LEBANON: Campaign for Equal Citizenship for Women Steps Up Pressure

Friday, October 15, 2010
Daily Star
Western Asia
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Human Rights

The national campaign to grant women equal citizenship, allowing them to pass on their nationality to their children, gathered pace on Thursday as activists spelled out their strategy over the coming months.

A string of national demonstrations, including a protest outside Parliament, are now expected, alongside a petition calling for equal treatment of women, the National Gathering for Removing Discrimination against Women said.

Although the group, representing some 60 Lebanese NGOs, has yet to make final arrangements, it has also made plans to meet with President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, as well as host of other leading politicians.

“We have already met with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who was extremely receptive to our cause and voiced his support,” said Raja Hamadeh, member of the gathering's executive committee. “We have also met with many other politicians who have been supportive but this has thus far failed to translate into political action.”

In the past, Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud, a lawyer by training, was a strong supporter of the campaign – entitled “Because they are my children my nationality is a right for them,” – but Baroud has been prevented from pursuing the issue more aggressively by political pressure since his appointment.

Reform has largely been stunted by fears that granting nationality to children of Lebanese mothers would tilt the fragile sectarian balance, ignite civil strife and lead to the naturalization of Lebanon's 400,000 plus registered Palestinian refugees.

Activists dismiss these objections as absurd, however, insisting the issue is being warped to suppress women under the guise of security and sectarian fighting.

“The issue is still hanging between being totally neglected and postponed,” said Izza al-Hur Mroueh, the group's executive committee member.

“The reform file is being kept under pretexts that have no truth and no basis except wanting to keep Lebanese women marginalized.”

Instead of a reversing the policy, a collection of half steps have recently been taken to ease the situation. However, activists say making residency and work permits easier to obtain is insufficient.

The media are now being urged to take a more assertive stance on the issue, with talks expected to take place with the Journalists' Union and the National Media Council.

Although the right of citizenship is the leading aim of the drive, the campaign, first launched in 2005, also seeks to reverse other gender discriminatory legislation.

While some success has been achieved regarding labor laws and social security retirement indemnities, much more remains to be done, including reforming family indemnities, aspects of the penal code, tax reductions, and all articles that discriminate against women in trade and social security law, said Mroueh.

The NGOs are also urging the government to fully adopt the United Nations' Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and to introduce a 30 percent quota for women in Parliament.