Founder, Non Profit, Gender Based Violence, Child Protection Expert, Professor, Wonder Woman, Beirut, Lebanon
I have been rooting for Ms. Ghida Anani to succeed ever since learning about a Lebanese campaign called #shameonwho. It is an in-your-face exposure of societal victim-blaming that goes on every day in Lebanon (something we can all relate to in our respective cultures). Ms. Anani’s organization, ABAAD, attempted to shine spotlight on the problem through a viral video that monitored reactions of passersby to an assault victim asking for help. This social experiment showed that a large number of people were negligent and unaware of how to interact with a rape victim, choosing instead to accuse, blame and shame her. Hence the campaign slogan; Judge the Rapist. Not the Victim. (you can watch the video here).
This is not Ghida’s first “shakedown” of the Lebanese society; only very recently Lebanon abolished a law that let rapists escape punishment if they married their victims. The protests such as hundreds of females in white joining the Beirut marathon, aimed to highlight how the perpetrator of a crime ends up rewarded with a marriage while the victim receives a sentence to life imprisonment. “If you don’t shake society and this reality - nothing is going to change”, Ms. Anani told Reuters at the time.
A passionate activist fighting for women and vulnerable populations, Ms. Anani is gaining world-wide recognition; she was named by the World Bank as one of the ten inspiring women making a difference across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Ghida personally inspires me as a woman of multitudes: a loyal friend and a doting aunt, she loves to cook and invent new recipes, teaches at a Lebanese University, councils and supports refugees and immigrant populations of Lebanon, is a medical social worker and puts in tireless work hours to effectuate programs and safe spaces for female survivors. She also runs counseling programs for men and boys centered around dissecting masculinity, expectations and societal pressures. In summary, she is a WOW Woman!
2. Where is your hometown?
Kounine, South of Lebanon.
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
I am a medical social worker, clinical counselor and an expert in the field of Gender-Based Violence and Child Protection. I am the Founder and Director of ABAAD Resource Center for Gender Equality and an assistant professor at the Faculty of Public Health in the Lebanese University.
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career-wise)? What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of, and what was the turning point to set you on a current path in life?
I started my career as a social worker at the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence Against Women (LECORVAW), and then co-founded along with a pool of activists the association KAFA, where I acted as Head of the Ending Child Sexual Abuse Unit and Head of the Engaging Men and Ending Violence against Women program.
In 2008, I received the ‘’Excellence in Collaborative Teaching Award’’ from the American University of Beirut and, in 2009, I was a guest speaker at the UNSG press conference on the occasion of the International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women.
My disappointment in the way of working of civil society organizations pushed me to establish a “model” organization that puts into practice public health strategies, while using a right-based and results-based approaches. And so in 2011, I established ABAAD in a small office with only a handful of staff members. Today, ABAAD has more than 120 dedicated full-time staff members and is considered a leading agency on gender equality in the MENA region.
5. What did you study in school?
Medical Social Work. I have an MA in Clinical Counseling.
6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?
I never thought I’ll be in the public eye working and contributing to the policy change efforts. At the time I pictured myself working on the ground with families and individuals, helping them address their life challenges.
7. Was there a time when life knocked you down or out and how did you get back up on your feet?
At the age of six, I experienced sexual harassment by our old neighbor multiple times…and at the time it was up to me to put a stop to it.
I still recall the moment when I had to make my own choice.
It took me ten years to actually realize the seriousness of what happened and I eventually had the courage to face the harasser face-to-face at the age of 22.
8. Advice for other women?
Rely on yourself and never stop believing in what you can do. Some walls might look really high but if you take a decision from the bottom of your heart in a fearless way, have a clear vision and passion you will achieve your potential.
9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it, for "feminist values"?
I wouldn’t say we can be ‘’all that we can be’’ but I do believe that we can all change the reality to become what we want to be. Unfortunately, the ‘’feminist values’’, in the MENA region at least, are becoming more and more patriarchal. Women are becoming worse enemies of other women than men themselves. It is encouraging to see men coming forward as feminists, more engaged and believing.
We need women to come together, re-discuss the perception and definition of these values, renew the commitment and pledge to women rights and gender equality.
10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?
Whenever I’m surrounded by my nieces and my family.
11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?
I love baking and cooking as they awaken my creative side. I love inventing new recipes and creating fusion of tastes and smells from different cuisines. Creating helps me connect people and cultures from all around the world.
12. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?
I would like to establish a model shelter for the elderly, a Learning Retirement House. It will be open to young generations of students who can come, meet the residents and learn from their experiences. It will serve as a library of human stories.
I also see myself running a bakery. Cooking and delivering love and happiness to others.
13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
The fear of getting disappointed in my country, Lebanon. I’ve always believed that change can happen in this country and that’s what helped me go on throughout the years. But unfortunately, the past two years have proved that things are getting more and more challenging and we are witnessing and living a “value crisis”.
14. Anything you'd do differently, if you had another go at life?
I’ve always wanted to be a pediatrician especially treating chronic diseases. But I am really happy, love what I do today and I would not change any milestone or choice I’ve made in life. Every fall and rise made me the person I am today!
15. What inspires you?
The German-born diarist Annelies Marie known as "Anne" Frank. For me, she is always a source of inspiration. I read and re-read Anne Frank's diary whenever I hear about the atrocities such as crime against women and children; and it is always a source of encouragement for me. Her struggles against the Nazis are similar to our daily struggles against patriarchy. Nazism and patriarchy, as systems and their related beliefs, are patently false, and because as such, they are and will always be challenged by the likes of Anne Frank; they are bound to fail.
16. What are you hopeful about?
I’m hopeful that ABAAD will become a global actor, with several branches across the world.
I’m optimistic about making changes in LEGISLATION for women in Lebanon and the region.
17. What are some ingredients to a good life?
Passion and balance in everything.
18. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?
Don’t wait too long to do what you have in mind and do not keep on carrying your bruises from childhood, as they do not define who you are.
19. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)
I’m not a book person. Life is the most complicated book in itself and is a source of hands-on practical learning.
21. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why? Can you nominate three (or more) women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description? What would you tell them, if you had an opportunity, why you admire them?
Jika Kesserwani: a social worker, among the first in country who worked on alleviating violence against women. She was my inspiration in my career path.
Lawyer Danielle Hoyek: co-founder of ABAAD and an exceptional woman in integrity and values.
Linda Matar: a feminist activist in Lebanon, a real living example of humbleness despite achieving, wisdom, care and activism!
21. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)