Celebrating The Progress Lebanese Women Have Made In The Fight For Their Rights

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I long for a day when we don’t need days like “International Women’s Day” to remind the world that its halves are not equal, or when March 8 is the day for fancy slogans before everyone goes back on March 9th to their old ways.

Today, I want to celebrate the entirety of the women in my country who, for years, have risen up to the patriarchy and fought for their rights with everything they’ve got. It’s hard to imagine that some of the rights Lebanese women have today were fiction less than a few decades ago. Hindsight is always 20/20 in how intuitive some things are, as the struggle to obtain them fades from memory.

But our women’s struggles for equality was difficult, and it will remain as such for years to come as long as we have politicians who joke about their rape, about their being, about their bodies, and who view them as nothing more than commodities to stay at home, and as even some women bring up hurdles for their own advancement.

Here’s how far our women have come:

  • In 1952, they gained the right to vote and to run for office.
  • In 1959, they gained equality in inheritance for non-Muslim sects.
  • In 1960, they gained the right to choose their nationality.
  • In 1975, they gained the right for freedom of movement. 
  • In 1983, they gained the right not to be prosecuted for using contraception.
  • In 1987, they gained the right to unify end of service age between men and woman in social security.
  • In 1993, they gained the right to obtain degrees in real estate.
  • In 1994, they gained the right to stay in the diplomatic course if they marry a foreigner.
  • In 1996, they scored a victory with Lebanon signing the international decree to abolish gender inequality.
  • In 2011, they were victorious in abolishing article 562, related to Honor crimes.
  • In 2014, they were victorious in having parliament pass a law protecting from domestic abuse.
  • In 2014, they were victorious in modifying the laws pertaining to maternity leave.
  • In 2016, they were victorious in abolishing article 522, which allowed their rapist to be absolved of his crime if he offered marriage.

The struggle never ends. It’s not enough for a president to say he supports gender equality, as President Aoun did today. Talk without action never amounts to anything.

Our women still can’t pass their nationality to their children. They are governed with a personal status law that stems from religious law, which views them as the second sex in ranking. They don’t have representatives quota in public office. They can’t open bank accounts for their children without the consent of their father, or even travel with their children without the approval of their father while it’s not the case the other way around. Their daughters as young as 9 can legally be married. They’re still victims of the male gaze that seems them as nothing more than raw meat, and of a patriarchal system that scrutinizes them more than any man, among many more things.

I will probably never understand how violated women would feel in their own skin, in their own gender, because of the discomfort that many people of my gender puts them in, but I will sure as hell fight tooth and nail for that reality to change for every Lebanese woman out there, every day, and not just on March 8th.

The struggle is real. You’ve been victorious. And here’s to many more victories.

 

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Lebanon’s Is The 8th Worst Country In The World For Women Rights

Earlier today, Lebanese minister of internal affairs Nouhad el Machnouk gave an impassioned speech celebrating International Women’s Day in which he proclaimed Lebanese women are not that far behind compared to their male counterpart in the country, something that no other country in the region has achieved. In coming to that conclusion, Machnouk was in part reliant on the fact that Lebanese women were named among the world’s sexiest.

Congrats Lebanese ladies, your value is now directly correlated to your rack and how tight-clad your skirts are. Cue in the applause.

I’m sure this comes as no surprise for a governing body that is as disenchanted and disenfranchised from the population it’s governing as Lebanon’s governments, both current and past. The garbage on our streets is proof enough for that. 

The thing about Lebanon, however, is that it is the center of multiple international studies, as are most countries around the world, especially when it comes to the gender gap and women rights. Among those international studies is one carried out by the World Economic Forum, which was published in mid November 2015. 

That study’s findings can be summarized in the following infographic by LA Times’ Priya Krishnakumar:

Gender Gap worldwide

This puts us on a shameful list of countries where the gender gap is so severe that the term second sex does not delineate an other-hood but rather inferiority. We are 8th in the worst countries in the world when it comes to equality between men and women, adding it to another worst-of-list for us to be “proud” of.

Happy international women’s day my fellow Lebanese.

Our women can’t pass on our beautiful citizenship to their children, but what matters is that they can wear whatever they want (if their male family members deem it appropriate).

Our women have single-digit representation in a triple-digits parliament, but what matters is that one of those representatives is stunning (and would make a healthy argument to being on that sexiest countries list).

Our women’s wages are always inferior to their male counterparts in the country, but what matters is that those men have no problem spending the money on those women (because financial independence is so passé).

Our women’s participation in the workforce is inferior to their male counterparts in the country, but what matters certainly is those women’s job as housewives, bringing up generations (of children whose girls grow up to be just like their mothers and whose boys grow up just like their fathers).

Our women can get beaten to death legally at the hand of their spouse with no legal protection against that domestic abuse, but what matters is obviously for that man to remain the dominant figure in that household, his word never repeated twice.

