Bringing gender justice to law enforcement

Police officer in Lebanon hands information sheet to a woman in her car

20 July 2018

In this blog, we speak to the co-author of a new report on improving women’s access to justice by engaging with men in law enforcement and judicial systems across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Close up head-shot of female interviewee of this blog post

Zeina Yaghi, Masculinities Program Coordinator for ABAAD

While countries in the MENA region have some legislation to protect people from gender-based violence, and to bring perpetrators to justice, these limited systems can prove even less ineffective if those responsible for enforcing and upholding the law are ill-equipped to support survivors, or lack sensitivity to, and respect for, those who are seeking help.

ABAAD, an NGO based in Beirut, Lebanon and member of MenEngage Alliance, has been providing gender sensitivity workshops to law enforcement officers and members of the judiciary systems in Lebanon for more than three years. In partnership with Oxfam, ABAAD has published an assessment report reviewing and building upon the diverse ways 13 different organizations based in 8 countries across the MENA region are working to engage law enforcement and judicial systems to promote women’s access to justice.

We spoke to the lead author of the report, Zeina Yaghi, Masculinities Program Coordinator for ABAAD, about getting involved in masculinities research and the challenges and opportunities of working with men in law enforcement.

The full report, ‘Working with men in the law enforcement and justice sectors to promote women’s access to justice’ can be read and downloaded here.

The report also benefited from inputs from Oxfam’s teams in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and occupied Palestinian territories as well as from organizations in the region, namely Miftah, Mhashass, Association Democratique des Femmes du Maroc (ADFM), Arab Institute for Human Rights, Arab Women Organization of Jordan, Sisterhood is Global Institute, Proud Lebanon, CEWLA, Yemeni Women’s Union, Jordanian Women’s Union, and LECORVAW.

 

Firstly, how did you get involved in work on men and masculinities?

For me, I began working on topics relevant to men and masculinities as a researcher a couple years back. I was already working with ABAAD as a caseworker of safe spaces for women and girls within a project called IMKAN. The project aims to provide holistic services for women and girls who are at risk of – or who are survivors of – gender-based violence. In particular, the project targets host and refugee populations in Lebanon, and has eight centers spread across the country. Then, because of my research background, I was asked to be part in  a qualitative study for the masculinities team at ABAAD. It was interesting for me to see how men can also be engaged to support gender justice and to be allies, and how they are directly and indirectly implicated in this cause. I found the research and findings of the study very interesting, so when the vacancy came up for my current role I was already quite interested.

How has working in a support role for women and girls helped shape the way you approach men and masculinities work?

My previous experience working with survivors keeps me grounded and helps me see why we do this work on masculinities and engaging men. It is imperative to understand that women and girls are the disadvantaged populations within our patriarchal systems, and that as a result, work with men and boys for gender equality needs to rebalance power dynamics equitably. As such, it is essential that work on masculinities is done from a feminist perspective and approach and aims primarily at empowering women, recognizing and relinquishing male privilege, and dismantling patriarchy. If this work is not approached from a feminist perspective, then it risks reinforcing the unequal gender power dynamics and very system that projects are attempting to deconstruct. So it’s important to keep the focus on women’s empowerment, first and foremost – before anything else.

What does ABAAD do to engage men in law enforcement and justice systems?

We have worked continuously with law enforcement for the past three to four years, both when it comes to training law enforcement personnel on different protocols, and also supporting the law enforcement system to develop its own protocols that are gender sensitive and gender equitable. These protocols take into account male power and sets forth a series of procedures that counter it. We have also had sensitizing sessions with judges and lawyers, as well as community and faith leaders on the different laws that have to be gender sensitive.

Our advocacy team has been making efforts for the past two years to reform laws that have to do with sexual assault and sexual violence in Lebanon. With the support of other organizations, we were able to abolish article 522, which allowed a man to avoid punishment for rape if he married his victim.

Several men and a woman sit around a table at a workshop

Lebanese police officers take part in an ABAAD workshop on how to respond to cases of rape

What usually happens in training sessions with law enforcement personnel?

We usually start off by explaining what exactly gender based violence is. Then we look at the power structures around it and how they hinder women and girls from seeking support when they need it as well as the challenges they face when seeking support. Then we move on to the specific key Lebanese legalities and protocols that law enforcement officers must adhere to. For example, we train law enforcement officers in what they should do when they are talking to a survivor of rape when she comes to file a complaint, and the referral process they need to go through, as well as how to be as sensitive to the topic and the needs of survivors as possible.

One challenge for us in Lebanon is that law enforcement officers are frequently rotated into different roles and departments. So the people we train might be transferred and then there is a challenge to ensure they retain the gender-equitable knowledge and beliefs – for example, with refresher sessions. But recently we have been working to include gender sensitivity training as a core part of training for all law enforcement to ensure sustainability.

We are hoping this new training will provide an understanding of the challenges that women face when filing a complaint and the different obstacles to finding and accessing resources. It also would highlight the unequal power dynamics that exist within society and what law enforcement can do to decrease the inequality. More importantly, it would provide key steps on how to respond in a gender-sensitive manner in situations of gender based violence.

Law enforcement officers sit in a workshop listening to workshop facilitator

Law enforcement officers attend workshop on supporting survivors of gender-based violence

Why is the new report by ABAAD and Oxfam important?

I think the new report is the first to show the range of approaches across the Arab world when it comes to engaging men in the law enforcement and justice systems. It gives lessons learned, challenges, and promising practices that can inform future work so that practitioners in this field can learn from one another. More importantly, the report makes a series of recommendations that will be useful for all people involved in this kind of work.

What kinds of challenges to engaging with men in law enforcement did the report reveal?

One example is that some organizations were simply replicating programs from other areas of the world. This doesn’t always provide the best approaches to the challenges in the MENA region. For example, it is not usually effective to engage only with policy makers, if you don’t also work with religious leaders. Otherwise, religious leaders can stand against the advocacy work and will most probably be able to use their influence to negate or repeal work that is being done with policy makers to improve women’s access to justice.

Other recommendations include increased coordination between NGO work and academic research, and a more universal approach to the frameworks and approaches used in the region. As it stands, projects do not build on one another, which renders the efforts more sporadic. A more structured approach and framework would allow different projects to build upon the results of the previous ones, and that the learnings from different projects could be used in new projects.

Men, in various religious attire, sit around a table for a workshop

What were the challenges to this research and creating the report itself?

I think the main challenge we faced was finding relevant organizations to participate, because many NGOs in the MENA region do not publicize their projects online, so it’s hard to see who is working in the areas of judiciary and law enforcement. There were also organizations that were not able to take part because of lack of time, so I think for us the biggest challenge was to ensure that we portray the most accurate picture of what work is being done in the MENA region.

Who should read this report?

People working for organizations that are either implementing or seeking to implement programs that work in this area should read it – particularly those in the MENA region, but it will also be of interest to anyone who wants to find out how to engage with men in law enforcement and judicial systems around the world.

 

About ABAAD

ABAAD is a non-profit, non-politically affiliated, non-religious civil association founded in June 2011 with the aim of promoting sustainable social and economic development in the MENA region through equality, protection, and empowerment of marginalized groups, especially women.