Tag Archives: discrimination

Nationality rights: ignored but not forgotten

26 Nov

Omission of issue from ministerial statement does not justify neglect
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 26, 2009

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s new Cabinet must not forget its duty to work toward granting Lebanese women nationality rights, despite its apparent omission of the issue in the ministerial statement, gender-equality activists said Wednesday. Over 100 people heeded the call of social justice organization Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action (CRTD.A) to demand an overhaul of the current discriminatory legislation, formulated in 1925. 

The law allows men to pass on their nationality to their non-Lebanese wives and children but forbids Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese from doing the same. This injustice is further exacerbated by Lebanon’s reservation on Article 2 of paragraph 9 of the UN Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, pertaining to nationality rights. 

“The Lebanese Constitution lets any Lebanese man who marries a foreigner automatically give her his nationality and even if she has 10 children from a previous marriage, they get the Lebanese nationality,” said one woman who wished not to be identified. “But children who are born in this country and are Lebanese citizens more than some of our politicians cannot get the nationality.” 

There are about 18,000 Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese living in Lebanon and over 80,000 people affected by the current legislation, including children and spouses, according to the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) “Toward Reforming the Nationality Law in Lebanon” project. 

CRTD.A launched the regional Nationality Campaign nearly a decade ago to demand reform of discriminatory nationality laws. Since then the campaign has met with considerable success, with Algeria, Morocco and Egypt changing their laws, said CRTD.A executive director Lina Abou-Habib. More recently, Bahrain adopted measures guaranteeing equality for women and Syria has enforced laws stipulating gender equality in education. “We are witnessing progress in the region. There is no excuse for Lebanon not to join in,” Abou-Habib said. Viewed as illegal aliens, those without Lebanese citizenship face myriad difficulties, including obtaining employment or affordable education and health care, are required to go for regular medical check-ups and blood tests, and face the threat of deportation every day. The difficulties faced by those without citizenship was on Wednesday apparent as audience members emotionally recounted painful experiences. 

One Lebanese woman married to a non-Lebanese said she feared for her children’s financial future. “Who is going to in­herit from me after I die? Neither my children nor my husband will benefit from my life’s work.” 

There are also a number of people who, because of a decades-old administrative oversight, continue to be denied their right to Lebanese citizenship. “Men and women are treated the same when it comes to injustice,” said audience member Haider Radi, struggling to hold back tears. “I was born of a Lebanese father. My father was born in Lebanon in 1920 and was registered in 1932 but he was then transferred to the foreign register in 1936. My father suffered from bad governance and now I’m suffering and my daughters are suffering.” 

Abou-Habib reiterated the Nationality Campaign would not accept reform of the nationality law that excludes Palestinians. Those against an amendment of the law have argued that the naturalization of thousands of Palestinian men and children would tip Leba­non’s delicate sectarian balance in favor of Sunni Muslims, the religion of the majority of the country’s 400,000 Palestinian refugees. 

But rights activists have pointed out that less than 2 percent of Lebanese women are married to Palestinians. “Any nationality law that comes with exceptions would be unconstitutional,” Abou-Habib said, referring to the Constitution’s demand for total equality between men and women. 

While nationality rights are important in their own right, Lebanon’s sexist legislation is only one manifestation of gender inequality, activists said. In a statement earlier this month, the Nationality Campaign urged ministers to include “clear statements” in the upcoming Ministerial Statement on how they intended to push forward gender equality. In particular, they de­manded clauses addressing the right for Lebanese women to pass on their nationality, the implementation of a women’s quota for municipal polls next year, and the approval of a proposed family-based violence bill. But the Cabinet has already disappointed them. Abou-Habib said Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud had told members of the Nationality Campaign last Friday that out of 30 ministers, which include two women, only he and Information Minister Tareq Mitri had called for the ministerial statement to include a clause acknowledging the need to reform the nationality law. 

Lebanese politicians’ inaction has only reasserted the determination of activists to persevere with their demands. “We’re going to go through with the na­tionality campaign and we won’t wait for any MPs to take action,” said one audience member.