Faced with such a reality, some of us Lebanese will look at that list and say: but Saudi Arabia isn’t there. Women can’t even drive there. Yes, because looking up to Saudi Arabia is obviously the best way for our society to move forward. There’s more to women rights than getting behind the wheel of a car.

If our governing bodies think that the entirety of Lebanese women is summarized by the touristy reports they see about Mar Mkhayel on a Saturday night, it’s our duty as Lebanese to be aware that our country extends beyond its party streets.

I hope Lebanon ends up on the other part of that infographic one day. Such a drift will not happen if we don’t all contribute to putting our women forward. These upcoming municipal elections, encourage your mothers and sisters to run. Encourage all our women who are so excellent at what they do to propagate their excellence onto a bigger medium. Mentalities need to change, and that is the best way to do so.

Until then, less Nouhad el Machnouk empty propaganda, and more reality please. Happy International Women’s Day, everyone.

Why Rima Karaki Shutting Up The Islamist Hani Al Siba’i Is Super Important To Middle Eastern Women Rights

The video of Rima Karaki shutting up Hani Al-Siba’i couldn’t come at a more appropriate time for the region. Its rise in popularity happens to take place one day before International Women’s Day.

He is an Egyptian Islamist who is now residing in London after fleeing Egypt where he faces charges for the support of Islamists. He is BFF’s with Al Zarqawi and thinks Bin Laden is to be respected. He’s a pile or hypocrisy: someone who wants to implement the sharia’h… but lives in London. He’s a defense lawyer… but can’t handle an argument.

Out of all people that interviewed him over the times, Lebanese TV presenter Rima Karaki drew the thickest line. She wore a veil out of respect to his presence (even if through satellite from London), and he ended up demanding she shut up for trying to direct the conversation in a manner suitable for her TV show.

She did the opposite and cut him off right there on air, stopping him from spewing even more hate and disrespect to her and, indirectly, to Middle Eastern and Arab women everywhere.

Hani Al Siba’i is a representation of the sheikhs roaming our lands who think everyone should abide by the rules they have in mind, who think they have the right to shut up a woman just because she dared speak up and who have the audacity to not only request it, but shout it on platforms that always give them a megaphone.

In those 2 minutes, Rima Karaki did something that many women in the region are too afraid to do: stand up to a bully who happens to be protected by religious establishments and fear that allow him to thrive.

Rima Karaki - 1

When Al Siba’i tried to intimidate her, she stood her ground and still tried to take the harness of the interview away from his monologue.

Rima Karaki - 2

Instead, she told Al Siba’i something that probably no other woman he ever encountered has ever told him: she would be the one taking the decision.

Rima Karaki - 3

So because this was all too weird and foreign to him, Al Siba’i reverted to what he knows best and told Rima to shut up.

Rima Karaki - 6

So while trying to be respectful, Rima Karaki answered back. I’m sure he wasn’t used to getting that thrown in his face… ever.

Rima Karaki - 5

So naturally, he reverted to full blown sexism and disrespect to bring Rima down. She didn’t budge. She cut his mic off and then his feed.

In those 2 minutes, Rima Karaki did what every single person, let alone women, should do to people like Al Siba’i: cut them off. I couldn’t not find myself rooting for her. There’s nothing sweeter and more beautiful seeing a woman standing up to someone like him in that manner, someone who hates women and contributes every single day to their detriment.

If I were her, I would have thrown away the veil too, just as the Egyptian anchor did a couple of years ago (link).

Ironically, in those 2 minutes NewTV produced the best TV in their history. This is the full video:

On March 8th, 2015 this is the view across the Middle East and Arab world:

  • Women in Lebanon are not allowed to pass on their citizenship to their children. They are not protected by a decent law against domestic abuse.
  • Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to have authority over their own self; their male relatives do. They cannot go anywhere without male chaperones. They are not allowed to run for any government body that is allowed to legislate. They are not allowed to drive. They aren’t allowed to go out without wearing appropriate religious attire.
  • Women in Jordan are still the victims of rampant domestic violence and honor killings.
  • Women in the U.A.E. can face jail time if they are ever caught engaging in pre-marital sex, or drinking.
  • Women in Egypt are still the victims of female circumcision, a barbaric practice whose sole purpose is to decrease their sexual drive.
  • Women in Kuwait and Qatar cannot pass their citizenships to their children. They’ve also only recently, and very limitedly, started to try and become more engaged in the political life of their country.
  • Women in Iraq are being forced, in some parts of the country, to wear head scarves and traditional abayas to cover up. Their political presence only stems from the quota required to be filled by women according to law there.

We live in the region with the world’s highest gender gap.

Gender Gap World

And what is common between all those countries is that the value of women is always contingent upon the integrity of their hymen, their worth relative to the purity of their bodies, their purpose in life is to breed and procreate, but rarely produce, and never, ever, stand up to religious authority without facing repercussions.

