By Denise Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with Soulayma ofABAADMENA in Lebanon, an organisation struggling for women empowerment and women rights by involving community and society as a whole. Would like to thank Soulayma for the detailed answers given to our questions.

What are the main issues that you address with ABAAD?
ABAAD aims to achieve gender equality as an essential condition to sustainable social and economic development in the Middle East and North Africa region. 
We seek to promote equality and active participation through policy development, legal reform, gender mainstreaming, eliminating discrimination, in addition to supporting the advancement of women and empowering them to participate effectively and fully in their communities. 
ABAAD is a pioneer organisation, in both Lebanon and the MENA region, whose work involves engaging men in masculinities, and ending violence against women as one of its main pillars. 
ABAAD seeks to support and collaborate with civil society organizations who work on gender equality, gender-based violence, and/or engaging men programmes, direct services for women and men and advocacy campaigns. 

How do you promote women empowement?

In our struggle to end gender-based violence, we operate through the following six strategies:
1.    Women Empowerment (advocacy and campaigning, front-liner and vocational training, outreach, resource development, awareness raising activities);
2.   Engaging men in EVAW and Masculinities (advocacy and campaigning, training, outreach, resource development, awareness-raising activities, support groups);
3.   Advocacy and Policy Development (development, modification, and implementation of GBV policies to protect women and girls – especially during conflicts);
4.   Protection and Support (holistic services for survivors of GBV, psychosocial support for men with violent behaviour and issues with masculinities);
5.    Development of Resources and IEC Materials (different types of resources on topics from primary prevention, sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality, gender-based violence, engaging men and masculinities, mental health, legal rights, and others, plus capacity and skill building to public and civil society organisations);
6.   Behavioural Changes (national public opinion campaigns addressing GBV through the engagement of various stakeholders to effect multilateral changes within society).


How do you engage men in your activities and how has civil society been responsive so far?
ABAAD firmly believes in the importance of engaging men in the struggle for gender-equality. Men’s participation is therefore a full component of our programmes and strategies and is part of ABAAD’s identity.
We engage men through the provision of direct services with the launching of our pioneer Men Centre in June 2012. The Centre aims to improve men’s reactions and emotions due to daily stress, and to support them in better dealing with and managing this stress. Two therapists receive men, who voluntarily seek out the Centre’s confidential and anonymous services, and offer them one-on-one psychosocial support sessions, counseling by phone, group therapy, and/or stress and anger management workshops.
Given our pioneer efforts towards masculinities work in the Middle East, ABAAD is often invited to participate in Global panels, forums, and talks. Our advocacy work also includes meeting with politicians, religious men, judges and the police.
We also conduct local and regional capacity building trainings on masculinities and engaging men in ending violence against women for numerous local and international NGOs across Lebanon, in addition to gender-sensitive active non-violence trainings for the WPP (Women Peacemakers Programme). We also conduct awareness-raising activities on using a masculinities approach for women’s empowerment and women’s human rights.
We also address the social traditions and assumptions that shape the upbringing of children, their socialisation, and gender stereotyping. This was based on the rationale that gender role stereotyping occurs when both girls and boys are expected to enact a series of norms or behaviours based on their sex. We also work on community awareness, with a strong focus on the topic of dynamics between partners.
In July 2016, ABAAD launched the Programme Ra Manual, a pioneer manual on working with young men on different issues like SRHRnon-violenceElimation of Violence Against Women, Gender-Based Violence, drugs/substance use, romantic relationships, decision-making, and more. 
Civil society has been positively responsive to this new approach to gender equality and it is also worth noting that ABAAD is part of the MenEngage network and constitutes its Lebanon and MENA focal point. ABAAD launched the MenEngage Lebanon through a series of gender, engaging men, and masculinities trainings, in which 13 local and international NGOs working on the ground and employing the engaging men and masculinities approach within their programming participated. Most of the organisations expressed their interest in becoming MenEngage Lebanon Network members. This marked the establishment and operation of the first network committed towards work on masculinities in the Middle East. 

Why SRHR aren’t just a matter of private life, and how do they influence the public sphere?

SRHR is actually a matter of public health. During the first quarter of 2016, ABAAD established a new department focusing on sexualities and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) issues as essential means to holistically address social factors that contribute to GBV against women, men, girls, boys, and persons with alternative sexualities.
The need for this novel approach became evident based on emerging needs and gaps, identified through working with communities and relevant stakeholders on gender and gender discriminations within the Lebanese and regional contexts.
Since its establishment, work focused on the subtopics of girls’ autonomy and agency, as well as combating sexual gender based violence.  
This has been done through enhancing the clinical response to sexual assault survivors; conducting research and producing information, education and communication materials (IEC) on Early, Forced & Child marriage and SRHR; in addition to contributing to ABAAD’s overall work with behavioural change models.
Our objectives are to uncover and highlight how social factors relating to sexualities, gender and SRHR issues interlink in affecting the prevalence of GBV in societies, in addition to find innovative means to start discussions and break the silence around these topics.
Do you cooperate with local authorities and institutions? If yes, how?
Of course, we do. We cooperate with the Internal Security Forces, with the judges, with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Social Affairs.
We organised and trained forensic doctors on the clinical management of rape in institutionalised partnership with the Lebanese Ministry of Justice.
In 2015, we launched, in partnership with UNICEF and the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs, eight model centres operating throughout Lebanon. The Women and Girls Safe Spaces Centres are based at the Social Development Centres of the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs, and were selected based assessments of the locales and the surroundings, and in a manner that ensures geographical diversity, to facilitate the reach of women in different areas of Lebanon. The Centres provide holistic care (case management, legal consultations and court representation, psychotherapy, psychiatric evaluation and follow up, as Hotline 81788178 well as CMR services) as well as referral to emergency safe housing (Al Dar) and soft skills/economic empowerment as needed for women and girl survivors of GBV and their children.