BEIRUT: Latifeh Kassir knew little about Ibrahim when she married him. She was 30, and had already been engaged once. Ibrahim was divorced, but wealthy. They married soon after they met. It was not until two years later that she discovered that he was a drug addict, and violent.
Latifeh suffered 10 years of abuse at the hands of her husband, while her two children watched, sometimes the target of his violence.
When they finally divorced, after Latifeh’s family paid off Ibrahim, he would come around to his ex-wife’s house to beat her. Finally, on November 3, 2009, Ibrahim strangled Latifeh to death with a towel in her home. Her children discovered her there when they returned from school hours later.
Latifeh’s story and that of other women are the subject of a documentary, “About Latifeh and others … ,” made by journalist Diana Moukalled, which was screened at the Babel Theater in Beirut Thursday night to mark the launch of the international campaign targeting violence against women, pioneered in Lebanon by NGO Kafa.
The 16-day campaign is part of Kafa’s ongoing work to change legislation and social attitudes toward violence against women.
For the past few years, the focus of this has been push to change the law to afford women legal protection against violence in the home, of which there is currently none. A draft law is currently awaiting parliamentary approval.
Leila Awad, one of the co-founders and a lawyer at Kafa, believes that had the appropriate laws been in place, Latifeh may not have died.
“The film specifically targeted the very points of abuse that the [draft] law will actually protect women from. You have a feeling that if this law was in place before these stories took place, these women would not have gone through the torture and abuse that they had to endure,” she says.
For Moukalled, one of the biggest obstacles to achieving change is a lack of awareness about the possibility and dangers of domestic violence.
“When I interviewed the families, you can see easily that this [violence] was going to happen,” she says. “You know, when an 18-year-old gets married to a 35-year-old and he’s been married twice before and she’s from a poor family, I mean, you could easily foresee what will happen in the future.”
Moukalled is supportive of Kafa’s ongoing campaign to change the law, but feels more than legislation is needed. It is important, she says, that people are wary of the possibility of violence within the home.
“I’m looking for the law to be approved, but I know that this is not the only solution,” she says. “You need civil society, you need campaigns, you need awareness.”
This year the Kafa is launching its first “White Ribbon” campaign, focused on engaging men in combating domestic violence. For the past two years the group has been actively working to involve men in the discussion of violence, which has included a therapy clinic for men at Kafa’s office in Badaro, and a local men’s forum in Baalbek.
“This abuse doesn’t just affect women, but also the children and the family, and all of society,” says Awad. “All of society moves as one when this abuse is prevalent and we do nothing to stop it.”