LEBANON: Women Reignite Demands for Civil Rights in Lebanon

Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Sa'da Ulwa for Al-Monitor
Western Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

At a news conference by the “My Nationality Is a Right for Me and My Family” campaign and the National Alliance for Legislating the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence in Beirut, the Lebanese women participating in the event seemed to struggle to voice their cause in a way their government might understand.

The meeting at the Young Women's Christian Association was dedicated to “questioning the Lebanese state's negligence of women's rights, which are being violated every day, and the continued exclusion of their issues from national agenda.”

However, the participants insisted on shifting the discussion toward the need to find effective ways to pressure the government to achieve the goals for which they have been fighting for many years.
Central among the group's goals is for Lebanese women to be allowed to pass down their citizenship to their family members, and for legislation to be enacted to protect women from domestic violence through laws that are neither distorted nor twisted.

As is typical in Lebanon, the opinions expressed in the meeting varied. Some suggested blocking roads in protest, while others suggested burning tires to get the attention of both the state and media. Other suggestions ranged from new mechanisms to ensure accountability of elected officials to the possibility of boycotting the elections. The latter proposal stressed the importance of voting for candidates who put forth an electoral program that is seriously and effectively dedicated to women's rights.
Iqbal Dughan, who spoke on behalf of the National Alliance for Legislating the Protection of Women from Family Violence, said that women make up 51 percent of total voters. Dughan noted that new ways to hold elected officials more accountable to their decisions would be a significant step, and would act as an effective pressure tool against the government.

Besides the suggestion of using the elections to pressure the state, a debate was held on the effective role that civil society should play, and on its ability to reach out to women and citizens at large. Discussions took place on how to persuade citizens to and groups of women to take up their agenda relating to the demands of women. This agenda would ostensibly serve as a baseline for holding elected candidates accountable.

This topic then triggered a wider debate about the sectarian political system and the electoral system. Both women and nonsectarian groups lack seats in elected office in Lebanon.

A question was raised about how activists, human rights experts, and women in particular could ascend to parliament without having inherited their seats. Is it possible for these individuals to make it into parliament without joining the lists of sectarian parties?

The discussions also touched on the positive impact that previous struggles had had. The issue of granting Lebanese women the right to pass on citizenship to their families was brought before the Council of Ministers last March [2012]. The bill passed through the Council of Ministers and into parliament, which devoted a sub-committee to study it.

The news conference started off by mentioning the latest news on the issues of citizenship and legislation relating to domestic violence. Lina Abou Habib, coordinator of the “My Nationality” campaign, asked that, “the Ministerial Committee set up by the Council of Ministers on March 21, 2012 discuss the amendment of the citizenship law, which is unfair toward women.” Abou Habib questioned the government about the committee, which has not convened once since its creation.

“The fact that the committee has not met indicates that the traditional approach of excluding women's issues from national priorities is still strong. This reinforces a patriarchal outlook on all issues in general,” said Habib.

She noted that State Minister Samir Moqbel, president of the Special Committee on Women's Citizenship, talked about his own achievements in May, but failed to mention the committee and its work at all. She cited statements made by the ministers of justice, social affairs and the interior, which have stressed that “the committee will not convene, or endorse anything.”

Habib outlined the positions of the various blocs and parties on the rights of Lebanese women to pass on their nationality to their families. She said that the rights of women are still subject to politicking and bickering.

The campaign called on Deputy Prime Minister Samir Moqbil to “assume his responsibility, even if it is late, and invite the committee to convene.” It also called on the ministers who are members of the committee to respond to the demands of the Lebanese women.

On behalf of the Alliance, Dughan said that the current law should be passed without being distorted and with no changes to its essence. Here she was referring to some proposed amendments to the bill on behalf of the parliamentary subcommittee. These amendments would widen the scope of the bill to not only defend women, and would make the legislation applicable to all those who may suffer domestic violence, not only women.

Dhugan singled out the text in the legislation that would refer to sect-specific child custody laws if violence against women is proven. She highlighted the need to protect children as well. pertaining to referring to the child custody law special to sects if the occurrence of violence against women is proven, and the need to protect the children as well.

“It is unreasonable for battered women to leave their children when they are as young as 2, as is written in some child custody laws, in order to sue the father,” said Dughan. According to Dughan, the addition of Article 26, which gives absolute priority to religious courts in the event of domestic violence legal disputes, is illegal. The article contradicts the procedural code, which — in the case of competing authorities — refers the final decision to the Supreme Court of Cassation.

The news conference concluded with the announcement of a sit-in scheduled for Thursday morning in front of the office of the head of the Ministerial Committee assigned to studying the citizenship law.