In the words of Mariam: “Once I had a lawyer with me, everything changed.”
Originally published on UN Women's regional website for Arab States
Mariam*, 47, lived with an abusive husband for 17 years before leaving him in 2018 after she sought protection and legal help from KAFA, a Lebanese non-governmental organization and a UN Women partner. With legal services and support, Mariam was able to access justice and regain the strength she thought was lost.
Trigger warning: The following story includes descriptions of gender-based violence.
For 17 years, my ex-husband physically abused me, forbid me from moving freely, and threatened to kill me when I would disagree with him. One day, as we sat on the balcony he said, out of the blue, “I wish I could know in advance when I will die. I would shoot you five minutes before. I would hate to die and leave you by yourself, feeling happy.” We were not even arguing that day.
I had married him despite the objection of my parents. My dad told me: “If you want to marry him, fine. Do it, but don’t come back feeling distressed or as a divorcee.” For this reason, I remained quiet for so long. At one point, I could not hide the abuse anymore, and my parents told me I could return home alone, without my children. I couldn’t leave them behind.
When I finally got the courage to leave my husband, he took away my kids and forbade me to see them for seven months. He deceived me into believing that I had no rights, that I could not divorce him, and that, regardless of what I said, the religious court [ 1] would only believe him.
When I first filed for divorce, I did not understand anything about the law. I was humiliated in court, my husband attacked me, both verbally and physically, and a judge called me crazy.
Then, a cousin of mine who works with the Lebanese Internal Security Forces suggested I seek KAFA’s help, and they assigned a lawyer to my case.
Once I had a lawyer with me, everything changed. I was respected in court and the final verdict allowed me to keep my children, who were being physically and verbally abused by my ex-husband. I also requested alimony through the divorce proceeding.
Without the help of KAFA, I would still be struggling in court to this day.
When my ex-husband died of heart disease, eight months ago, I again became entangled in a custody battle. My ex-husband’s family wanted custody of my children. Once again KAFA helped me to keep my children.
My experience is that women facing violence usually stay silent, as they think no one will help them or believe their stories. KAFA provided me with free legal and psychological aid. The extensive therapy sessions helped me to cope with the trauma. Before, I felt weak and lacked self-confidence. Now, not only I am surprised by how far I have come, but my family and everyone around me are also amazed by my confidence. I feel as if I am reborn.
I hope more women can benefit from the same support and services.”
Mariam is one of 364 women to be provided with a total of 707 legal consultations, psychological support services, and support in court procedures through the “Access to justice” project since January 2021. Funded by the Government of Netherlands and launched in July 2020, UN Women Lebanon supports KAFA in providing women from all backgrounds, especially from marginalized groups, with legal support and services to tackle cases related to the personal status laws, gender-based violence, and other gender-related issues.
*The name has been changed to protect her identity.
 Lebanon does not have a civil code regulating personal status matters. Instead, there are 15 separate personal status laws for the country’s different recognized religious communities including 12 Christian, four Muslim, the Druze, and Jewish confessions, which are administered by separate religious courts. Most religious courts usually grant custody of children to the fathers at young ages despite economic, financial, and stability factors.