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Ministerial Statement fails to address nationality law

21 Nov

By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Saturday, November 21, 2009

BEIRUT: The head of a leading Lebanese social justice organization on Friday lamented the absence from the Ministerial Statement any efforts toward reforming the country’s sexist nationality law. Lina Abou-Habib, executive director of the Collective for Research, Training and Development-Action, said Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud relayed to the organization his disappointment that out of 30 ministers, which includes two female ministers, only he and Information Minister Tareq Mitri had urged the Ministerial Statement include a clause acknowledging the need to reform the country’s 1925 nationality law.

The law allows Lebanese men to pass on their nationality to their non-Lebanese wives and children, but forbids Lebanese women from doing the same.

Abou-Habib said the decision was a “serious setback” for gender equality activists.

“It is extremely disappointing. We were expecting something better from this government given all the work that had been done and all the promises made” on allowing Lebanese women to pass on their nationality, Abou-Habib said.

“It shows consistency with the previous government in terms of the total disregard for women rights and citizenship rights,” she added, noting the Justice Ministry’s recent decision to appeal the granting of citizenship to four children born to a Lebanese mother and an Egyptian father. No ministers were immediately available for comment.

CRTD.A has called for a meeting Wednesday Midday at the Engineers Syndicate in Mosaitbeh to step up action.

Stolen Lives: Lebanon suffers problem of child brides

10 Nov

Economic crisis pushes children from poorer areas into early marriage
By Dalila Mahdawi, Daily Star staff
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

BEIRUT: Early marriages are making an unwelcome comeback in impoverished Lebanese villages and among the Palestinian refugee community, spurred on by the global economic crisis and harmful gender stereotypes, women’s rights activists warned Monday. Child brides are seen as more of a problem in countries like Saudi Arabia or Yemen but have been steadily increasing in poor areas throughout Lebanon over recent years. Girls as young as 13 are being married off by their parents with damaging consequences on their education and psychological and physical well-being, experts said.

The remarks came at a regional women’s rights conference organized by the non-governmental organization Developmental Action without Borders (Nabaa) and Movement for Peace (MPDL) with support from Spain’s embassy in Beirut.

Faten Sabah, a researcher at Nabaa, said the global economic crisis was pushing poor families to marry off their daughters in an effort to relieve financial pressures on the household. “In Lebanon, the phenomenon of early marriage is reappearing … This is the start of violations against women’s rights,” she said, noting that early pregnancies could have dangerous health implications for both mother and baby.

Out of 77 Palestinian girls interviewed in south Lebanon by Nabaa, some 46.75 percent of 17 year olds and around 32 percent of 16 year olds were already married, she said, adding that there was a clear correlation between the girls’ education level and age at time of marriage.

“Most acknowledged their marriage was early and expressed some regret,” she said, with some 74 percent of all child brides saying family pressure had pushed them into marrying. Women who had married early were more likely to fight with their husbands, experience social isolation and less likely to return to formal education, Sabah added.

The poor villages of Mujid and Bibnin in Akkar, north Lebanon, are witnessing similar increases in child brides, too. After Israel’s 34-day war on Lebanon in July 2006, observers also noted an increase in “exchange marriages,” where a person’s sister is given almost as a dowry in exchange for the sister of someone else, said Jou­mana Merhi, executive director of the Lebanese Women Democratic Gathering.

Lebanese law has adopted the same definition of “child” as described by the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which Beirut signed in 1991. According to the convention, and for the purpose of civil obligations and contracts, a child is any person below the age of 18. The marriage of anyone under this age, then, is considered a breach of the convention.

But in some Muslim circles, girls as young as 9 are deemed suitable for marriage, Merhi said. The minimum age at which girls can marry is lower than boys in all of Lebanon’s religious courts, which govern personal status affairs such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance.

Lebanon has signed several international treaties on the rights of the child, but enforcement remains problematic. Beirut became party to the Convention’s Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, in 2004. It also signed the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict in February 2002 but has yet to ratify it.

“Another choice other than early marriage must be given to these women,” stressed Merhi. “It is very important to find opportunities for these girls.”

Jesus Saenz Denis, International for the Middle East at MPDL, praised Nabaa officials for their work among the Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon.

