Lebanon is the most open-minded country in the Arab world. This is a well-known fact, and acknowledged from the concentration of the biggest percentage of skin exposed per female, and the number of silicone lips, cheeks (or simply face), breast implants and nose jobs on display in the streets. Yes, indeed, Lebanon is the image of modernity per se: women are liberated, modern and above all fashionable. In the region, it is the small island of freedom whose example other Arab countries want to follow. But, in what aspects are women really better off in Lebanon than anywhere else in the region?
Is it in politics?
One might think that, since there is universal suffrage, women are fairly represented in Parliament and other executive branches. But numbers reveal the opposite. Statistics show that, in terms of female political representativeness, Lebanon is one of the 20 last in the world. Iraq, the UAE, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Kuwait and Libya all fare better than Lebanon. Here, only four out of 128 members of parliament are women. Tamara Qiblawi from Nasawiya notes that, “to be able to participate in politics, women must come from a family already involved in the Lebanese political life.” Therefore, the case is more about continuing dynasties than real political participation.
Is it in the legal system?
In Lebanon, there are no laws protecting women from sexual harassment in the workplace. Neither is there any protection from domestic violence or spousal rape. It is considered the duty of the wife to respond to her husband’s sexual demands. Normal.
Also, the law is merciful to honour crimes, which are treated differently from other murders and crimes. Someone convicted of an honour crime can get his sentence cut short after only a few years. Jordan has been subject of many writings concerning this issue, but mouths have been shut regarding Lebanon.
The same goes for rape, which is considered a crime of honour and not of violence. Hence, if the rapist marries his victim, all charges are abandoned. Then, according to this law, honour is more important than the crime itself. Women get blamed for the rape in most cases. Due to the mentalities, they are not considered as the victims but as those who encouraged the rapist to act.
Or the nationality right?
Lebanese women are not allowed to hand on their nationality to their husbands or their children. The official reason for this is to not change the sectarian “balance” of the country. But, the fact is that women get left incapable to provide for their families in case their spouses leaves them or die. And, their children are not considered as Lebanese if the father was not Lebanese. Hence, they become strangers in their own country.
A problem with the political system?
Lebanon is a patriarchal country. Rana Khoury from No Rights No Women: “The country still suffers from societal, cultural and religious pressures.” Indeed, even though some things might seem to have evolved over the years, the political system itself has not changed. This is Qiblawi’s point. “The problems come from the fact that the state and religion are not separated.” In this respect, Lebanon is just like many other Arab countries. The existence of 18 religious sects does not make matters easier: each religion has its own legal status and they differ in issues like marriage, divorce, inheritance and adultery.
But hope after all…
Both Qiblawi and Khoury are hopeful about the future for women’s rights in the country. For the third year in a row, Nasawiya took to the streets asking women about what changes they want to see in their country. This year, the activists went in different Beiruti neighbourhoods as well as other cities for the first time, like Hamra, Sassine Square, Downtown, Beirut Tarik Jdideh, Dawra, Nabaa, Chiah, Sabra Camp, Burj Hammoud, Furn El Chebbak, Zahle, Saida, Tyre, Jounieh, Jbeil, Batroun and Tripoli. All weekend long, they kept on tweeting people’s reactions.
It is interesting to see the opposite views, from those who got annoyed by their actions to those who got excited and support them. Alifakh Ali tweeted:
Young Women Chiyah: “Ma32oul badkoun tekhdo da2i2a min wa2ty?” [seriously, you want to take a minute from my time?] -Nasawiyat: “its for ur rights” she replies: “I have them all” #IWD #HelloWomen
while CrimsonBeirut Maya.H tweeted:
Women in Tyre (sour) said we should rebel : ) my eyes sparkled #hellowomen #IWD rock on sister.
No Rights No Women used their creativity to make people think. For Tuesday’s International Women’s Day, they asked women to dress up and act like men. This has the merit of making people think about the issue, even if they don’t agree with their ideas. Indeed, what would men do if they were treated daily the way women are treated in Lebanon?
This way, the collective of eight young women used a satirical and ironic tone to make people think about a very serious issue. “Women in Lebanon, and Lebanese citizens in general, are more advanced than the laws that govern us and the state that rules us. That is why I know that change is possible. A complete change,” says Khoury. Seeing the debate more and more on the forefront in society, this hope is both understandable and shared.
However, change is not possible if people stay inactive and static. People have to stand up for their rights. Qiblawi believes that change is only possible from the bottom-up, “As long as the social beliefs are there, a change of laws will not do anything,” she adds. There has been a petition online for 10 days now, asking for the respect for basic women’s rights. But, there are so far less than 600 signatories. Aren’t there more men and women in Lebanon, who have access to internet and who agree that change is mandatory?
It’s all smokes and mirrors.
Countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Sudan and others deserve all the criticism concerning the way they mistreat women. Lebanon should not be exempt of it: unlike popular belief, its supposed advancement in women rights is only an appearance. The country knows perfectly well how to control the art of deception, presenting an image through the press, its singers and its nightlife. There is definitely room for change. This revolution might be more doable in this country than elsewhere in the region. But, Lebanon is not there yet.