On why we as Lebanese women should support the anti sectarian demonstrations

Picture:Matthew Cassel

A conversation I’ve had many times over, and one of the biggest criticism of feminists I’ve heard, was that we were focusing way too much on women only, while forgetting, willingly or not, to replace them in a context of economics and broader struggle for social justice and egalitarian system, in a word, bypassing that ‘the personal is political’. I’ve struggled with all the definitions of feminism, and reached my own conclusion that feminism simply means granting women their human rights (How shocking, ktachafna el baroud), and by human rights, I mean all of them, civil and political, economical, social and cultural and third generation Human Rights as well, and not focusing only on civil and political rights, as seems to be the case in many trends, and considering them the equal of men within these rights, which might even be a redundancy because of the underlying non discrimination principle enshrined and cutting across human rights law. It seems important to emphasize the rights approach to feminism, given the way the very concept has been used as an imperialist tool by some western so called feminists.

Using a rights based framework gives our actions a base no one can argue with, so next time somebody tells you ‘oh why are you complaining again because of this citizenship business in Lebanon ‘ you can hit them on the head with article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, an article to which Lebanon has made reservations, reservations that got accepted for reasons beyond my comprehension as, according to the bore inducing law of treaties, reservations should be in conformity with the objects and principles of the treaty (Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties i):

Article 19 –

A State may, when signing, ratifying, accepting, approving or acceding to a treaty, formulate a reservation unless:

(a) the reservation is prohibited by the treaty;

(b) the treaty provides that only specified reservations, which do not include the reservation in question, may be made; or

(c) in cases not failing under subparagraphs (a) and (b), the reservation is incompatible with the object and purpose of the treaty

I don’t see how a reservation preventing women to give their citizenship to their children, thus establishing a discrimination against them and granting them less citizen rights than Lebanese men, is in line with the object and principles of the treaty that is precisely to ELIMINATE discrimination against women. Accepting Arab States’ reservations to CEDAW has proven to be a challenge for many Human Rights lawyers, who until this day struggle with the following question: is it better to accept the reservations and have the states ratify the treaty or should we run the risk of refusing them based on the interpretation of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, leading the states not to sign the treaty at all (therefore not being bound by any of the provisions of the convention)?

Lebanon’s reservations on the specific issue of citizenship in linked to the very nature of the sectarian system, which drives pretty much anything in Cedar Land. Women can’t give their citizenship to their children for fear of seeing a sect outnumbering another one, which, according to many politicians (who by the way strive and feed on sectarian divides, their only political programme being playing with the fear of one confession towards another and brandishing the ghost of 1975) might disrupt the fragile equilibrium prevailing in Lebanon. In a word, political powers in place are using women to play their dirty political calculations and maintaining a status quo that is not only harmful of the long term development of Lebanon, but also against the Constitution stricto sensu, our Constitution only stating that political confessionalism should only be used as a temporary measure, that should be abolished following a transition plan designed by a National Committee headed by the Presidentii:

Article 95

(As amended by the Constitutional Law of November 9, 1943

And by the constitutional law of September 21,1990)

The Chamber of Deputies that is elected on the basis of equality between Muslims

and Christians shall take the appropriate measures to bring about the abolition of political confessionalism according to a transitional plan. A National Committee shall be formed, headed by the President of the Republic, it include, in addition to the President of the Chamber of Deputies and the Prime Minister, leading political, intellectual, and social figures.

Beyond the issue of citizenship, it’s the sectarian system in its totality that systematically denies women their rights. How can a system that puts forward differences and inequalities between citizens lead to gender equality? The damages made to women’s rights by the monopole of religious authorities over private and civil matters are unfortunately too numerous to exhaust: inequalities in inheritance rights, responsibility of home making solely put on the woman, virtually no protection from domestic violence, and this grim list sadly goes on. Sectarianism only reinforces patriarchy, which also prevents women from acquiring equal rights to work or to maintain their work during and after pregnancy, thus preventing society as a whole to achieve social justice. In any case, we can’t speak about social justice when you have to be part of a particular hezb in order to be able to reach certain positions.

It is therefore up to women now to join forces with progressive streams and the ever growing part of the Lebanese population that is just fed up with the current state of affairs and to claim their rights in front of the conservative political authorities of Lebanon who shamelessly rob them of their human rights to achieve more division between the Lebanese, instead of putting their time and energy to unify the country and build, at last, a strong Lebanon, where all citizens with no distinction whatsoever are equal before the law.
i http://untreaty.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/1_1_1969.pdf

ii http://www.presidency.gov.lb/English/ThenatureoftheLebanesesystem/Documents/Lebanese%20Constitution.pdf

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