These activities “demonstrate they don’t just come and talk about women’s rights, but enforce them” through concrete action in the camps, he said, pointing to the organization’s work in providing education and vocational training to Palestinian girls.

Despite the encouraging work being done, Denis said more work on women’s rights was needed. “This conference will not be enough. You must keep fighting in your communities every single day for women’s rights, which are human rights themselves.”

Hear the women of Iran roar

17 Jun
Women in Iran at the core of the protest movement

Women in Iran are at the core of the protest movement

With Iran’s population currently revolting, a lot of attention is being paid to the country’s women. Here are just three of the many articles telling their stories: 

While I don’t always agree with the Christian Science Monitor’s editorials or the paper’s religious standing, they generally print high-quality, informative reports. This editorial addresses the situation of women in Iran’s current “uprising”. “What is striking about the Iranians protesting fraud in the June 10 “election” is the number of women on the front lines. Among all those cheated at the polls, they may feel the most denied.

Excellent and informed article on The National:  “We feel cheated, frustrated and betrayed,” said an Iranian woman in a message circulated on Facebook. Iran’s energetic female activists are using the social networking site to mobilise opposition to Mr Ahmadinejad. Iranian women also have a dynamic presence on the country’s blogosphere – the biggest in the Middle East – which they are using to keep up popular momentum against the election outcome.

This article on Comment is Free on The Guardian is as dull as dishwater to read but containts some interesting facts. 

“Over the last year, for example, there have been a series of small but significant victories: Iranian MPs have declined to enact laws that would have further facilitated men’s ability to indulge in polygamy; new measures are presently under discussion to enhance women’s inheritance rights; and reforms are also being put forward to end the insulting, discriminatory rule in compensation cases, where a family of a dead woman will be awarded literally half of the compensation paid for a man’s death.”

Lebanon’s Crawl to Equality

12 Jun

This article first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and was written for Common Ground News Service.

Patriarchy and political dynasties have shut out women who wish to govern.

By Dalila Mahdawi

It sees itself as one of the Middle East’s most liberal countries, but Lebanon’s lack of women politicians is conspicuous. While Lebanese women today enjoy senior positions in the private sector, political appointments have all but eluded them.

Lebanese women were granted suffrage in 1953, yet to this day they face considerable obstacles to entering politics in a country where political dynasties and patriarchy rule.

Most Lebanese women who do go into politics do so “wearing black” – that is, filling a position made available by a deceased male relative, and for which there is no other male relative available. Two examples are Myrna Boustani, who became the first Lebanese woman in parliament upon her father’s death, and Nayla Mouawad, who joined the body after becoming a widowed first lady of Lebanon.

But even when a female politician is elected to parliament without the help of a tragedy – as Bahia Hariri was in 1992, well before the assassination of her brother Rafiq Hariri, the five-time prime minister – it still seems to be a requirement that she hail from a rich and traditionally political family. It is virtually impossible for an independent, self-made woman to enter the political arena.

Unfortunately, the issue of women’s political participation was only superficially addressed by Lebanon’s elections on Sunday. The elections, which saw a Hezbollah-led opposition defeated by the Western-backed March 14 coalition, were widely hailed as the most competitive in years. But out of 587 candidates, only 12 – or a mere 2 percent – were women.

Worse, only four of those 12 – Nayla Tueni, Bahia Hariri, Strida Geagea, and Gilberte Zwein – were elected to Lebanon’s 128-member parliament. And all of them belong to political dynasties.

Lebanon’s instability has in the past helped drown out voices calling for gender equality. Over the last relatively trouble-free year, however, those voices have become louder and more persistent – most notably in a campaign to alter Lebanon’s discriminatory nationality law, which prevents Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese men from transferring their nationality to their husbands and children.

Beirut has also been pressured to amend discriminatory family laws and to make greater efforts to combat gender-based violence.

But during the run-up to the elections, the closest the country came to a national debate on women’s role in politics was a war of slogans. The opposition’s Free Patriotic Movement played on the well-known French saying “Sois belle et tais-toi” (“Be beautiful and shut up”) with posters urging women to “Sois belle et vote” – “Be beautiful and vote.” The March 14 coalition responded with “Sois egale et vote” – “Be equal and vote.”

