This is a guest post by Agnès Semaan, a current law student at the Université Saint-Esprit de Kaslik (USEK). You can follow her on twitter here.
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I’ll start this article by sharing with you some of what I learned at law school:
1) If you want to cheat on your wife, do it with many girls not just one long-term extra marital affair or simply don’t bring your mistress home because only then can a man be trialed for adultery.
2) I learned that if my rapist married me, his crime would be nullified.
3) I learned that I cannot sue my husband if he raped me.
4) I learned that if I want my children to be Lebanese, I better marry a Lebanese because that’s the only way for my children to get my nationality.
I’m not a Feminazi. I’m just someone who noticed how this day lost its political flavor. The International Women’s Day is not about forwarding some cheesy Whatsapp message to all your girlfriends wishing them a nice day, It’s a day that honors the work of the Suffragettes that campaigned for women’s right to vote and most of all to remind us that inequities still need to be redressed.
And it is here that I address the following:
1 – Nationality
Why nationality is needed is quite simple: if you don’t have the Lebanese nationality you must continuously secure residency and work permits that enable you to live and work legally in Lebanon and you are not granted access to public education and other services at the same low fees that Lebanese citizens do.
Here’s a fun fact: an Ottoman law allowed women to naturalize their children, as in grant full citizenship rights, when born on Ottoman soil regardless of the spouse’s nationality.
I can go on and on about how not being able, as a woman, to pass your nationality to your children weakens the woman’s status and role because she’s not treated as an equal citizen; thus contradicting the Lebanese constitution, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). But let’s face it, it comes down to the Palestinians and the right of return. Some lawmakers are against this in order to protect Palestinians’ right to return to Palestine (UN General Assembly resolution 194). So since that’s the case, why are we not worried about Palestinian women who get married to Lebanese men?!
2 – Penal code
Lebanon must amend discriminatory laws to ensure conformity with CEDAW and international standards like the international Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995. The sanctity of the private home, guaranteed in our constitution, should not be a getaway in affairs of sexual domestic violence because marital rape is still rape and it definitely needs legal recognition (art. 503 and 504). However, this law needs to have a safety net for the husbands because they will be abused if the law is overprotective and over cautious because otherwise one will be able to blackmail their spouse using the prerogative bestowed by this law upon them. Many reforms must be made to the criminal law for the simple reason that it’s not acceptable that a rapist not be prosecuted and his conviction be nullified if he marries the victim (art.522) and that a man will only be tried for adultery if he has extra-marital sex in the conjugal home or if he has a long-term extra-marital relationship along with a much softer sentence than a woman would get in such circumstances (articles 478, 488 and 489)?
3 – Inheritance
Current status: an absolute failure.
It’s 2012 and a Muslim girl still gets half of what her brother inherits. I can’t even begin to describe how dreadful this law is. Every single word in the formulation of that law is insulting and to go into every detail would make this post extremely long and repulsive. The Christian personal status law, although better, still fails in different areas mainly with all the “smartassery” there, such as the implied notion that Muslims cannot inherit from Christians. What we need is an optional civil law, point à la ligne.
4 – Elections and the quota
Yes. Women should not be limited in a certain number of candidates. Why can’t all the 128 deputies in parliament be females? It’s a viable question and absolutely rightful to be asked. But let’s not get carried away in our wishful, foolishly optimistic thinking: Half a loaf of bread is better than no bread at all, and this is an effective way to encourage women to run for elections. So that’s why we should at least start by ratifying a women’s quota bill before 2013.
5 – The women?
Why do we find time to complain about traffic, politicians, watch a soccer game going on in some European country and get carried away, change our display picture on blackberry 20 times per day, tweet about Christian Louboutin’s new collection, comment “hayete kom t belle!”on EVERY.SINGLE.PICTURE. but we can’t find time to address the previously mentioned issues? Rights are not given, they are taken and that’s why we need to raise our voices to make ourselves heard in a sea of male politicians who quench our voices simply by them outnumbering us in every way possible. It is here that I find that women are the main hurdle facing women. We tend to be cynical with regards to each other, pessimistic about each other assuming power, that we believe the best options out there are not really women. And the cycle repeats itself, leading to more and more marginalization of this half of the Lebanese society.
I’ll finish by saying this: it’s not hard to change laws. Get a bunch of influential women into parliament and you’re well underway. Our greatest challenge here is not changing the laws but changing Lebanese mentalities. Ratifying new laws might be the first step in that direction. Until next year, here’s hoping my fellow Lebanese women that we’ll see some change.