The explosion in the port of Beirut in August 2020, killing 200 people, was a tragedy that was grafted onto an ever-growing layer of Lebanese crises: massive social unrest, political instability, serious governance problems, economic collapse and crash monetary policy, all covered up by the COVID-19 pandemic and an already overstretched healthcare system.
Lebanon as we know it has existed for a little over a century, first under French mandate and, since 1943, as an independent state. It was a founding member of the United Nations and played a key role in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Yet not everyone in Lebanon has the same rights when it comes to transmitting citizenship.
“Lebanese women who marry foreigners cannot pass on their nationality to their children, but Lebanese men married to foreigners can,” said Claudine Aoun, president of the National Commission for Lebanese Women, a government body.
Aoun identifies two main culprits: the patriarchal mentality and the Lebanese confessional political system. This system adapts to the country’s religious diversity (six Muslim and 12 Christian sects), distributing management positions and civil service jobs by religion.
Women without the same rights as men
“Women are simply not recognized as citizens like men are. We have made progress on women’s equality, but the question of citizenship remains a taboo,” Aouan said.
This can be attributed in part to the sectarian system, and political parties are at an impasse: what one group sees as discrimination, another sees as culture.
“Each religion chooses the rights that suit its agenda, so broad recognition of women’s equality is difficult,” she said. “We have to convince people that it’s not just a women’s issue,” she said.
The question of nationality is very sensitive, but at least it is now being debated, especially since a two-year campaign led by the UN Human Rights, known as “equality in nationality”, has made it possible to emerge impasse by forcing this taboo question into the open.
“When the social protests broke out [in 2019], the first banners at the front were those held by women demanding the right to nationality,” said Roueida El Hage, UN regional representative for human rights in the Middle East. “It showed the awareness and support of civil society groups for human rights, which must be integrated into all policies.”
In another positive development, the government recently passed a law against sexual harassment, so there is hope that the momentum will be maintained despite the country’s difficulties.