Welcome to Part 2 of our March 2023 Inspirational Interview with Dr Lina AbiRafeh, an international women’s rights expert and gender equality advocate from Lebanon who is now based in the USA.
Lina AbiRafeh, PhD, is a global women’s rights expert and humanitarian aid worker with 25 years of experience in over 20 countries. She also advises a range of organisations, including the Arab Institute for Women, where she served as Executive Director for seven years. Dr AbiRafeh speaks on global stages and publishes frequently. Her third book will be released in 2023. She has received awards for her work including the Gender Equality Top 100, a Vital Voices fellowship, and a Women in Power fellowship, amongst others. In this part of her interview, Dr AbiRafeh talks about the importance of using one’s voice to raise awareness about VAW and the need for all of us to “start where we stand” and do our part to end violence against women.
Part one of Dr AbiRafeh’s interview was published 5 March 2023.
All photos are courtesy of Dr Lina AbiRafeh.
6. One of the keys to eradicating VAW is to get men and boys on board efforts to do so. Having worked in countries such as Afghanistan, Haiti, Central African Republic, and Papua New Guinea which have some of the highest rates of VAW in the world, what do you think are the most effective ways of galvanising men and boys in very conservative cultures to help to end violence against women?
We need to start early – basic education on bodily autonomy and integrity, and concepts like consent. This is critical and needs to be infused in messaging in schools and at home. Excusing the violent behaviour of boys is not acceptable and beliefs such as “boys will be boys” must be eradicated. For adult men, conversations around gender roles and responsibilities, family and fatherhood, and so on, have contributed to changing attitudes and practices, albeit slowly. Violence against women continues to be perpetrated with impunity, and so laws also need to be reformed in order to demonstrate zero tolerance. We need the media to be on board. We need better male role models. And we also need activities like sports and other entertainment to condemn violence against women. There’s work to do at every level, but best to start now – and start young!
7. You have spoken at events for UN agencies, the World Bank, US Department of State, and other huge events, as well as speaking in the media, like CNN News. What impact have your presentations made so far on educating audiences, communities, and the powers-that-be about VAW?
It is hard to assess the impact of my speaking and writing, but I continue to do it anyway. As long as violence against women exists, we have to keep talking about it. The important thing for me is to raise my voice, use my platform, and talk about violence against women at every opportunity. When I do so, I am often met with shock. Or anger. Or sadness. Too many people don’t even know how bad things are for women and girls. And so I try to address these issues while also promoting avenues for action. It is important that we are galvanised into action because paralysis is not going to solve the problem. Many people reach me privately and thank me for my words and commit to turning them into action. I will keep talking with whatever voice I have left.
8. Tell us about your plans for the future. What campaigns or projects do you have coming up in the next 5 years?
I have just started an independent business through which I speak, write, and advise in order to build a better world for women. I blog every week and try to reach new audiences with my speaking and writing. And sometimes this leads to advisory work, where organisations (both public and private) request my help in making change, sometimes through their internal human resource operations or their corporate social responsibility work and sometimes in support of their external work with clients. I am also a paid speaker (for corporations) and I offer keynote speeches on a range of women’s rights issues. And finally, I’m hoping to do more personal writing, to put together a memoir that tells the story of who I am, why I do this work, and what others might also do. We have to know who we are in order to know why we are.
9. How can The Pixel Project’s supporters engage with and support your efforts to stop violence against women?
I’ve always been a huge fan of The Pixel Project – we’re natural allies and our commitment is the same! There’s so much work that we can do together and I’d love for supporters of The Pixel Project to connect and engage with me, read and share my writing, and find other creative ways to collaborate. We are stronger – and our voices are louder – when we work together. My goal is to work across both for-profit and non-profit sectors, with the former enabling me to do pro bono work on behalf of the latter. In short, let’s find corporate sponsorship to help The Pixel Project expand its volunteer base and bring people like me on board so we can amplify our shared message!
10. In your considered opinion, how can we end violence against women for good?
It’s going to take ALL OF US. We need to help people understand that everyone must play a role. I believe there are too many people who are not doing their part. They probably believe that VAW is wrong, but they do not see that they have a responsibility in ending it. They perhaps find the problem too overwhelming. And so they collectively shrug and move on. We cannot afford apathy. This issue won’t go away on its own. It affects all of us – it is extremely personal. Often people don’t even realise the extent of it. We say 1 in 3 women and girls will experience some form of violence in their lifetime. I think that underestimates reality. But that means that it is about all of us – in every country, culture, and context. We can’t afford to dismiss it, ignore it, or shrug and look away. We can end this if we start where we stand.