judges. 

“There is no legal awareness or literacy for women”

Among the lawsuits that Nada filed against her husband was a marriage annulment, which meant that Nada became entitled to alimony from her husband covering food, clothing, hospitalisation and education for her children. Nada has only recently begun receiving her alimony, but the annulment lawsuit is still ongoing. Nada has also filed five other lawsuits against her husband, three of which are for stalking and threatening to hurt and kill her and the remaining two for kicking their son out of the house while he was still a minor. Nada’s sole aim is to win custody of her
children.

Nada acknowledges that the main challenge for her throughout the process was the lack of awareness of her legal rights: “There is no legal awareness or literacy for women, and men often don’t realise that they have duties.” In addition to a lack of awareness of her rights, Nada faces financial difficulties. She would not have been able to take the case to court and pay for the services she needed if it wasn’t for the Women’s Access to Justice programme. 

“I can use my experience to better someone else’s situation.”

The programme is being implemented in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq through local organisations and it provides vulnerable women with legal support and access to lawyers and legal services to ensure fair trials. This includes work with community leaders to raise awareness on the personal status laws governing issues such as marriage and divorce, which discriminate against women in these countries. Almost a year after leaving her husband, Nada is now preparing to become a Paralegal, leading awareness sessions and providing consultations to other women going through similar situations.

“They think I can engage and inspire them, and this humbles me. If you had told me one year ago that I was going to be leading sessions on legal awareness, I would’ve cringed and shied away. Now it seems like the natural next step. I can use my experience to better someone else’s situation.”

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