Until today.

If there’s anything to empower Arab and Middle Eastern women this year around, it’s this. It’s standing up to those who contribute to those women not having rights, who bring them down every time they try to stand up to themselves, who think that “woman” is an insult, who think women should shut up when a man is speaking and who are given a religious cloak to make all their poison holy.

 

The Lebanese Women Who Hate Women

She goes to her friend’s house with a thick layer of makeup on her face. She fakes a smile and laughs through her pain. She pushes away the tears. No one knows and no one will ever know.

Her mother had given her that advice a long time ago. It doesn’t matter how you feel. It doesn’t matter what he does. You fix your hair, you bite your lip and get a grip and save a little face of the one that was torn to pieces. It’s just a beat up. This isn’t her mother’s broken jaw and bruised eye. But it might as well be.

——————————————————————–

“I’ll vote the way my brother wants.

I’ll vote the way my husband wants.

I’ll vote the way my son wants.

I’ll vote the way my grandson wants.”

But no one will know how you vote behind that separator.

“How will I live with myself if I don’t do what they want of me?”

Why would you vote the way anyone else wants?

“Because there are circumstances. I can’t.”

——————————————————————–

It had been only a few weeks since her father passed away. As she sat contemplating and saddened for the anchor she had lost, she feels a tap on her shoulder. She looks up, her brother looks down at her with a grim look. She understood. She walks over to the kitchen, the paperwork was ready to be signed.
“When you sign this paper, you will be relinquishing your half of the inheritance to your brother. Are you sure you want to do this?”
She looks up and nods. “Anything for him.”

She signs her name.

——————————————————————–

“I love him. But I can’t love him.”
“Why?”
“It will never work.”
“He can give you the best future you could possibly have.”
“You don’t understand.”
“I know I do.”
“No, no, no. We don’t pray the same way.”

The following day, she conformed.

——————————————————————–

She held a banner at her go-to feminist rally. Empower the women. Fight for the women. Do anything for those women. A few minutes after the rally was done and she got her regular fix, she went back home and logged on to her favorite social network. Someone had mentioned women in a joke. She looked at their picture. It’s a he. The joke became sexist. And she couldn’t allow it. Sexism, sexism, sexism everywhere.
Her fingers started frantically typing on the keyboard. It didn’t matter that he could be an even feistier supporter of gender equality.

——————————————————————–

They gather for their regular morning coffee. They cross their legs, pucker their lips. The blood starts pumping through their veins. This is all so exciting.
“Have you heard?”
“Uh-hum.”
“She slept with him! I can’t believe it. Always knew she was a slut.”
“It always showed, darling. Don’t you see the way she usually dresses? Skirts should not be that short.”
She unconsciously pulls at her own skirt in the process.
“And have you heard about that other one? Poor thing. She has you know what in you know where.”
“I know… So sad. And her poor husband! You think he’ll stay with her now that she can’t… You know…”
“I don’t know! Didn’t even think of that. You think they’ll divorce?”
“Nah. He’s not that cruel!”

——————————————————————–

The above stories are real life observances over the past few weeks.

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.

 

Standing Up For A Lebanese Woman Scorned…

We, Lebanese, pride ourselves on how our country is very advanced compared to our neighbors in the region. We brag about how open our people is, how receptive we are of different cultures, how mixed we are internally, how our country is the envy of many, etc…

We also brag about how, compared to other countries in the region, we allow our women to drive (some think it’s a big mistake as well), we allow them to vote, to go wherever they want, etc…

Horrible driving aside, did you know that the requirements for women voting are different from those of men in Lebanon? For a man to vote, he needs to be over 21 and with full rights. For a woman to vote, she needs to have those as well, in addition to finishing up elementary school. Sure, that doesn’t seem like a hurdle in today’s Lebanon where everyone is basically literate (I have no idea about the statistics) but what matters is the thought…

Starting with the basic right we pride our women have, we differentiate against them. Sure, we may have the most gorgeous women on the planet, and the smartest, etc… but what good does that make if our civil rights limit them?

Lebanese women can’t pass on their citizenship to their offspring if they marry a non-Lebanese man. How sick is that? what makes my blood more valuable than theirs? what makes my citizenship more distinguished than theirs?

Why is it that when a Lebanese woman is killed for a crime of honor, the murderer receives a softer sentence than when the same act happens to anyone else?

Why is it that domestic abuse against Lebanese women does not even have a legislation to control or punish it?

Why is it that even in the matters of the family, the ones we believe women are the most important in, they are considered as lesser than men?

There are so many “why”s that can be asked about the state Lebanese women live in today… so on March 8th, International Women’s Day, let us speak up for the grave injustice going on in our country. Let us say that we, as Lebanese men, refuse the upper hand our law gives us because we want our other in the country to be an equivalent other and not a lesser other.

It is the time to speak now…