Lebanon Now Has a Women’s Day, but No Women’s Rights in Sight

Minister of Women’s Affairs, Jean Ogasapian (yes, the women’s affairs minister is a dude in Lebanon, cause logic) announced that November 4 will now be national women’s day.

The date was chosen because on November 4th, 1952, Lebanese women got the right to vote. The irony though, in choosing that date, is how little legislative rights women in Lebanon still have in 2017.

No Citizenship For You

In an amazingly horrible, and equally xenophobic and misogynistic law, Lebanese women still can’t pass down the citizenship to their children if their father isn’t Lebanese.

It’s painful to see the Lebanese government scramble to sell passports to the Lebanese diaspora spread around the world who don’t have it anymore, while they still don’t allow Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese men to hand down that very same passport to their own children.

If they want us to take them seriously (despite the fact the women’s minister is a dude) then they need to change this law, and grant women equal rights to men.

For those of you who don’t know why this law exists, the real driver is fear that Lebanese women will marry Palestinian men and “naturalize” their children as Lebanese (as if a person with a Lebanese mother only is any less of a Lebanese citizen than a person with only a Lebanese father).

Quota in Parliament

Just 3% of Lebanon’s parliament is female. It pains me to say that most of them are there because they are a daughter/wife/sister of a male politician that was assassinated or cannot run for office themselves. What’s worse is that they don’t stand up for women’s rights even when they are on parliamentary committees, like the one that was trying to pass a law against domestic violence. That’s 4 out of 128 MPs, and they’re just as useless as the other 124.

Ogasapian vows that he is working on a 30% quota for the upcoming elections (if they ever happen that is). That’s just less than 40 MPs in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

I have a problem with quotas, since they set a ceiling, not just a minimum amount. What if more than 30% of the parliament was women? Do we turn them away? I do agree that given how little political parties allow women to get to leadership roles, it’ll be hard to get them to include women on their elections lists without a quota enforced by law.

Independents have shown time and again that they can put together gender-balanced lists in a country where women are often completely disregarded by existing political parties. So, the quota should be a minimum of 30%, and no maximum.

Also, if the electoral law means we cast complete lists, we need to make sure that parties don’t put women at the bottom of pre-printed lists, but at the top too, to ensure some of them end up winning the seats they’re running for. In other words, so political parties don’t get to tick off that they abided by the quota and fill the list’s bottom seats with 30% women, most of whom won’t make it to parliament with a proportional or mixed law. Which is to say that the quota needs to be on the seats won, not just the quota of people running.

Draconian Personal Status Laws

A woman g0t arrested and thrown in jail because she didn’t give up custody of her kids to her abusive husband. This is this year, in Lebanon. That’s because disgusting, unchecked and unfair religious courts decide and arbitrate personal status laws in Lebanon.

This is the root problem of all the ills in Lebanon in my humble opinion. The fact 5 Lebanese people from 5 different sects have completely different rights and responsibilities is outrageous, and women and kids will always get the short end of the stick in the Christian and Muslim courts presided over by sheikhs and priests with ancient books instead of a modern set of laws governed by people who know what they’re doing and consider things case by case, not in a robotic way. A robotic way like giving kids to a husband that rapes his wife because the religious court has decided that kids of a certain age “belong” to the dad now…

So, personal status laws need to be thrown in the garbage, and laws fit for this age, or this millenium at least, need to be written, with a parliament that was women MPs that aren’t in those seats solely because of their male “guardians”.

Women’s Day Needs Women’s Rights to Celebrate

The above is just a part of the problems that face Lebanese women because of discrimination based on gender. Inheritance, job opportunities, education and much more are riddled with obstacles for women that men never have to deal with in Lebanon. Lebanon’s labor force is just 22% women. We’re 122nd out of 142 on the Gender Gap Index, and 78th on the Gender Equality Index.

So, maybe after selecting a national women’s day, Lebanon’s government can actually start doing things that help close this massive gender gap. It’s also our job to make sure that parties and individuals running for the elections know that they have to include such provisions in their platforms and campaign promises, and to pull support from or wage a campaign against parties and coalitions that fail to respect the dire need to reform Lebanon’s misogynistic laws that so starkly contradict the reality on the ground which we all strive for.

Bonus points for Lebanese politicians that like flashy stuff: if you pass the citizenship law for women, we can make George Clooney Lebanese! Yalla! Chance for you to meet Clooney!

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