BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Activists demand equal citizenship rights for women

A Lebanese woman shows her daughter’s ID. It says “under study” in the nationality slot.

BEIRUT: Several hundred activists met outside the Interior Ministry in Sanayeh Thursday to protest against unequal citizenship rights for women, led by the collective “My nationality is a right for me and my family.”

Lebanese women cannot currently pass their nationality on to their children, and activists have been campaigning against this for years, in July passing a draft law on the issue to Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

However the approval two weeks ago by the Cabinet of a draft law which would grant citizenship to expatriates with a Lebanese father or grandfather, even if they themselves had not been born in the country, has further frustrated campaigners.

Lina Abou Habib, executive director of the Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action, a Beirut-based regional gender equality center, which is spearheading the nationality campaign, said that Thursday’s event “was prompted by this shameful decision by Cabinet.”

“We are protesting against these clearly sexist and patriarchal policies and the complete exclusion of women from everything,” she said.

The crowd was comprised of men and women of all ages, and included the actress Carmen Lebbos, who told The Daily Star she was not confident of change any time soon.

Omar Abi Azar, a theater director, was there as he believes, “It is a completely absurd law and it’s more than discriminatory. It’s saying that women are not equal to human beings.”

He said the law is a symptom of the political system, which, he added, needs an entire overhaul.

“The Arab region is living through a turning point right now. But whereas the absurdities of the system were much more flagrant in, say, Egypt or Syria, here in Lebanon we have been taught that they are just an inevitable part of the system. So it will take longer here to overcome them.”

Born in Lebanon to a Lebanese mother, 10-year-old Lynn Hornig attended the protest with her American father Thomas Hornig.

“Here today I feel 50 percent American and 50 percent Lebanese. But normally when someone asks me about my nationality I just say that I was born here but I am American. It’s easier now than when I was younger, but it’s still hard,” she said.

“I was born here, my school is here and my friends are here,” she added, holding a banner which read “She gave me life, give me her nationality.”

Her father, who has lived in Lebanon for nearly 20 years and teaches at the National Conservatory of Music, said, “She is being denied her rights by the government. It’s an issue of assimilation. She has lots and lots of friends at school, but she does not feel 100 percent Lebanese.”

Talking about change is no longer enough for Hornig. “Today is about believing that a better Lebanon is possible, and we feel it’s about time ... I don’t believe in defeat ... What kind of message are they giving to young people like my daughter? We don’t want you here in our country?”

An ambulance was also present at Thursday’s protest, giving people the opportunity to donate blood, a symbolic gesture emphasizing that Lebanese men and women are the same, and thus should be granted equal rights. Blood was donated to the medical charities Secours Populaire and the Amel Association.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 30, 2011, on page 3.

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