Lebanon: Calls for gender equality fall on deaf ears

The Daily Star
Women in the majority of Arab nations remain unable to pass their nationality on to their children.
For two years women's rights advocates in Lebanon have campaigned for equal rights for all the country's citizens, with little official response.
Committees and women's organizations have gathered at conferences and seminars to urge the concerned authorities to take action. However, the ongoing effort has failed to make headway. Lebanese women continue to be denied the most basic right of passing on their nationality to their children.

"Not only does this deny women their rights as citizens, it denies their children and spouses' rights as human beings," said Lina Abu Habib, director of the Center for Research and Training for Development (CRTD).

Alongside other non-governmental organizations in Lebanon, CRTD has been collecting data and producing reports on the status of women in the country. In cooperation with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) office in Beirut, repeated seminars have been held and summary reports sent to the UN office in Geneva.

With the exception of Tunisia and Egypt, where recently women have been allowed, under strict rules, to pass on citizenship to their children, all other Arab countries limit the right to pass on nationality to men.

According to a CRTD report, "for the average Arab woman, basic citizenship rights such as the right to vote, to have an identity card or a passport, to access social protection schemes and entitlements, to send children to school, to marry, to travel ... and to pass on citizenship to their children are either lacking or granted through the mediation of a male family member."

CRTD research, funded by the UN Development Program of Governance in the Arab Region, looks into the status of women married to non-nationals in Arab countries - Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt - to see how denial of these rights has affected their everyday life, not only in terms of a child's and husband's access to education, health care, land ownership and inheritance, but also in terms of psychological well being.

"I refuse to accept that my own flesh and blood, the baby I held inside me for nine months is not the same nationality as me," said one woman, quoted in the report.

Although most Arab countries are signatories to the UN's Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (and other conventions upholding similar rights), not one upholds Article 9, which grants women "equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of children."

The first painful contact with reality is when a woman discovers she cannot register her child in national civil records. The lack of such documents forces families to live in constant fear of being stopped by police.

"When it gets dark and my children are not home yet, I get scared they were arrested by the police and that they would be kicked out of the country," said Malak, a 52-year-old woman married to a British man. "We are like prisoners in our homes."

Many women also admitted in the report to the fear of their husband's leaving the country and taking the children with them. "This fear has led some women to bear their husbands' mistreatment and violence in order to keep their children near them," it said.

By Jessy Chahine, Daily Star staff
Copyright (c) 2005 The Daily Star Friday, July 01, 2005