In Le­banon, a rapist can be ex­on­er­ated if he mar­ries his vic­tim (ar­ti­cle 522 of the pe­nal Code). Yet only 1% of the Le­banese peo­ple knew about it. Abaad, an in­de­pen­dent civil as­so­ci­a­tion that cham­pi­ons women’s rights and aims to achieve gen­der equal­ity in

ArabAd - - AWARDS -

As soon as #Un­dress522 cam­paign rolled out across the coun­try, not only it in­stantly achieved vi­ral suc­cess, but Abaad ac­tivists and all sup­port­ers man­aged to make their voice so loud that un­der pres­sure, the Le­banese par­lia­ment as­signed a com­mis­sion to dis­cuss the law. Fi­nally the com­mis­sion drafted the amend­ment to abol­ish it and forced the par­lia­ment to rat­ify it.

The cam­paign, which res­onated with Le­banese cit­i­zens, politi­cians, and de­ci­sion mak­ers, has also achieved in­ter­na­tional suc­cess; the lat­est be­ing the pres­ti­gious recog­ni­tion it re­ceived at Cannes Fes­ti­val of Cre­ativ­ity where the #Un­dress522 cam­paign scooped five Li­ons awards (one sil­ver in the Glass cat­e­gory, two sil­ver and one bronze in PR and one bronze in En­ter­tain­ment) mak­ing it the most awarded MENA cam­paign this year at Cannes.

In a talk with Arabad, Ghida Anani, Founder and Di­rec­tor of ABAAD or­gan­i­sa­tion elab­o­rates on the Un­dress 522 jour­ney—from day one till the cherry on top that came in the form of five Li­ons me­tals recog­nis­ing the in­tel­li­gent cre­ativ­ity and all ef­forts ex­tended by the or­gan­i­sa­tion to reach its chal­leng­ing goals.

Can you speak a lit­tle about the main cam­paign’s con­cept?

In Le­banon, a rapist can be ex­on­er­ated if he mar­ries his vic­tim (ar­ti­cle 522 of the pe­nal Code). The cre­ative idea of Un­dress 522 cam­paign re­volved about the wed­ding white dress, which can’t and shouldn’t cover the rape, there­fore the sym­bol we chose as a fo­cal point was a white dress made of gauze.

White is a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of pu­rity and virtue - a woman who is forced to marry her rapist un­der Ar­ti­cle 522 wears a wed­ding dress like any other woman, but her white is im­pure. It is made of gauze to mag­nify its im­pu­rity. By dress­ing her in a white dress, there is an at­tempt to wash away the crime. We are pro­claim­ing that what hap­pens af­ter the rape is still a rape, even if cov­ered in a white dress, and our ral­ly­ing call was to Un­dress law 522.

Were you hope­ful from the start about the ob­jec­tives?

From the be­gin­ning, we were de­ter­mined that Ar­ti­cle 522’s abol­ish­ment was our sole ob­jec­tive. We ap­proached Leo Bur­nett Beirut be­cause of their back­ground in ac­tivism and gen­der-re­lated causes.

There is al­ways the lurk­ing temp­ta­tion when work­ing on tough causes to reach for shock ad­ver­tis­ing and dis­tress­ing im­agery to gen­er­ate aware­ness. Do you be­lieve this to be an ef­fec­tive strat­egy?

We be­lieve that if you are go­ing to use shock value in ad­ver­tis­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion, it should be with a par­tic­u­lar in­ten­tion. In this spe­cific cam­paign, we don’t present any rape vic­tim, only the idea was sub­tly sug­gested by show­ing blood and the med­i­cal gauze be­ing rolled; then it turns out to be­ing a wed­ding dress. It is very dis­turb­ing and might be shock­ing but we be­lieve that in this par­tic­u­lar case, it is an ef­fec­tive tac­tic be­cause we know there is a so­lu­tion that can rem­edy to such cases. When­ever you use shock tac­tics in a cam­paign, it should come with a ‘What can we do to stop this’ al­ter­na­tive. If you don’t have that el­e­ment, then you are just dis­turb­ing peo­ple for the sake of it and peo­ple are more likely not to pay at­ten­tion to the mes­sage. In this par­tic­u­lar in­stance, the mes­sage was that we can abol­ish this law, we should abol­ish this law, and it’s ok to shock peo­ple to trig­ger greater aware­ness.

How do you ex­plain the vi­ral suc­cess this cam­paign im­me­di­ately achieved?

I be­lieve the cam­paign man­aged to in­stantly achieve an in­cred­i­ble vi­ral suc­cess, mainly be­cause to­day peo­ple are keen to cham­pion gen­der equal­ity and con­front prej­u­dice. But also, the other rea­son is the many facets this in­te­grated cam­paign com­prised. The cam­paign in terms of the bill­board and TV spot, in­sti­gated

a na­tional di­a­logue around the is­sue, but then ABAAD in its role of civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tion, went on the ground with a non­vi­o­lent ac­tivist ap­proach to even make the is­sue wider and our voice louder; so there were ac­tivists dressed up in wed­ding gowns made of gauze that stood in front of the par­lia­ment when its mem­bers were in ses­sion dis­cussing the law. I be­lieve the na­tional cam­paign em­pow­ered the on-the­ground non­vi­o­lent demon­stra­tion to bring more media at­ten­tion, which in re­turn also made the cam­paign get greater ex­po­sure.

The #Un­dress522 cam­paign won five Li­ons at Cannes Fes­ti­val this year mak­ing it the most awarded MENA cam­paign. What’s the ben­e­fit of awards for an NGO like Abaad and does it make any dif­fer­ence to be hon­oured at such a pres­ti­gious ad­ver­tis­ing fes­ti­val?

