By Dalila Mahdawi
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
BEIRUT: Gender equality activists came together in Beirut on Friday to urge Lebanon to lift reservations on the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), after Morocco became the first Arab country to drop all reservations to the document.
Beirut-based non-governmental organization The Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action (CRTD.A), organized a press conference at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN-ESCWA) in Beirut that was attended by several Arab ambassadors, Lebanese officials and ESCWA Executive Secretary Badr Omar AlDafa. The conference was held to mark Arab Women’s Day, celebrated annually on February 1.
Addressing the crowd, CRTD.A Director Lina Abou-Habib applauded Morocco’s decision to drop all reservations to CEDAW in December. “This decision crowns the years of struggle for Arab women,” she said. “We hope that Morocco’s action will motivate other Arab countries to commit to women’s rights through the lifting of all reservations to CEDAW.”
CRTD.A is regional coordinator of the Nationality Campaign which has for the last seven years advocated reform of Arab laws that prohibit women from passing on their nationality to their families.
While Lebanon is technically party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, it has yet to ratify the convention, citing like many other Middle Eastern countries, reservations on Section 2, Article 9, which specifies women’s equal rights to nationality.
Lebanese law allows male citizens married to foreigners to pass their nationality onto their wives and children, but does not permit the same for Lebanese women. According to the Nationality Campaign, there are 1,100 Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese. Denied Lebanese nationality, their families are required to pay regular residency permit fees and face serious obstacles entering the job market and obtaining affordable education or health care.
Speaking to The Daily Star on Sunday, Abou Habib said that rights activists had been encouraged by Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud’s recent drafting of a law that grants Lebanese citizenship to the families of Lebanese women. In late January, Barroud promised the draft law would be discussed and ratified “ahead of the parliamentary elections” in June.
“This is probably the most concrete step taken by the Lebanese government in addressing gender inequality,” Abou Habib said of Baroud’s proposed law. “We hope that the law will come into effect soon and that it does not place any reservations on the nationality of the father,” specifically regarding Palestinians. She said she hoped rights groups would be included in consultations regarding the drafting of the new law. “So long as citizens are not equal because of their gender, religion or class, we should stop calling Lebanon a country of freedom and democracy.”