Navigating State, Religion and Gender: A Case Study of ABAAD’s Gender Activism in Lebanon

Keywords: gender-based violence, patriarchy, religion, secularism, humanitarianism


This article examines the work of ABAAD so as to explore the complexities of doing gender activism in a country ruled by both the state and religious law. The work of this non-faith, non-political organisation allows for such an exploration within postcolonial settings where religious law has tremendous influence. In keeping with the scholarly debate on how contestations around gender and sexuality often play out where religious and secular matters intersect, we find it both relevant and important to consider the responses of ABAAD’s gender activism in the context of Lebanon. We draw on the case of ABAAD to explore how “transformational approaches” propose to achieve gender equality and prevent gender-based violence through transforming patriarchal structures. We demonstrate that such “transformational approaches” require active yet careful engagement with religion through long-term dialogue and exchange. In the wake of the influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon, interventions tend to focus on responding to the increase in gender-based violence in refugee communities. While such responses are urgent, necessary and important, we argue that they also include a shift from “transformational approaches” to “gendered humanitarianisms,” which can hinder change in underlying discriminatory structures.

Author Biographies

Brenda Elisabeth Bartelink, University of Groningen

Senior Researcher

Centre for Religion, Conflict and the Public Domain

Elisabet Le Roux, Stellenbosch University

Research Director

Unit for Religion and Development Research