These awards are a push for the ad­vo­cacy ac­tion we are con­duct­ing in the sense that when we ap­proach the par­lia­ment or any other sec­tor say­ing it got global at­ten­tion and global sup­port, this means global ap­proval, which will def­i­nitely con­trib­ute to help­ing us move for­ward. Fur­ther­more, it at­tributes more cred­i­bil­ity with Abaad’s donors and sup­port­ers who play a de­ter­min­ing role in our ad­vo­cacy ef­forts.

It seems that Abaad is fo­cus­ing its ef­forts to drive real change. What, in your opinion, are the best means to gen­er­ate more than just so­cial aware­ness?

We’ve come to the re­al­i­sa­tion that rais­ing aware­ness isn’t enough. To in­spire real so­ci­etal change, Abaad uses a holis­tic strat­egy and ap­proaches it from many dif­fer­ent an­gles. Na­tional cam­paign­ing on bill­boards and tele­vi­sion is only part of what we do. Aside from that, we work very heav­ily on pol­icy change and work­ing with stake­hold­ers such as politi­cians, Le­banese law­mak­ers or in­ter­na­tional en­ti­ties and stake­hold­ers through­out the re­gion to ini­ti­ate those changes that are in­spired by the Hu­man Rights Coun­cil, UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil etc. We work with dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties (ge­o­graph­i­cal com­mu­ni­ties/ schools / religious lead­ers etc.) and hold work­shops and com­mu­nity-based cam­paigns that are home grown from the mem­bers and or­gan­i­sa­tions of that com­mu­nity to re­ally speak to the peo­ple about what they can do and the ac­tiv­i­ties that can be done to pos­i­tively im­pact in­grained gen­der inequal­ity. We work on in­di­vid­ual level too through the sev­eral ser­vices avail­able at Abaad: Women and Girls Safe Spa­ces, that are lo­cated in eight dif­fer­ent ar­eas through­out Le­banon; there is the Men Cen­ter in Beirut where we pro­vide anony­mous con­fi­den­tial psy­cho­log­i­cal coun­sel­ing for peo­ple of gen­der sen­si­tive fo­cus. Last but not least, we have delved into re­search since we truly be­lieve that the pro­grammes that Abaad ini­ti­ates should be in­formed by em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence, to back our work on the ground. It’s only when all these el­e­ments get in­ter­con­nected within an over­all strat­egy that we can ex­pect real so­ci­etal change in­stead of sim­ple aware­ness.

Crit­i­cal so­cial is­sues such as the one Abaad tack­led seem un­likely to be solved by just one so­cial cam­paign, and yet in #Un­dress522 case we can say you made a gi­gan­tic step. To what fac­tors do you at­tribute this pos­i­tive achieve­ment?

One is that tim­ing is cru­cial, if you have a good strat­egy at the right time you will be able to cre­ate mo­men­tum.

An­other is part­ner­ship and par­tic­i­pa­tion. If we hadn’t in­cluded the main rights hold­ers I’m not sure if it would have had the same im­pact.

In­stead of re­in­forc­ing the pa­tri­ar­chal idea that these women need pro­tect­ing, we said, “These women have some­thing to say. Lis­ten to them.”

We tend to look at a cam­paign as if it started and ended on a par­tic­u­lar date, but re­ally this was an ex­ten­sion of a much longer process. This was our first foray into leg­isla­tive change. We had just cel­e­brated our five-year an­niver­sary. In those five years, we have made an ef­fort to ad­dress ev­ery­one: men, women sur­vivors, politi­cians and religious lead­ers—never re­fus­ing to talk to any par­tic­u­lar group, as many or­gan­i­sa­tions have done. So, when the mo­ment came for our first at­tempt at a cam­paign like this, those five years seemed to have re­ally paid off. We had made a name for our­selves be­cause of our past ef­forts to talk to ev­ery­one whether we agree with them or not. Peo­ple were will­ing to sit down with us and dis­cuss this law. Not only did they be­lieve in what we were do­ing, but be­lieved in us and what we stand for. And, al­though it wasn’t a mas­culin­ity-ori­ented cam­paign, it was re­ally a cul­mi­na­tion of all the work we have done to en­gage men in the past. When the op­por­tu­nity came to take a stance on leg­is­la­tion, all the male sup­port we had been gar­ner­ing for years, and all our male fol­low­ers on so­cial media, came into play. It is an ex­am­ple of how long-term en­gage­ment with men can have a pos­i­tive im­pact.

What is Abaad’s long-term vi­sion for the Un­dress 522 cam­paign?

En­sur­ing that the ar­ti­cle 522 implications are no longer ap­pli­ca­ble across chap­ter 7, mean­ing all other ar­ti­cles. We are also de­mand­ing the ad­just­ment of any re­lated ar­ti­cle like 505 etc. Most im­por­tantly, our long-term ob­jec­tive is to start mak­ing women re­alise that this law is no longer inked in text. We hope of course that this cam­paign will be the spark that ig­nites a fire of aware­ness and pos­i­tive change, so peo­ple don’t think of marriage any­more as the so­lu­tion to rape. It’s time to start chang­ing the norms.

What is Abaad’s next chal­lenge?

Wait and see, stay tuned we are start­ing a new ad­vo­cacy act soon.

Abaad along with sev­eral ac­tivists took their mes­sage on the ground through some un­con­ven­tional, at­ten­tion-seek­ing demon­stra­tions and in­stal­la­tion to im­pact the de­ci­sion of the mem­bers of the Par­lia­ment and max­imise pres­sure in or­der to, once and for...

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