Well over a year has passed since the tragedy of the Beirut port blast on August 4, 2020, and we are still bearing the consequences of what the corruption of the Lebanese ruling class has shattered: victims, destruction, and damages everywhere. All of this as they continue to stall justice and accountability for the perpetrators and criminals. They are relentless when it comes to killing us every day and violating every principle of citizenship, by exacerbating gender discrimination, and denying Lebanese women the right to pass on their nationality to their children and/or spouses whenever they decide to marry a non-Lebanese national. The fate of the families of Lebanese women is to live as foreigners in their mother’s homeland.
The inability of Lebanese women to confer their nationality to their spouses and children not only denies them their basic human rights, but also deprives their families, who are subsequently left without citizenship rights. These include the right to education, healthcare, property, and employment, often leading to psychological consequences and a possible dismantling of the family unit.
In response to this reality and in line with the removal of all discriminatory gender-based laws, the Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action (CRTD.A) launched the “My Nationality is a Right for Me and My Family” campaign in 1999 in Lebanon, Syria, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain, and Jordan. Its aims being to:
- demand the natural right of women to exercise full citizenship.
- give women the right to confer nationality to their families through the amendment of the nationality laws in Lebanon and in the campaign’s partner countries.
- raise awareness about the rights of women as citizens.
- eliminate discrimination against women in line with the conventions set by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
- engage those who are concerned in the cause themselves in defending and claiming their rights.
- conduct studies and research before putting together a proposal to amend the Lebanese Nationality Law.
In 2016, the campaign was subsequently relaunched as the “Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights” by an international coalition seeking to amend nationality laws in all countries of the world. It has been successful in advocating and lobbying for the amendment of the law in Arab countries such as Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco. Laws in these countries were changed in 2004, 2005, and 2007 respectively and a woman’s right to pass on her nationality to her children and spouses was also recognized. However, in Lebanon it continues to falter, with a political system that has lagged behind in taking actual steps to reform and rectify its laws and establish this right to nationality. Furthermore, the obstructionists have actually turned the cause into a sectarian and political issue rather than one of basic human rights.
I will not leave my country!
Nadia’s persistence shows as she reflects on her attachment to her country, Lebanon, which never fails to try and push her out. She explains the injustice inflicted upon her and her family, after she married a non-Lebanese man during her postgraduate studies abroad and returned home with the baby they had together. “The first shock when I came back was when I learned that my husband and my children needed a visa and residency to be able to live in my homeland Lebanon”. Then, in regards to her family not being able to pursue employment opportunities, she said “My husband is an engineer. He is forced to leave Lebanon to work abroad, since he cannot practice his profession because he is deprived of the membership of the Order of Engineers and Architects. Although before coming to Lebanon, I obtained my husband’s nationality and I was not forbidden from practicing my profession in my husband’s country”. She further added “I insist on staying in my country and I shall not leave it. I shall not leave my home here, my family, my mother and my father. Although my brother and I have the same mother and father, and were both born in this country, my country deprives me of my natural right only because I am a woman, whilst my brother was able to grant his nationality to his foreign wife only one year after their marriage, and his children also became Lebanese. Why?” She also referred to the prejudice they faced later on, after her son had studied medicine at the American University of Beirut (AUB), and received an appreciation of excellence. Despite this, he still had to travel abroad for an internship and to work as a doctor because in Lebanon he is not allowed to join the Lebanese Order of Physicians. The law did not leave Nadia with the option of staying with her family. She is still trying to hold on every ray of hope that could lead her to demanding and obtaining her right to be reunited with her loved ones.
Deprived of my most basic rights!
Rana, another Lebanese woman married to a non-Lebanese man, with a son and a daughter, asserts emotionally, “the state deprives me of my right and deprives my children, whom I carried in my womb, of having my nationality. I gave them everything except my nationality. My children are more Lebanese than the officials and their children.” With indignation at the system, she asked “Why impose all these procedures on our children and husbands? Why should we renew their residencies and prove they are from a Lebanese mother every time? My family does not benefit from any services or rights, despite the fact that I honor all my obligations to the state”. On the topic of not being able to participate in sport and other pastimes, she added “My daughter was ranked first in swimming in her school. When she qualified for the finals, she was not allowed to participate in the tournament on the grounds that she was not Lebanese! They are destroying all their dreams and making things unnecessarily harder for them. After this incident, my daughter was devastated, especially since she considered herself Lebanese. It was a shock when she was discriminated against and treated as an outsider.” She also referred to another incident “My children and my husband do not benefit from any health or social insurance. There are many restrictions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we were on a visit and vacation abroad. On our way back to Lebanon, where we have our lives and our home, I was the only one allowed to come back because I was Lebanese. However my children and my husband were not allowed to as they held non-Lebanese passports. In other words, I had never imagined things would worsen to this extent, while the whole world was suffering from this crisis”. She concluded by saying “They will not deprive us of our homeland, for our relationship with it is that of belonging and not a paper drafted and issued as in the naturalization decrees. It is women and mothers that make up countries and homelands.”
