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Women Demand Civil Rights in Lebanon

by FRANKLIN LAMB

Tehran and Washington are employing competing strategies via their political allies in Lebanon to win 70 seats in next years June 2013 parliamentary election, should they actually be held whikc is looking doubtful to this observer. Their efforts are designed to control the next government here while widening the spectrum of challenges to the other in order to undermine chances for their adversary gaining regional hegemony.

Both American and Iranian Lebanese allies preparing for the critical election have presented to Parliament different sized electoral districts. The daily boasting and arguing over the dementions and quality of their proposed electoral districts appear almost Freudian.

The election preparations are part of the open confrontation between the March 8 (pro Iran) and March 14 (pro US-Saudi) forces and expose contradictory and incompatible positions and they seek to undermine the others ability to achieve a parliamentary majority.

The process law amendment process has been truly labyrinthine. Simply put, the common factor between the proposed electoral laws is that each aims at securing a parliamentary majority that is not dependent on Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblat’s block which often has functioned as a kind of check and balance on the other two.

The pro-American coalition insists that smaller is actually better in order for them to win more than 70 seats which is half of parliament plus at six seats and without needing Jumblatt’s help. The PSP has consistently rejected the Hezbollah led government’s draft electoral law, which would divide Lebanon into 13-15 large sized districts based on a system of proportional representation. Hezbollah had made overtures to Jumblat in a bid to convince him of their electoral law draft based on proportional representation and a claimed new and appealing distribution of electorates. However, the Druze leader maintains his rejection of an electoral law based on proportional representation, which he believes is aimed at eliminating a major political camp, a National Struggle Front, PSP sources told Naharnet Newsdesk on 10/7/12.

March 14’s Christian parties are insisting on a law that would divide Lebanon into 50 small districts under a winner-takes-all-system. The proposal has drawn the ire of Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun who labels it a “political division” and who demands a law that would require that every sect elects its own MPs, under a proportional representation system with all Lebanon as a single huge district.

As the Daily Star’s Michael Young has pointed out, lest there be any doubt as to how futile the debate over a new election law has become, they were dispelled recently when the parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, announced that he supported “the formation of a parliamentary subcommittee to discuss such legislation.” This is well known code language meaning that Parliament will soon sweep the electoral reform discussion into a labyrinth of incessant recrimination and down a black hole to oblivion, just as has been the case with respect to women’s, domestic worker’s, and Palestinian elementary civil rights.

Against this backdrop of Parliamentary paralysis, more Lebanese women than ever before are getting organized to participate in next year’s Parliamentary elections and vowing that current representatives in parliament will not be given another chance if they did not support or pledge to guarantee women’s rights. Their initiatives are being supported by many in Lebanon’s 250,000 Palestinian refugee community since both women and Palestinian civil rights groups in recent years have come to believe that if and when one group gains any rights it will aid the other.

Among the many failures of Lebanon’s politicians to accept women’s rights are those noted below, part of a list being circulated by women’s organizations. Historically, women’s rights advocacy groups here is Lebanon were relatively weak and widely ridiculed by deep and pervasive paternalism.

But this appears to be changing.

· Parliament has consistently refused to enact laws identifying Marital rape as even a crime;

· Domestic violence is not taken seriously by the Government of Lebanon and no police protection is available;

· Parliament, for more than 50 years has refused to enable women married to foreigners to pass their nationality onto their husbands or even to their children because of the deeply embedded paternal guardianship culture supported by a majority of religious leaders from all 18 sects.

· Lebanese women are not allowed to open bank accounts for their children, and women, according to all of Lebanon’s 18 religious courts, have no rights over their bodies. Simply put, Parliament accepts the notion that women’s bodies are the sole personal property of their husbands.

· Parliament has consistently refused to lift Lebanon’s reservations on Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which addresses equality between men and women in marriage and family life.

· Parliament has refused to amend the draft bill presented by women’s rights activists in 2010, which was amended earlier in 2012 when a section that would criminalize marital rape was removed by the parliamentary subcommittee.

· All of the main political parties their MPs to express reservations regarding the draft bill, because, according to KAFA “they all agree that women have no rights over their bodies.

The Lebanese NGO, KAFA (Enough Violence and Exploitation), preparing for the election, is a fast growing civil rights organization whose mission is to achieve eradication of all forms of gender-based violence as well as the exploitation of women and children through advocating for legal reform and change of governmental policies and practices. One supporter of KAFA recently noted that “a husband in Lebanon can hit, rape or kill his wife and no one would raise an eyebrow. She is his “property,” and nobody can do anything to protect her or hold him responsible.” According to KAFA, “one woman dies every month as a result of family violence in Lebanon. Women have complained, petitioned and sometimes demonstrated against the unjust laws that allow such crimes to pass, but no one listens.”

Hanin Ghaddar the managing editor of NOW Lebanon pledged this week a mission that many women and men agree with: “I will only vote for men and women candidates who have already stood by women. This time, as the region boils with hope and fear, the right to citizenship seems to be the fundamental feature behind every demand. The shaky “Spring” surrounding us cannot be complete without women’s complete citizenship. Our vote is our spring. “

It’s not the size of the electoral districts favored by this or that macho male political party for the 2013 election that is most satisfactory for women in Lebanon this election season. It’s what the men who dominate Parliament and Lebanon will do with them.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and is reachable c/o fplamb@gmail.com

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Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-lb.com).

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