Spoiler Alert for Lebanese politicians: Women Rights are not yours to ‘give’

Image credits: Angry Lebanese women protesting in Beirut. Photo courtesy Oliver Marsden.

While Lebanese people gathered to stand up against corruption and oppression almost two years ago in October 2019, you could hear all around the country that “the revolution is a woman”, “the future is a woman” and “the revolution is feminist”.

By Abbas Taleb
Indeed, the most notable thing about the Lebanese October uprising was the role Lebanese women played by being at the front lines of demonstrations. But it was only normal that the uprising was led by women.

The biggest victims of the Lebanese political system are Lebanese women. For decades, civil society and feminist organizations and activists are fighting against patriarchy in all its forms, which is rooted in laws and legal systems that favors men and don’t give equal rights to women.

One of the biggest fronts in the battle for equal rights, is the fight against gender discrimination in the Lebanese nationality law. Lebanon is one of 50 countries in the world today that maintain nationality laws that discriminate on the basis of gender, and one of only 25 countries that deny women the right to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis with men.

Lebanon’s 1925 nationality law dates back to the French mandate-era. It’s ironic that for a country that gained its independence from France almost 100 years ago, on 22 November 1943, you can still read on the top of its nationality law “General Saray , High Commissioner of the Republic of France to the countries of Syria , Greater Lebanon , the Alaouite and the Druzes’Djebel.” Some might joke, and rightly so, that this law should be one of Lebanon’s monuments...

The current law discriminates against Lebanese women married to non-lebanese, their spouses and their children by denying citizenship to the spouses and children, while it allows Lebanese men to confer nationality to their children and foreign spouses.

The law also grants Lebanese citizenship to those born in Lebanon to unknown parents or parents of unknown nationalities, or those born in Lebanon who would not otherwise acquire another nationality through birth.

Gender discrimination in the Lebanese nationality law affects all aspects of family life. Children and foreign spouses of Lebanese women are often subject to a range of restrictions, including legal residency, education, healthcare, access to jobs, social services, their ability to travel, open bank accounts, own or inherit property and their full participation in society generally.  It is also a leading cause of statelessness.

Lebanese women’s inability to equally confer citizenship puts huge financial, psychological and physical strains on families, which can result in threatening family unity. Children and foreign spouses must reapply for legal residency every one to three years, need to apply for a work permit and are denied access to many professions, are denied access to national healthcare and cannot benefit from government-subsidized medical care, even though-wait for it- they must pay into the system if they work. They also often face many obstacles in enrolling in public schools and universities. All these reasons drive a lot of noncitizen children to leave the country looking for a better future.

The discrimination against Lebanese women, their foreign spouses and their children in the outdated nationality law violates the Lebanese constitution and Lebanon’s obligations under international human rights law, including the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women,  International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child, all of which prohibit discrimination against women in conferring nationality.

Paragraph (C) of the Lebanese Constitution’s Preamble provides for the rights and duties of all Lebanese without any discrimination, while Article 7 explicitly states that all Lebanese are equal before the law. But for a Lebanese system designed by men and in favor of men, respecting the constitution is a matter of choice when it comes to gender equality.

Lebanon, a country that falsely think it’s a leading example among other Arab countries on women rights, is far behind countries like Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Egypt, which provide equal citizenship rights to the children of both men and women.

Members of the Lebanese campaign for equal nationality rights, My Nationality is a Right for me and my Family, have often mentioned their involvement almost two decades ago in regional efforts contributing to the reform of the nationality laws in many Arab countries. However, no reforms have been yet enacted in Lebanon.

There have been many attempts to end the legal discrimination over the years. In 2012, The Lebanese government established a ministerial committee to review feasible amendments to the nationality law. But to preserve the traditional male privilege in the Lebanese legal system, the committee proposed to only grant some privileges to children born to Lebanese mothers, not to amend the law.

in 2018 and 2019 respectively, two draft nationality laws were submitted to the Lebanese parliament, which propose to amend the law, most notably the wording of Article 1 to become: “any person born to Lebanese father OR a Lebanese mother shall be considered a Lebanese citizen” and Article 5 to give women the right to grant citizenships to their husbands, equally to the right of men to give citizenship to their wives. However, the two draft laws are still stuck in the parliament and are not yet included in the agenda of the parliament until today.

It’s hardly surprising that the two proposed draft laws that give women equal nationality rights are not yet being discussed in the Parliament, given the stubbornness of many political parties on amending the nationality law only if they exclude women married to Palestinian and Syrian men. For them, such reforms would disrupt Lebanon’s sectarian balance.

Yes, you guessed it, the classic sectarian balance, changing Lebanon’s demographics is the argument. Not only this despicable narrative is racist, but it also reflects the discriminatory nature of these justifications that are not applied to Lebanese men who marry foreign women. One would be interested to hear how these sectarian calculations only concern Lebanese women (sexism maybe? It’s hard to tell).

Now here’s a spoiler alert for these few Lebanese men in power: Women rights, including equal nationality rights, cannot be a matter of discussion or opinion. We are not in any position to discuss if we can ‘give’ Lebanese women their rights. They are entitled to their rights, it’s not for us to ‘give’ or ‘take’ in the first place. I am extremely sorry you had to know like this…

Today, Lebanese people, especially the youths, are dreaming and demanding for a strong functioning state that guarantees their rights and livelihoods. The first step towards building a Lebanese state in which the rule of law prevails, is the complete equality between all male and female citizens. Our revolution will never succeed without a full belief in equal rights.

Discrimination in nationality rights does not only concern Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese and their families, but it also affects all Lebanese women and even all the Lebanese regardless of their gender.

We cannot expect to build a modern and effective state while women are being treated as second-class citizens. As things unfold, it’s just a matter of time before systematic and legal discrimination against Lebanese women will end. And when it will happen, it definitely won’t be because few men in power decided to.

Abbas Taleb is a member of Salam for Democracy and Human Rights. The editorial team of The Levant News thanks him for his contribution/

For more information about equal nationality rights, check the work of the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights at: https://equalnationalityrights.org/ & about the Lebanese Jinsiyati campaign ‘My Nationality is a Right for me and my Family’, visit: https://nationalitycampaign.wordpress.com/


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