Although making some positive strides in recent years, Lebanon is still behind some of its regional counterparts when it comes to women’s rights. Women in Lebanon still lack important protections against abuse and violence, personal status laws and representation under civil and religious law. Here are seven facts about women’s rights in Lebanon.
7 Facts About Women’s Rights in Lebanon
- Civil Code vs. Religious Laws: Lebanon has 15 personal status laws that are religion-based (Shia, Sunni and Druze) but has no civil code covering personal status issues such as divorce, custody of children or property rights. The religious courts preside over cases of personal status and operate with very little government oversight, resulting in the repeated violation of women’s rights. Because Lebanon’s constitution guarantees respect for “personal status and religious interests,” religious authorities have been keeping personal status laws under their control.
- Domestic Violence: The Lebanese parliament passed a domestic violence law in 2014, which includes protection measures, such as restraining orders and policing and court reforms, as well as funding to enact the reforms. The law also introduced an official definition of domestic violence into the Lebanese criminal code. However, Lebanese women are still at risk of marital rape, which because of pressure from religious authorities, is not apart of the criminal code. A spouse’s threat or violence to claim “marital right to intercourse” is a crime, but the actual physical act is not.
- Migrant Domestic Workers: The Kafala system allows migrants, mainly women from Africa and South East Asia, to work in Lebanon as domestic workers. The employers of the workers are in charge of their legal residency, as well as whether they can change or leave employers. Labor law protections, like minimum wage, working hour limits and overtime pay, exclude migrant workers. This lack of employer accountability often leads to cases of verbal, physical and sexual abuse. In March 2020, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Ministry of Labour met to discuss the reform of the Kafala system, but no legislation has been introduced as of yet.
- Child Marriage: Lebanon currently has no national minimum age of marriage. Instead, religious courts regulate when people can marry. The Human Rights Watch found that early marriage can lead to a higher risk of marital rape, exploitation, domestic violence and health problems. Those most at risk include Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Lebanon has committed to eliminating child marriage by 2030 and reducing it by 20% by 2020. Currently, the Lebanese Higher Council for Childhood is developing a national strategy and action plan to address this problem. However, many drafts of law raising the legal age of marriage to 18 have not passed through the Lebanese parliament because of religious backlash.
- Representation in Politics: The Lebanese government created the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, however, this is largely symbolic and the first minister is a man. The Global Gender Report Gap states that gender equality in politics stands at 0.01%, as Lebanon has never had a woman as head of state and 97% of parliament is male. Currently, women’s organizations in Lebanon are demanding that parliament set a quota that 30% of seats should be for women, as no quota currently exists.
- Nationality Law: Lebanese women cannot pass their nationality to their children or foreign husbands, unlike Lebanese men. This deprives children of citizenship and increases the risk of statelessness. The Lebanese government has failed to address this issue, citing the threat of naturalization and resettlement of Palestinian and Syrian refugees as a reason not to change this law for women. The only exception is for unmarried mothers, as this group can pass on their nationality to their child if one year has passed and the child is still nationless.
- Activism in Lebanon: One prominent group advocating for women in Lebanon is KAFA. It is a feminist, secular, Lebanese, nonprofit organization fighting against discrimination against women. The organization focuses on family violence, human trafficking and child protection. This group was instrumental in the passing of the law against domestic violence in Lebanon’s parliament.
Many of the setbacks women face are the product of the fact that approximately 2.7 million people in Lebanon are living in poverty. Men, who have historically always held political and religious power, deprive women of rights as a strategy to keep women and children financially tied to men. This means money stays in the hands of majority groups and used at their discretion. However, many international and domestic groups are fighting through institutions and on the ground for representation, protection and power. This activism and attention may lead to a large improvement in women’s rights in Lebanon in the years to come.
– Claire Brady