I am a Lebanese woman married to a Swiss man. My children will never be Lebanese, nor will my husband, because I am considered as a second class citizen in my own country, which doesn’t seem to deem it necessary to grant me the same citizenship rights as everyone else (also known as men).
My friend, we’ll call her Lina, is married to a Palestinian, and walks around with her two blue cards in her purse, one for her child, one for her husband, those two little permits that virtually grant them nothing. May the law be amended soon, I told her, it’ll facilitate our lives.
Kess ekht 2al balad, she replied, arranging a strand of her loosely curly hair.
Lina has a tendency to swear with a sweet smile, while I tend to slam doors while doing it. To each its own.
Lebanon, along with many Arab countries, has enacted reservations to the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), notably pertaining to citizenship rights (art. 9 par. (2) of the Convention) and rights within marriage (art.16 par (1) (c) (d) (f) (g) of the Convention). Reservations are conditions put forward by States parties to a Convention or a Treaty enabling signatories to consider they will not be or only partly bound by some dispositions within the instrument they’re signing and ratifying.
Article 9 (2) of the CEDAW Convention states that:
2. States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children.
When signing CEDAW, Lebanon has enacted its reservation with regards to this article, stating it will not consider itself legally bound by it.
In International Law, there is a strict procedure to follow when putting forward reservations. Among other things, reservations need to be in conformity with the object and the purpose of the treaty. Clearly, a reservation aiming at discriminating women with regards to citizenship rights within a Convention against all forms of Discrimination against women is against the object and purpose of the treaty, and should have been objected to by other States signatories. However, Arab States submitted their ratification of the treaty to the acceptance of their reservations, so the International Community chose to accept them, for the sake of having more States being bound to at least some parts of the Convention. Which was all well and dandy, but left Arab women to fend for themselves when advocating for the end of this blatant form of discrimination. Arab governments can now claim their reservations were made in all legality as no one objected to them, making the advocacy work activists more difficult.
More difficult, but doable nonetheless: States parties may have not objected, but activists and civil society are and have been and will continue.
So let me get this straight: as a woman, I will carry a child during 9 months, I will bear the burden of giving birth to it (no walk in the park), I will feed it with my own breasts and help raise it and be its mother, his primary caregiver or what have you, yet I am deemed by a government made mostly of grey aging overweight men that my child will not have the same passport as me?
I don’t think so.
The Lebanese government can claim the contrary until blue in the face, citizenship rights define what kind of relationship citizens have with a State, and in the present context in Lebanon, the State clearly indicates that all intents and purposes, women are second class citizens. Patriarchy and the sectarian system of Lebanon work hand in hand in oppressing women on a daily basis: indeed, most political parties position themselves with regards to citizenship rights not on the need to stop discrimination against women, but on confessional calculations, the main question being: if Lebanese women married to foreigners can give their citizenship, how will it affect the confessional balance of Lebanon?
To which I reply: I don’t give a damn, get out of this poisonous sectarian thought system and give me my right, for women should not bear the burden of harmful political practices.
The Jinsiyati campaign (the Nationality Campaign), started several years ago, has been gathering women’s rights activists in an effort to amend the law. Even though public authorities have started facilitating the emission of permits to non-Lebanese spouses married to Lebanese women, the law is still at a standstill. To add insult to injury, the Lebanese government has speedily endorsed a law enabling Lebanese emigrants to reclaim their Lebanese nationality, but ONLY if they have a Lebanese father or grandfather. Once more, women are put aside, and the discrimination is furthered. This new law completely overlooks Lebanese women’s participation in the economic and social life of Lebanon and the situation in which women married to foreigners are experiencing.
This is why today at 15:00, women’s rights activists and supporters will gather in a sit in protesting against the lack of political will to change the discriminating law. Women will also donate their blood in solidarity and to show that Lebanese women, just as men, have Lebanese blood.
Join us in front of the Ministry of Interior in Beirut, and help us put the government back in front of their responsibilities.
Say NO to discrimination against women, you have a voice, make it be heard!