"White doesn't cover up for rape." | Photo: Firas Haidar
"White doesn't cover up for rape." | Photo: Firas Haidar

Four ways Lebanese society fails its women

As we tumble down the seemingly never-ending pit that is the Lebanese economic crisis and encounter reminiscent views of blocked roads and burning tires, we are reminded of even more reasons to validate our anger. With International Women’s day upon us, we can’t help but remember the ways women are betrayed on a daily basis in Lebanon, and why we must continue to challenge the existing patriarchal order. 

Women are still robbed of their right to pass on their nationality 

An age-old nationality law set since the French-mandate era in 1925 prohibits women from passing their Lebanese nationality onto their child. A child can only obtain Lebanese citizenship if born to a Lebanese father.

Likewise, the foreign spouse of a Lebanese man can obtain citizenship after one year, but the same cannot be applied to the foreign spouse of a woman. The repercussions of this lead to difficulties in legal residency, education, health care, and access to work. 

The law makes it easier for a child with an unknown father or unknown parents to receive nationality than a child with a known foreign father and Lebanese mother.

The patriarchal rule places unbalanced weight on the father’s entitlement, delegitimizing the mother’s, to the point where an “invisible” father is more entitled to passing on the Lebanese nationality before a Lebanese woman.

The sexist ideology is so pervasive that the state would grant a woman and her children lifelong punishment before acknowledging her as an equal. As the law nears its 100th anniversary since its appointment, we only hope that the discriminatory and sexist attitude of a century ago ceases to dictate the lives of our women. 

Sectarianism still governs personal status laws

Personal status laws are dealt with in religious courts as long as we do not have a civil code to regulate them. This means that sexist religious discourse continues to marginalize women and treat them as inferior beings through these laws.

The sect-specific religious courts are responsible for personal status issues involving divorce and custody which discriminate against women. Although the laws vary across different religions and sects, they all generally grant the man more privileges and more “absolute” rights regarding divorce.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that in Sunni religious marriages, if the woman files for divorce, even on the grounds of domestic abuse, she is held partially culpable and is therefore denied or given reduced monetary compensations.

In certain Christian sects, it is more difficult to divorce, and religious court laws do not recognize domestic abuse as a legitimate reason in itself to end a marriage. It is only permitted in cases of attempted murder. 

Custody laws also discriminate against women by giving the father more entitlement to their child than the mother.

In most religions in Lebanon, courts do not base custody on the child’s best interest but on their age. Oftentimes, religious courts will assess women and men based on different and unfair criteria, allowing men to take custody of their child even during the maternal custody period.

The workplace still exploits and discriminates against women 

Although Lebanon is known to be one of the more inclusive countries across the MENA region when it comes to women in the workforce, it still perpetuates patriarchal environments and unjust standards which further marginalize women in their fields.

Women are still underrepresented in parliament and continue to be excluded from the decision-making processes which concern the lives of women across the country. Parliamentary exclusion of women represents the inferior status they still uphold as long as men continue to control the majority of policymaking concerning women. 

It is more difficult for women to obtain high authority positions in the workplace in general due to the “glass ceiling” phenomenon, which presents a metaphorical barrier preventing women from reaching the top of the hierarchical ladder.

As a result of this, women are systematically denied better and higher paying opportunities, contributing to the already existing wage-gap. According to a study conducted by the Lebanese American University (LAU), a woman earns 71 percent of what a man earns. However, due to a lack in data and consideration of women working in the informal sector, that number may be much lower.

Women also face a significant amount of bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace. Those working under men in higher positions often experience a dismissal of their skills or a critical attitude towards their competency, reflecting the misogynistic mentalities of their superior.

Sexual harassment is also unnervingly common and the reporting of these instances remains low or unheard of due to fear of retaliation or shame. People often turn a blind eye to this or participate in victim blaming where the woman is considered to have brought this harassment upon herself which leads to the desire to stay silent. 

Recently, a law in Lebanon has passed criminalizing sexual harassment, an important step in dealing with gender-based violence. However, there are many ways the law falls short, and needs further reformation.

Domestic abuse, harassment and violence is on the rise against women, who are still not protected 

This last year has seen a rise in domestic violence cases across the country as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown as well as the economic crisis. Internal Security Forces (ISF) reports indicate that domestic violence doubled in the past year.

In the first month of 2021 alone, we heard of four cases where women were murdered by a relative. However, domestic abuse and violence is not a novel issue in Lebanon. Gender-based violence has a long history, and women are failed every day by the legal system, which refuses to adequately protect them. 

There have been multiple attempts at reformation, none of which proved satisfactory in achieving the goal of criminalizing domestic violence. Oftentimes, the policies will include ambiguous phrasing allowing escape routes from being rightfully incriminated.

For example, in 2017, the parliament repealed article 522 –which allowed rapists exemption from charges if they married their victims– but failed to include offenses against minors between the ages of 15-17 and virgin girls who have been promised marriage.

It is also important to note that marital rape is still not criminalized and there are no protective measures guaranteed to charge sex offenders already married to their victims. 

It is also important to account for the prevalence of abuse and violence against trans women, who face discrimination every day.

Reports from the HRW in 2019 exposed the ever-present emotional and physical abuse that trans women experience, especially in detention centers. They are often placed in men’s cells, denied basic necessities, and subject to other forms of torture including sexual harassment and rape. This is besides the abuse they may face at home.

Interviews conducted by HRW have revealed that many of these women were physically or sexually assaulted by their relatives, denied food or water, and thrown out onto the street.

These women encounter hostility and discrimination at every turn, contributing to overall emotional distress and trauma. As long as the Lebanese populace remains ignorant and unwilling to regard a trans person’s life with the same respect and humanity as any other, it will continue to be a destructive environment for our trans women. 

And this is only the tip of the iceberg.