As a Lebanese woman who has lived in this country all my life, I have always felt relatively lucky.
Sure, I’ve experienced verbal sexual harassment from uncouth men on the street and the occasional government official, but such incidents are experienced in many other countries and I consider them minor grievances.
I used to believe that, in comparison to other Arab countries in the region, I was lucky to be born in Lebanon where I enjoy such freedoms as dressing in whatever manner I please, driving my own car and traveling without a male guardian.
But as I grow older and contemplate starting my own family, my needs from my country and my perceptions of freedom have changed. I am not certain I am lucky in Lebanon after all.
It angers me that, by Lebanon’s law, should I choose to marry a non-Lebanese I will not be able to give him or our children the Lebanese nationality, even if they are born and raised here.
This nationality law came up for re-discussion in December 2012 but the Ministerial Committee assigned to study it refused to grant Lebanese women this right and chose to merely recommend that restrictions related to children of Lebanese women married to non-nationals be eased. Well, this is not enough for me: I want to be treated as an equal citizen in my country with the same rights as my male counterparts. Should I choose to marry a foreigner and raise my children in Lebanon, I want them to be equal citizens as well.
Worse still, the law offers me no protection if I end up in an abusive relationship. My future husband could conceivably beat me to death and bear no consequences for his actions; there is no law I can resort to or protect me should I find myself in such a situation.
A draft law for the protection of women from domestic violence was originally proposed by women’s rights group KAFA back in 2007 and was amended and ratified by the Cabinet in 2010. It has since been reworded and modified by a special parliamentary subcommittee attempting to accommodate for religious sensitivities and personal status law issues but it has yet to be passed.
Spurred by the recent incidents of death through domestic abuse, and by the inaction to pass the law protecting other women from this fate, several non-governmental organizations are organizing a demonstration today, on International Women’s Day, demanding that the law be passed.
But the issue of women’s rights is wider than the passing of this law. If the culture of shame and guilt that is prevalent in Lebanon is not addressed, it will remain just ink on paper.
An abused woman has to feel safe approaching a police officer with her story and not worry that he will mock and shame her, regardless of the law. She has to feel comfortable approaching her family and friends if she is suffering from abuse, and not fear they will blame her or tell her that she is her husband’s problem now.
And this is where all the recent discussions and debates around this law, and others, play a vital role. The more issues pertaining to women’s rights are raised and publicized, the less taboo they become and the more enabled women feel to speak out. The more awareness we raise about these issues, the stronger women will feel when they have been wronged and the more likely they are to talk about it.
Lebanon still has a long way before it reaches the level of women’s rights and freedoms that a stranger coming into the country might first think it has. But, at least concerns and issues are being voiced, and, if we persist, than one day I will finally feel that I am indeed an equal citizen in my country.