The parties were keen to attract women voters. But none of them explained how exactly they intended to promote women’s rights.

Women will be able to play a greater role in the governance of Lebanon only if the country’s political system moves away from its traditional sectarian system and toward a secular meritocracy. In 2005, a national commission to draft a new electoral law suggested introducing a 30 percent quota for women, but this was rejected. If the parties are serious in their calls for equality, they could impose voluntary internal quotas to ensure that a minimum number of women run in intraparty and national elections.

Lebanon has a duty to eliminate gender discrimination. Beirut amended the national constitution in 1990 to embrace the International Bill of Human Rights, paving the way for international human rights to be applied to national legislation. It might be too late for this year’s elections, but greater political participation by women could be encouraged in the 2010 municipal elections.

As long as Lebanon continues to hinder women’s rights and prevent women from entering the political process, the country cannot enjoy true democracy. Men and women alike must work to encourage the election of more women members of parliament.

Lebanese women have had the right to die as part of their country’s army for the last 18 years. They should also have the right to help formulate the laws that govern every Lebanese citizen – man or woman.

Memo to remove confession from records is ‘not enough’

14 Feb

By Dalila Mahdawi               Friday, February 13, 2009

BEIRUT: Just one day after Interior Minister Ziad Baroud issued a memorandum allowing citizens to remove their confessional identity from their Civil Registry Records, a number of Lebanese political analysts and civil society activists have said the measure does not go far enough to tackle Lebanon’s confessional political system.

The memo, which was circulated on Wednesday, stipulated that the registrar should accept requests to remove a person’s religious identity and replace it with a slash sign ( / ). Although Baroud’s move was welcomed by civil society organizations and political analysts, many said it was merely a cosmetic change that would make little real difference to people’s lives as long as Lebanon’s political system remained rooted in sectarianism.

“I think this is an exceedingly important and positive first step on an issue that has long been a demand of secular and civil society groups,” said the director of public policy think tank Carnegie Middle East Center, Paul Salem.

But he noted that the move to remove religious affiliations from government records would create a number of problems for those who chose to do so. There are no secular family courts in Lebanon – citizens are instead referred to state-subsidized courts run by their religious sects which implement their own personal status and family laws. Those who choose to remove their sectarian affiliation from official documentation would therefore no longer be registered in religious courts and it is not yet clear where they would be referred. “What needs to happen is for these people to be covered constitutionally and legislatively,” Salem said, urging the government to address the issue.

While he also hoped the move would also pressure the government to begin talking “seriously about de-confessionalizing Lebanese politics,” Salem was careful to emphasize that this did not necessarily suggest a weakening in people’s religiosity. “I hope political and religious figures do not take it as such,” he said.

Nadim Houry, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Baroud’s move was “a welcome but insufficient step” for a society with an “embedded” confessional system. “While people can now remove their confessional status from civil records, their confession will continue to govern their lives and the political office they run for,” Houry said. “It doesn’t get said enough, but sectarianism in Lebanon is discriminatory. If you’re Shiite, you can never dream of becoming president,” a position reserved for Maronites.

Dima Dabbous-Sensenig, director of the Lebanese American University’s Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World, agreed. “The fact is, this [memo] doesn’t change anything. If I want to get married, divorced or to adopt, I still have to go to a religious court. The system will still work in a sectarian manner.”

Salem, Houry and Dabbous-Sensenig all said Baroud’s memo would need to be followed up with moves on creating secular personal and family status laws.

For Nadine Farghal of the Civil Campaign for Electoral Reform, the move also raised other questions. A possible follow-up law “would be to have a secular electoral system,” she said.

For some, the move came much too late. “While this step is highly welcomed, it is a decree that should have been introduced more than 30 years ago,” the web-based Middle East Times wrote in an editorial on Thursday. “The absence of one’s religious affiliation on the national identity card could have saved the lives of thousands who were mindlessly killed during the Civil War, based purely on what religion was marked on their ID cards.”

