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Lebanon's hidden problem of domestic abuse

Domestic violence victim
At least three quarters of Lebanese women are thought to experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives.

By Natalia Antelava
BBC News, Beirut

He beat them every day, but some days were worse than others.

On those days he would first attack the children -he would tie up and beat their son and daughter.

If she tried to stop him, he would put a knife to their throats and threaten to kill them.

On other days he would ask her and the children to chose their own instrument of torture - a thick electric cable, a hammer, a hose.

Image from Behind the Doors exhibition
The images fuse confusion, anger and pain

After each beating - and some of them lasted for hours - he would rape her and then force all three of them into a shower to wash off the blood.

"That's the shower," Khadija says calmly, pointing at a blurry photograph of a dilapidated bathroom.

"I hate showers," she adds.

She clicks through the photographs of the house where for years, she says, they lived through hell.

Its been almost 10 years since her husband left them and gained asylum in the United Kingdom, and yet despite the time that has passed, revisiting the house was frightening and painful.

"I shook and cried, and I thought he would jump out of the walls and attack me, but I had to be there to take these pictures," she says.

Torture

The pictures, along with photographs of ten other women, are now part of the show called "Behind the Doors" which be will touring all around Lebanon.

Women here party, many dress as they like, they work. But if you dig deeper and if you look at the issue of marriage, women have no rights
Ghida Anani
campaigner

From semi-surrealist self portraits, to a series called "the instruments of torture", to blurry almost mystical images of rooms that are forever linked with violence - the images fuse confusion, anger and pain.

The pictures are the result of a three-month workshop sponsored by the Italian government.

"We brought together a group of women, gave them very simple digital cameras and my job was to teach them basics of photography," says photographer Dalia Khamissy.

"I never expected that the final product would be so extraordinary," she adds.

"The photos are good because these women have so much to say," Dalia Khamissy says.

Women say taking photos helped them to learn how to live with horrors of what they gone through.

Taboo

Organisers hope that by exhibiting their work they will get the rest of the country to listen to their stories.

Domestic violence is a huge problem all across the Arab world. It's also a huge taboo and accurate statistics are not available.

Khadija's home
Victims have taken disorientating photographs of their homes

However campaigners estimate that at least three quarters of Lebanese women experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives.

"On the outside Lebanon seems like a very liberal place. Women here party, many dress as they like, they work. But if you dig deeper and if you look at the issue of marriage, women have no rights," says Ghida Anani, programmes coordinator at KAFA, a non-governmental organisation behind the photography workshop.

The biggest problem according to Ms Anani is that domestic violence is not even part of the Lebanese penal code and marital rape is legalized.

In those rare situations when domestic violence cases make it to court, they are referred to religious or so-called 'family courts', where laws often date back to the Ottoman era and where judges almost always favour men.

"There are thousands of women in this country who have no one to turn to, " says Ghida Anani.

New laws

This may begin to change, if the Lebanese parliament votes in favour of a new legislation drafted by a group of non-governmental organisations.

Campaigners say the biggest hurdle is already behind them - it took months to get all of religious leaders in Lebanon's multi-confessional system to signed off on the draft legislation.

If adopted the law would be the first of the kind in the Middle East.

And not only it would give civil courts the jurisdiction to deal with domestic violence cases, but it would also allow for creation of special law enforcement units that deal with the issue.

"We need it," says Dalal, another photographer from the Behind the Doors show.

Dalal's husband beat and assaulted her every day, until she finally ran away from him. But he tracked her down and kidnapped her three daughters. She has heard that they have been beaten and raped, but she has not seen the girls in years.

For years, she says, police has refused to help her.



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