Lebanese women still struggle with inequitable system

The difficulties facing women in Lebanon are reminders that, contrary to what the Lebanese propagate, their country’s laws remain far behind in being equitable to women.
Sunday 02/12/2018
A long way to go. Women push prams past posters of Lebanese politicians in Beirut. (Reuters)
A long way to go. Women push prams past posters of Lebanese politicians in Beirut. (Reuters)

There are a few tragic situations that test the limits of humanity and shake one to the core. Chief among them, the sight of a child forcefully and unjustly removed from the bosom of his or her mother over an ugly custody battle.

The Lebanese recently witnessed incidents involving two mothers who were forced to hand over their child or risk incarceration. In one case, police stormed the house of the mother and handed the 2-year-old boy to his father, a high-ranking security official.

The crux of this predicament does not dwell on the fact that the personal status laws of Lebanon merely empower women but rather that the legal and political system is rooted on a paternal male chauvinism that promises, yet never delivers any kind of, reform.

Activists have rigorously campaigned for women to achieve some parity in the sectarian Lebanese political system. Despite their huge efforts, only limited changes have been made

Despite attaining suffrage in 1953, Lebanese women have played little or no role in the political life of their country. Most of the well-known female politicians only played a leading role due to their family feudal status or other subjective reasons that moved them to the forefront.

As it stands, six women have seats in the 128-member Lebanese parliament, most of whom were picked by their respective governments to portray an image of modernity.

Just like their male colleagues, female parliamentarians are pawns to their sectarian parties. Be that as it may, the overhaul of the Lebanese political system is not the hindrance to women achieving their political and social rights but rather the fact that their legitimate demands have been sidelined by the ruling establishment for lacking urgency.

Perhaps topping these women’s rights demands is the campaign to grant Lebanese women married to foreigners the right to pass on their nationality to their children, which current law prohibits, citing the naturalisation of Palestinian refugees and the delicate demographic balance as its weak pretext.

Despite their palpable complaints and lobbying, female activists are yet to get the endorsement of any major parliamentary bloc to the bill submitted by a member of the Progressive Socialist Party.

While women wait for the legislators to fulfil their empty promise, their children suffer from a state bureaucracy and regulations, which goes out of its way to make the non-Lebanese, especially Palestinians and Syrians, feel unwelcome. Many children of Lebanese women married to foreigners must leave Lebanon after they become adults because they are barred from certain professions.

An equally important legal demand that women have yet to attain is the criminalisation of sexual harassment, which is not clearly stipulated under the Lebanese penal code.

In the previous parliament in 2014, former MP Ghassan Moukheiber, a renowned legal and civic activist, proposed a law that would punish all forms of sexual harassment, including the despicable act of cat-calling. Shamefully, many of his lawmaker colleagues ridiculed this proposal as being a waste of the assembly’s resources, which should be used to attend to more pressing matters such as the economy and political stability.

However, those Lebanese legislators and the political elite have yet to address those more pressing matters because the so-called elite has been unable to moderate their differences. This has led to the collapse of the state and an ever-menacing economic catastrophe looming.

Rather than merely empathising with Lebanese mothers and their uphill battle with the custody laws, the Lebanese should acknowledge that the system they so fondly vote for every few years disenfranchises not only women but most of the population.

Despite the legal battles won over time, ultimately the difficulties facing women in Lebanon are reminders that, contrary to what the Lebanese propagate, their country’s laws remain far behind in being

equitable to women and there is little chance of reform.

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