The Hurdles Facing Lebanese Women Today – Happy International Women’s Day?

This is a guest post by Agnès Semaan, a current law student at the Université SaintEsprit 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.


14 thoughts on “The Hurdles Facing Lebanese Women Today – Happy International Women’s Day?

  1. My dear Agnes, you are pushing an issue that isnt applicable in a society like ours. Not everything ,for example : a woman granting the nationality, it was being worked by ex minister Baroud,but I believe that by political power he was stopped. Even if laws regarding the other issues (penal code & inheritance ) were ratified , you know that most things in Leb are done overlooking the law. Moreover, you are pressing on the religious side here(inheritance) And we know how sensitive that is regarding our divided sects.
    Ig you submit these to any influencial politician,am sure that they will all have reasons to escaping such a “burden”for them.
    Our society is infected with Multiple diseases for ages, I believe it is hard to implement all of what you stated.

    I am glad that there is someone like yourself,who still fights and believes in what is lost and disregarded!!


    • Regarding the nationality issue: yes, ex minister Baroud stopped his work and judge John Azzi was punished to say the least as a result of his judgment in the Samira case but this shouldn’t mean that we should stop asking for what is ours, we owe it to ourselves.
      Just because laws are usually overlooked by public employees and guards this doesn’t mean that we should accept it. Once you ratify laws, they cannot be overlooked by a judge, it’s not an option for a judge.
      I agree, the inheritance issue is the most sensitive one and it will demand a great effort on our part. Oh wait, it doesn’t take a great effort, we just have to make it clear that we wont be voting for those who are not willing to address these issues, even if it will mean a white vote.
      We are infected and it’s time to take the pills!
      Thank you for your time Daniel and I really appreciate your comment!


  2. Great post. I like that this is basically the only post in the occasion that hasn’t gone all too sentimental in its “oh, we are oppressed, let’s all go in a corner and weep” approach. I also like that it’s structured – it presents the idea in a very systematic manner. Great job Agnes. And thank you Elie for giving her the chance to write on your blog. I hope for more contributions soon.


  3. The most interesting point (and one that I didn’t know about) is the inheritance part. All feminist (or feminazi) activists as you call them get up in fits about almost everything except points 3 and 5 in this.
    They never see that their obnoxious attitude towards everything is what drives supporters away. They also don’t care about inheritance laws. I didn’t even know muslim inheritance laws were still this messed up.


    • Exactly! They are even more messed up, when I was taking that course I couldn’t believe what I was reading!
      Feminists probably include this issue under “an optional civil personal status law” but the thing is when put in those words, people directly assume that civil marriage is the only issue and thus we fail to shed light on the other matters that fall under that same category and that would be regulated by that law when ratified.
      Thank you Eliane for reading! I appreciate it!


  4. I’m all for a woman’s quota. Without a quota, and with the attitude women have towards voting (many don’t care, many vote the way their husbands want, etc…) they will never get any seats. You need to force them into power until they find it natural for them to assume it. Just my 2 cents, I guess.

    Awesome job.


  5. Very well put…. We act like we’re a liberal society but we’re only ‘Western’ when it comes to the fashion brands we follow and the restaurant chains we go to. Enlightenment is the farthest thing from Lebanese society; instead, dehumanization and sexism are deeply entrenched in our social fabric. I am terrified by the idea that it’s not about women, but about dominating and dehumanizing everyone perceived to be weaker and powerless, including refugees, children, and migrant workers.


    • We are easily influenced by everything and everyone, we find anything exotic or weird and make it the “it” trend just because we’re in a constant need to impress others. In 10 years or so went from hookah, to sushi to having a maid,.. The weaker have always been dominated and dehumanized but the thing is that we, the ones who can finally do something about it, should speak up for those who can’t.
      Thank you Carla, I appreciate this!


  6. I agree with Daniel, but first let me give credit to the author, article is very interesting and points are very well put. Also i didn’t know that “rape” exist as discussed in points 2 and 3, that’s shameful. I believe the remedy to all these issues must start from the rights of the wife first, her rights at her household, then the mother regarding her children and there nationality. I wont go into inheritance as honestly i don’t know much about the law here so i wont just speak to speak, as Daniel said it’s complicated due to several stuff he mentioned. Nice going Agnes and keep em coming.

    ps. The Lebanese society is best described in the following sentence: “The Lebanese are divided into 2 groups, both are bald and fighting over a hair comb”

    The day we start looking into the issues of the society regardless of political parties and religion, then we will be moving forward.

    Thank You


    • I hope I live long enough to see that day!

      Most parents are not passing down a positive legacy, we’re just inheriting the cumulative effect of more than 30 years of hatred and discrimination.. We need to form our own opinions, conscientiously and thoroughly.
      Thank you Jamil for your time!!


  7. Pingback: MTV Lebanon Produces Music Video for Women Rights with Participation of MP Sethrida Geagea « A Separate State of Mind

  8. I came across this post in a search to compile information for a documentary about women across cultures. As an American women I know that I am quite blessed. I take every opportunity to remind my daughter that we could have been dealt quite a different lot had God chosen another country for our birth. I am appalled to say the absolute least by the things you have just shared about yor countries policies and laws. It breaks my heart but my heart has been broken so many times by this reality. As an American women, we still struggle for equality beyon the laws. Laws are number one and even still the battle lasts many generations onward for the equality to be truly “won”. There are two quotes that I am reminded of hen reading your post and some of the response (particuarly those weighed down by the what I like to refer to as “the chains of practicality” that so many allow to paralyze them in their lives) “whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you are absolutely right”. “never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens will change the world, in fact it is the ONLY thing that ever has” and one more…. “our biggest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, WHO ARE YOU NoT TO BE? You are a child of God!!! Your playing small doesn’t serve the world! There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that others won’t feel insecure around you! We are all meant to shine, like children do. We were meant to make manifest the glory of God within us. It’s nt just in some of us, it’s in all of us. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others”. Be encouraged in your pursuits. Be relentless. Do not waver in what you deserve as a human being on this earth the same as man! Be unrealistic in your efforts and the worst that can happen is that on your way to the moon you land on a star!! Dear daniel… The reason such an issue exists in 2012 in any society is because there are people like you who continue accept them! PUSH PUSH puSH Agnes push the human race forward. This is completely unacceptable in any country in this time. If I were in your shoes, I would rather PUSH and die a martyr, for the greater good of every daughter to come in the generations forward changing the world, than to live an ignorant bigot!
    Thank you for being bold and brave and daring to hope for your country’s women! Sending prayers for your efforts. I would love to interview you for our documentary if you are interested. If there is any way I might assist you in your mission do not hesitate to ask!



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