Nationality campaigners vow to fight on despite obstacles

BEIRUT: Talk among those in the know suggests that many Lebanese MPs, when asked about the two most irksome issues facing them in Parliament, cite the domestic violence and nationality draft laws.

Lina Abou-Habib, coordinator of the campaign for equal citizenship rights for women, is delighted by the rumor.

“I think it’s an excellent sign,” she says. After years of campaigning on the issue, Abou-Habib is sensing a change in momentum.

“I think something that has happened is that people, and particularly women, have realized it is their right to have rights.”

“That awakening is irreversible,” she adds.

As the law stands, Lebanese women are not entitled to pass their citizenship onto their children, meaning that if they marry a non-Lebanese citizen, they are unable to pass on their nationality, rendering it difficult for their children to receive state benefits such as education and health care.

Campaigners handed a draft law on the issue to Parliament last July, but have yet to receive a response from Prime Minister Najib Mikati. For Abou-Habib, the executive director of CRTD-A, a regional gender-research nongovernmental organization based in Beirut, while legal change is eventually vital, a widespread change in attitudes is more important at this stage.

This is finally beginning to happen now, she believes, thanks to simultaneous efforts from various women’s rights movements, including those speaking out against domestic violence and sexual harassment and nationality campaigners.

“I think women’s organizations have been able to make these issues public issues, but at the same time make them individual issues,” she says.

Women are realizing that “it’s not just bad luck if you happen to be married to a foreigner, and it’s not just bad luck if you are beaten by your husband,” but “that actually it’s a violation of rights.”

Nadine Moawad, a member of Nasawiya, the Lebanese feminist collective, agrees. “Everyone knows it’s an issue. They understand the suffering of people who live here and can’t put their children in public school.”

“There’s a lot of anger and resentment, which is good. I think what we’re seeing here is more important than legal change. This is exactly the definition of active citizenship,” Abou-Habib says.

Now that there has been this gradual change in thinking, on the part of the general public, it is now time for that mentality shift to reach Parliament, Abou-Habib says.

After a protest in late December, 2012 will see the campaigners continue with such civil mobilization, but also begin to lobby every bloc in Parliament, in an effort to garner support for the draft law.

But Abou-Habib believes the time for semantics is over. “I think we’re now beyond explanations, we’re at the level of challenging and making sure it’s on the agenda.”

The process of arranging meetings with parliamentarians can be extremely time consuming, as Abou-Habib says, “It can take you five months to get an appointment with a politician.” However, as she stresses, meeting with campaigners “is not a favor: it his duty. He needs to listen.”

It is vital to meet with every group within Parliament, she says, as “at the end of the day, everybody is failing in being a true democratic decision maker. Everyone is equally failing women. And all their political differences don’t matter. When it comes to the denial of rights, they all converge.”

Leader of the opposition Saad Hariri in January tweeted that he was in full support of the nationality campaign, saying “I am all for women giving the #Lebanese nationality to their children and husbands, I think it’s shameful that we don’t.”

However, Abou-Habib is skeptical saying nationality campaign is usually the last item on the agenda of politicians.

For many, the pervasive hypocrisy among Lebanese politicians on this cause was further exemplified by the announcement late last year that the Cabinet had passed a draft law allowing the descendants of Lebanese fathers or grandfathers to apply for citizenship, even if they themselves had never lived in the country.

For Moawad, “This was the final straw. It really became obvious that it’s not an issue of population or a sectarian issue,” as politicians insisted for so long, she says.

“It’s now strictly a misogynist issue. Lebanese mothers are not recognized as people,” Moawad adds. “I think it’s very simply stripped down to an issue of state misogyny.”

Activists were further incensed when Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi last month said full nationality rights for women would be “dangerous.”

“This is the minister of justice? I think they should change the name of his post. It should be the minister of discrimination. The minister of inequality, the minister of machismo and sexism,” said Abou-Habib.

However, she insists, “I’m not going to be dispirited by a bigot.”

Campaign leaders met Monday with Labor Minister Charbel Nahhas to discuss last year’s Cabinet decision to issue work permits to the non-Lebanese husbands and children of Lebanese women.

“We wanted to share with him exactly what is happening on the ground, and individual cases where some people are having difficulties.”

“It was a frank discussion, and he showed real concern for citizens and citizens’ rights.”

The major challenges that remain, according to Abou-Habib, are that, primarily, “the people in power … do not take rights seriously, and secondly, that their interests come first. And I think these are very powerful obstacles.”

For Moawad, the nationality campaigners are not going to give up their struggle any time soon, but the final stretch may take some time.

“I don’t know what the campaign could do that it hasn’t done already,” she says. “No draft laws are budging in Parliament, on violence or nationality.”

“Anything short of a whole refurbishment of the entire system of government,” might not be enough to usher in these social reforms, Moawad believes. “I don’t really know what else there is to be done apart from changing the sectarian, corrupt system of government.”

“Maybe all women should go on strike,” she suggests.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 09, 2012, on page 4.
Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Local-News/2012/Feb-09/162688-nationality-campaigners-vow-to-fight-on-despite-obstacles.ashx#ixzz1lxvi0kXN
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s