 Interior Ministry officials were not available for comment.

Lebanon ‘worst place’ for Palestinian refugees

29 Nov

Country suffers from ‘complete lack of integration’
By Dalila Mahdawi
Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lebanon 'worst place' for Palestinian refugees
 

 

BEIRUT: Lebanon may not host the largest population of Palestinian refugees but it “is the most difficult place to be a Palestinian refugee.” That is the opinion of Zara Sejberg, Child Protection project manager at Save the Children Sweden, at least.  Speaking ahead of the UN-designated “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People” on Saturday.

Sejberg, who works to promote the rights of Lebanese and Palestinian refugee children and who has travelled widely throughout the Middle East, told The Daily Star that over 409,700 Palestinians living in squalid, overcrowded camps in Lebanon suffered from a “complete lack of integration,” inadequate services, harmful stereotypes, and discriminatory laws. Over 3000 Palestinians in Lebanon do not even have formal documentation, meaning they are not recognized by either the Lebanese state or UNRWA.

Refugees in Lebanon suffer from the highest levels of abject poverty of all Palestinian  refugees, according to UNRWA. In accordance with the UN Refugee Convention of 1951, all refugees must be given the right to work and to own property. But Palestinians in Lebanon do not enjoy those rights. Nor are they entitled to state health care. Their status has long been an issue of bitter dispute between Lebanese political parties, many of whom argue that Palestinians are temporary guests and vehemently oppose the possibility of Palestinian naturalization.

In an address to the UN General Assembly Tuesday to mark the day of solidarity with the Palestinians, Lebanese Ambassador to the UN Nawwaf Salem said Lebanon “strictly opposes any sort of naturalization of the Palestinians, a matter which has been repeatedly emphasized by [President] Michel Sleiman.” Naturalization was “not feasible because it threatened the Lebanese state and identity, as well as the identity of Palestinian refugees,” Salem added.

For Sejberg, the debate over naturalization was pointless. The majority of Palestinians themselves have no interest in becoming Lebanese. Indeed, as recently as last Wednesday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki told An-Nahar newspaper that the naturalization of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon would not be tolerated. “I don’t even know why we’re bothering to talk about naturalization when that’s not the issue,” said Sejberg. “The issue is how to improve the life of these people who have been in Lebanon’s backyard since 1948.”

But according to former Ambassador Khalil Makkawi, president of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), which since 2005 has been working on the issue of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon under the guise of the Cabinet, responsibility for the Palestinians lay “not [with] Lebanon but UNRWA and the international community.”

“I think it’s time to take a more proactive stance,” Sejberg said, suggesting Lebanon used UNRWA’s mandate over the Palestinians as a “convenient” tool to absolve itself of responsibility toward them.

Haifa Jammal, Human Rights and Advocacy program coordinator at Norwegian People’s Aid, which works with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, likewise said that the Lebanese government was not working hard enough to improve the situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. “The government took the initiative to establish the LPDC, but that committee has not done nearly enough. Regarding the right of Palestinians to work or to own property, there has been nothing done yet.”

During his UN address, Salem said Lebanon’s “very limited resources” meant it was unable to adequately provide for Palestinian refugees. “I don’t think the problem is one of money,” said Jammal. “The Palestinians are asking for the right to work and not for aid. If they were allowed to work and to buy property, the Palestinians would be contributing to the Lebanese economy” and helping to build up the very resources Salem complained his country lacked, Jammal added.

According to Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch, what the Lebanese government needed to do was “to show the political will and a true desire to improve the living conditions of Palestinians.” Some of the means to do that did not require financing, he said. “Lifting restrictions on employment opportunities and on construction permits require no expense. For the things that do require money, like the rebuilding of Nahr al-Bared, the international community needs to support Lebanon.” Houry was referring to the Palestinian refugee camp destroyed when the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) engaged militant group Fatah al-Islam between May and September 2007. The fighting killed 400 people, including 169 LAF soldiers and an unverified number of Palestinian camp residents.

When questioned Friday on LPDC efforts to change laws that discriminated against Palestinian refugees, Makkawi answered simply: “We are working on it.”