Gender backlash against women’s rights in Lebanon persists despite progress made by activists over the past few decades. Backlash in the Lebanese context continuously oppresses women’s rights, rather than being a reaction to progress.
This can take a broad range of forms such as structural discrimination and exclusion, all of which are fed, incubated and fuelled by the sectarian system. These forms not only fight and obstruct advocacy for women’s rights, but more importantly, impede the possibility of progress.
The perpetual and overlapping economic and political crises overtaking the country and the resultant blocked policy spaces since 2019 indicate that there is still a lot of progress to be made. With this in mind, here are five ways Lebanon can better #EmbraceEquity:
1. Lebanon must adopt a personal status law
Due to the absence of a civil code governing personal status matters like marriage, inheritance, and child custody, Lebanon depends on 15 distinct religious laws and courts for the country’s 18 acknowledged sects. Consequently, individuals experience different treatment based on their sex and sect, which results in discrepancies in women’s rights between sects. Under this system, women also do not have the same rights as men in the same sect.
By relegating family and personal matters to religious courts and abstaining from establishing civil courts, the state renounced its constitutional right (and obligation) to institute a civil family law. A unified personal status law needs to be adopted, specifically one based on equality between men and women.
2. Lebanon must amend its domestic violence law
In 2014, following years of feminist lobbying, the Lebanese parliament passed a domestic violence law, rigged with gaps. The law failed to criminalise marital rape and excluded former partners and relationships outside legally recognised frameworks from its protection provisions. Amendments in 2020 allowed for prosecuting not only abusive spouses but former spouses as well. The amendments also expanded the scope of ‘family’ to include current or former spouses, and extended the definition of violence to include emotional, psychological, and economic violence. Despite these improvements, gaps remain in the law and its implementation.
Domestic violence cases are usually investigated by police officers with no training in handling abuse cases, which needs a specialised and trained domestic violence unit. Additionally, while religious courts cannot interfere with civil courts’ domestic violence rulings, these can still rule in divorce and custody matters. Due to these circumstances, there is a growing need for a unified personal status law.
3. The Lebanese Labour Law must include domestic and agricultural workers
The Lebanese Labour Law fails to protect women’s rights in all respects, particularly those in domestic work. It excludes migrant domestic workers from its protections, leaving them vulnerable to the kafala (sponsorship) system that ties their residency to their sponsor, often leading to violations of their rights. Despite numerous reports of abuse in the past decade, there have been no significant official efforts to protect domestic workers. Without regulatory laws or monitoring mechanisms in place, there is little accountability for those who violate their rights.
The labour law needs to be amended to include migrant domestic workers, and the standard unified labour law should be upgraded and implemented. Migrant domestic workers should be allowed to unionise, and their rights should be protected. The law also excludes agricultural workers, primarily women, from social security benefits. Reforms are needed to protect these workers and to enhance equal opportunity and pay in employment between women and men.
4. The Lebanese Nationality Law must be amended
The Lebanese Nationality Law discriminates against women by preventing them from passing their citizenship to their children, explicitly stating that Lebanese citizenship is only granted to those ‘born of a Lebanese father.’ Although the government has taken some steps to ease the residency of children of Lebanese mothers, such as exemptions from work permits, demands for women’s right to grant citizenship to their children are still largely ignored.
While there have been some attempts to amend the law, the latest draft failed to reflect a commitment to equality, denying the children of Lebanese mothers from nationality, political rights, and some labour and property rights upon reaching legal age. The Lebanese nationality law should be amended to include every person ‘born to a Lebanese mother’.
5. Lebanese law must address violence against women in politics
The World Bank’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Index report ranks Lebanon 150th out of 156 countries in the category of Political Empowerment. Women’s underrepresentation in political decision-making limits their ability to shape the country’s direction. Successive Lebanese governments have failed to address the gender gap in politics, especially by resisting the implementation of a parliamentary quota. Further, women in politics are subjected to cyberbullying, defamation, and discrimination in the media.
Lebanon needs legislation addressing violence against women in politics, including instances of violence occurring within the political and public sphere, with the aim of outlawing all forms of violence against women in politics and promoting greater awareness among the public.
Women in Lebanon face many challenges in their struggle for gender equality, as any attempts to address these structural inequalities are often faced with resistance from the people that benefit from the patriarchal and sectarian political system in Lebanon.
The ongoing struggles of women in Lebanon are a reminder of the importance of continued efforts to promote gender equality worldwide. We must #EmbraceEquity!