Arab women bring campaign for greater equality to fundamental front: the right to share one’s nationality.

April 9th, 2007 | Posted in Gender and Sexuality

    Beirut conference draws representatives from five countries –
    including some that are far ahead of Lebanon


    Photo: Luca Perini / Article by Nour Samaha, Friday, April 13th, Daily Star.

BEIRUT: Women from across the Middle East wrapped up a four-day Nationality Campaign conference on Thursday aimed at pressuring their governments to enable women to exercise equal citizenship and nationality rights. Participants in the event, held at the Radisson Hotel, pledged to continue lobbying their governments for their rights in accordance with their respective constitutions and the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

“We are asking for full and equal rights in citizenship among women in the Middle East, to allow them to pass on their nationality to their non-native husbands and children,” declared Lina Abu Habib, regional coordinator of the “My Nationality: A right for me and my family” campaign.

This week saw the fifth annual regional meeting, with representatives from 15 non-governmental organizations from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Bahrain in attendance.

Morocco, Algeria and Egypt came to the table with good news from their respective nations. Lebanon, Syria and Bahrain, however, were a poor show in comparison.

Rabea Naseri, the representative for Morocco’s Women’s Organization for Democracy, told the conference how her country’s Parliament had taken large steps toward equality for women with regards to citizenship.

“In January 2007, Morocco passed a law allowing women to pass on their nationality to their children if married to non-Moroccan men,” she said.

Morocco is now in the same category as Algeria and Egypt, both of which have already amended their laws to allow children to be granted citizenship regardless of whether their mothers are married to non-native men.

Naseri went on to say that her organization is now following up on the law to ensure its full implementation.

Nadia Itzay, president of the Documentation of Women and Children’s Rights Center in Algeria, argued that her country has surpassed every other Arab state in the area of citizenship rights by announcing that Algeria was now willing to give nationality not only to children, but also the husbands of Algerian women.

“We are proud to say that the law has been changed in order to allow Algerian women to pass their nationality to their husbands and to their children,” she said. “Furthermore, it has been stated that this process can begin before the law is even implemented.”

Despite Egypt having amended its law in July 2004 to allow women the right to pass on their nationality to their children (but not their husbands as of yet), women’s movements have made significant improvements since, according to the president of the Women’s Forum for Development in Egypt, Mirvat Abu Tiej.

“We are continually checking to make sure the law is being applied, and we have succeeded in taking to court and winning the right for women to give their nationality to their children if married to a Palestinian man,” Abu Tiej explained at the conference.

Activists complain that the issue of nationality and citizenship has consistently been ignored in Lebanese political circles, despite persistent protests and lobbying by women’s movements attempting to pressure the government to amend the law. The conference highlighted the problems faced in Lebanon and why the demand has continually been brushed aside by the government.

There are three main obstacles in the way of achieving equal nationality rights for both men and women in Lebanon, speakers said on Thursday.

“Firstly, there is no political will to amend the law for reasons related to demographic change,” said Iqbal Dourghan, president of the Women’s Labor Organization in Lebanon. “Secondly, there is a false assumption of a link between the issue of nationalizing Palestinians and their settlement here. Finally, there is a lot of controversy surrounding the non-differentiation between nationality and lineage.”

Many families suffer as a result of Lebanon’s failure to grant women equal rights to exercise the full usage of their nationality. Lebanese law forbids children of non-Lebanese nationalities from enrolling in public schools, and additional problems affect access to healthcare, insurance, practicing a certain profession and acquiring property.

Lebanese University law student Gina Mekhradine, 26, knows first-hand the difficulties posed by Lebanese law as her mother is Lebanese and her father is Iraqi.

“Immediately that makes me a ‘non-Lebanese’ in the eyes of the law here,” she told The Daily Star.

“I’m not allowed to work here because I’m not a Lebanese – I’m studying law here, but I can’t actually practice it here. The Lebanese legal system prohibits me from doing anything really,” she added. “My brother has been forced to return to Iraq in order to work, which is really sad for all of us. The situation over there is really bad but he didn’t have any other choice. When I finish my education I will be forced to make the same move.”

For women and their families in Lebanon, the costs of marrying a non-Lebanese are very high. It is expensive to live in Lebanon as a non-Lebanese, an aspect that Mekhradine has become all too familiar with during her 20 years in the country.

“When I’m sick I can’t go to hospital here because I have to pay a lot more than a Lebanese, which I can’t afford to do,” she said. “Even though my mother can do many things here, we as her children are not allowed.”

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