BEIRUT: Two thousand Lebanese children have been equipped with tools to tackle domestic violence and abuse as part of an initiative by Teach For Lebanon.
“Girls and Boys Voices against Gender-Based Violence” is a youth leadership project funded by the Canadian Embassy and launched in five schools across Lebanon in July 2018. The main element of the program was workshops run by graduate teachers to educate children of all ages on the issue of gender inequality and show them how to report cases of abuse.
According to KAFA (enough) Violence and Exploitation, one in six children in Lebanon is a victim of sexual abuse, which is often perpetrated within the household.
Since 2009, TFL has been training fresh graduates as teachers, with an emphasis on extra-curricular activities and developing supportive student-teacher relationships.
The young teachers, or fellows, were at the forefront of the Girls and Boys Voices initiative, running classroom sessions on equality and justice after receiving training on how to identify various forms of gender-based violence and safely make referrals for support.
Samia Habli, a TFL fellow at South Lebanon’s Haydariya school said she wanted her female students “to know that their value goes beyond their marital status and how they perform household chores,” and that her male students “can express themselves in ways that are not just aggression.”
Around 50 pupils from all five schools traveled to Beirut Thursday to showcase artistic interpretations of the importance of gender equality. Students from the Bekaa’s Afaf al-Tofl school took to the stage in T-shirts bearing slogans such as “All for women” and “We’re with equality” to perform a series of sketches that called traditional gender roles into question.
In one scene, a young football player was chastised by his teammate for crying out in pain upon injuring his leg, before a fellow pupil intervenes saying, “Don’t be ridiculous, both men and women feel pain!”
After their performances, the pupils huddled together to show off their newly bestowed “junior advocate for gender equality” medals.
When asked what they had learned from the program, they replied with confidence that “women and men should both be able to work or do whatever they like.”
Ruba Abi Ghosn, who teaches at Kousba Public School for Boys, said it was initially a struggle to get the boys to understand the meaning of the word equality, which to them was “abstract, not tangible.”
But the sessions run by TFL fellows worked to change this, and Thursday the boys presented their painted representations of equality, depicting images of the scales of justice and scenes of men and women doing housework together.
However, when initially introduced to schools, the TFL gender-based violence initiative sparked a backlash from parents who were reluctant to allow their children to attend sessions that challenged traditional values.
Lina Harati, the head of TFL’s education department, attributed this to the students coming “from areas where mixing boys and girls doesn’t happen ... in the Bekaa, in North Lebanon and among Syrian refugees.” But after TFL invited representatives from gender equality NGO Abaad to come to the schools and run informative sessions without children present, the parents came around.
“At first the parents were really reluctant to talk, but later they gave examples of violence in their own homes,” Agnes Khorassandjian, TFL’s communications manager, told The Daily Star.
The initiative was funded by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives as part of its “feminist foreign policy” that advocates for gender equality, Ambassador Emanuelle Lamoureux said.
“It’s putting a seed in children’s head saying, ‘Maybe this is a better way of interacting between boys and girls’ ... and then helping it grow,” she added.
This article was amended on Saturday, February 23 2019
A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Samia Habli's name. The Daily Star regrets this error.