This violation is the result of legal violence exercised by the authorities in the name of an unjust law that has been in effect since the French Mandate in 1925. Till now, the Lebanese legislative and executive powers are still unable to adopt a just law. All the arguments pursued by those who obstruct this right are flimsy and irrelevant, such as the arguments of naturalization and demographic balance. When a Lebanese man marries a foreign woman, none of those obstacles stand in his way. This is all due to the patriarchal mindset that considers women inferior to men and subordinates of their power. It is demeaning and insulting to still be discussing these scourges and fears, as Lebanon maintains a law contrary to the Constitution, which is the country’s supreme authority. As a matter of fact, Article VII of the introduction to the Constitution stipulates that all citizens are equal before the law in terms of rights and obligations. In addition to the violation by the obsolete Nationality Law of all international conventions and treaties Lebanon had signed and committed itself to, the Lebanese laws have not been amended in any way to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. There are also other violations of the Bill of Human Rights committed on a daily basis against Lebanese women and their families.
A public statement by “ My Nationality is a Right for Me and My Family” Campaign condemning the government on their humiliating and discriminating approach towards female Lebanese citizens who are yet to carry the Lebanese nationality. (April 23, 2020). Facebook.
Lebanese officials unashamedly manipulate us through our rights. While Lebanese women and mothers are deprived of conferring nationality to their families, all the restrictions have consequently forced them to leave their homeland and emigrate in order to stay with their families and be treated on the same level. The law on the restoration of nationality attracted expatriates of Lebanese origin all over the world and invited them to restore their nationality. It was driven by mere political, sectarian, and election-related interests. Even if we assume that the expatriates are entitled to this right, we can only acknowledge that this is, first and foremost, the right of the women and mothers of Lebanon. They are entitled more than anyone else to this nationality right.
The hypocrisy shows in the practices of the corrupt ruling class through the naturalization decrees, that approve random naturalization under the table, among other things. This is how nationality is granted to people who have never set foot in Lebanon or who have no ties to the country whatsoever, neither through their mother nor their father. This is the political naturalization that breaches and legalizes all caveats used for nationality-based or sectarian-based intimidation when it comes to Lebanese women conferring nationality. What the political system did not see coming is what we have achieved during our struggle. We upscaled our cause to the public opinion level, in universities and schools, in the media, in the uprising and the movements on the ground, as well as amongst Lebanese diaspora groups in different countries. It is also no secret that CRTD.A’s push for the right of women to pass on nationality was one of the key demands of the October 17 revolution.
Two draft laws have currently reached the parliament following the last Lebanese elections in 2018. The first was submitted on August 6, 2018, and the second on May 14, 2019. They both endorse the Campaign’s demands for full equality between women and men in granting citizenship without any discrimination or exception. Therefore, there should be a call for their inclusion on the parliament’s agenda for vote and approval. It is worth noting that the draft law submitted by the National Commission for Lebanese Women to the Council of Ministers on the 21st of May 2019 is categorically rejected by the Campaign. It contains numerous flaws and even creates new discrimination types. This is of course the result when the commission gets appointed by the current political system.
Ending injustice is not a favor from anybody, it is the duty of the state and an opportunity for it to rectify the situation created by its failure to reform the laws. The state, with all its powers, should apologize to Lebanese women and their families for the injustice and abuse that it has been inflicting and continues to inflict upon them. Women need to hold the authorities accountable and obtain all moral, legal, and procedural compensation. Hence, the state is required to immediately acknowledge full equality between women and men in the Nationality Law, without any exception, in order to achieve social justice and active citizenship for all.
Karima Chebbo is the Program Manager for Gender Equality at the Collective for Research, Training, and Development-Action and Campaign Manager of the “My Nationality is a Right for Me and My Family” Campaign. A human rights activist, trainer, researcher, and gender expert, Karima is the Executive Producer of video productions addressing various advocacy issues. Karima is an elected member of the executive committee of the Lebanese Council for Women, where she is the head of the legal subcommittee.