by Mayssa el Khazen, A research on the Influence of Tradition, Politics and Religion on Women
Yet, a third reservation was made regarding Article 29 of CEDAW concerning arbitration between states and the referral of disputes to the international Court of Justice on the explanation and implementation of conventions such as the CEDAW.
There are many other examples of discrimination against women in Lebanon in addition to formal reservations by the Lebanese government and where national laws disregard the CEDAW and promote gender discriminations. For instance, the crime of honor – when a man kills his wife, sister or daughter for having been involved in the act of adultery - which is the most widely criticized, is allowed in Lebanon. Therefore, we can clearly establish that the process of amending the Lebanese legislation on women’s rights to bring it into compliance with the CEDAW is far from complete.
My research question is why is it that, as of now, Lebanon has not amended Lebanese legislation regarding women since it ratified CEDAW? I will demonstrate that the traditional lack of a strong central government in Lebanon has hampered the growth of strong civil institutions and laws. Corruption and an inherent lack of regard for human rights in Lebanon has festered under 15 years of civil war—1975 until 1990—where the focus was certainly not women’s rights.
In this paper, I will explore the possible reasons behind discrimination against women in Lebanon. I will illustrate the government’s role in reinforcing this discrimination, and prove that the sectarian nature of the government and its laws pertaining to family, in addition to tradition, culture and religion, are all direct factors behind discrimination and boundaries on women’s participation in decision-making.
I will divide my paper into two parts; the first will explore in depth the laws in Lebanon that bring about the various kinds of discrimination against women and include a review of the literature concerning women in Lebanon. The second part will be about the field work I have performed and the various interviews I have carried with Lebanese personalities about the subject. In other words, this section will show how women are being perceived by the interviewees and will seek to show why the law is being discriminatory towards women in Lebanon by understanding the reasons why the laws were created this way.
Part 1: Lebanese Laws vis’a’vis women
Part 1 is divided into three sections; first is about the Lebanese constitution, second, about the Personal Status Laws and third about the improvements made in the law.
I- The Lebanese Constitution:
The Lebanese Republic was established by Lebanese Constitutional law and amended by Parliament on behalf of the various religious sects. The constitution disapproves of male absolutism and condemns discriminatory practices against women. It states that every Lebanese has the right to hold public offices with no preferences being made except on the basis of merit and competence. Although the Lebanese Constitution clearly grants women full rights, it remains contradictory with most of its legislative laws regarding principles of democracy because legislative legal rights are applied to sectarian groups. Articles in the constitution that legitimize the different religious sects possess the effect of legalizing the attitudes of these sects, which in turn, demands the right to keep their Personal Status Laws (PSL) outside the constitution. In this respect, the Personal Status Laws of the various sects take the place of a single civil code applicable to all since these PSLs are protected by the constitution. As a result, the traditionalist religious nature of the Lebanese society is empowered and thus nullifies the equal treatment of the sexes as stated in the constitution.
The Lebanese Constitution stresses the need to achieve gender equality in civil and political rights, in duties and responsibilities as well as in public positions. It states that “the Lebanese shall be equal before the law, equally enjoying civil and political rights and discharge public duties and obligations without discrimination” (Article 7). Hence, although the constitution tends to establish gender equality in rights and freedoms, it stipulates no affirmative actions, do not condemn discrimination as unconstitutional, and often is not enforced or supported by other types of law affecting women more directly. Unfortunately, the constitutional text did not directly claim the issue of equality between women and men in all other areas and domains. The assumed political rights include the right to vote and the right for candidature in all public leadership positions. In particular, it is a constitutional right for “any Lebanese citizen aged over 21 years to be a potential voter.” Furthermore, whether for parliament or municipality, candidature in Lebanon is valid for both women and men. The constitution permits any Lebanese citizen to take on public employment positions.
II- The Personal Status Laws (PSL):
The Personal Status laws have a greater effect on the population than the Lebanese constitution and the United Nations’ charter, which are both in conflict with the conventional authoritarian powers granted by these laws. Lebanon is a pluralistic society where different diverse communities, sects and ethnic groups work together in the absence of any consensus on fundamental issues. Hence, the Lebanese can be seen as a non-homogeneous population. Christians and Moslems form the dominant religions. According to the last census taken in 1932, the Moslem Sunnis consisted of 22%, the Shiites of 20%, and Druzes of 7%. From the Christian side, the Maronites consisted of 23%, the Greek Orthodox of 9.2%, the Greek Catholics of 6% and all others religions 7%. The different Christian and Moslem sects provide their own laws, known as Personal Status Laws that obtain their legality from the Lebanese constitution. The constitution agrees, without given permission, the many verdicts issued on matters of personal status, including those concerning women.
The PSL are a set of definitions and rules related to the individual that differentiate him/her from others in the community and define his/her rights and responsibilities according to the particular sect he/she belongs to. The Lebanese do not conform to a single code of personal status. Each person comes under the PSL and the courts of his/her own sects. Since there are 18 sects, a multiplicity of laws, legal references and measures as well as courts have resulted in the Lebanese legal system. The various sects differ in their legal contexts. The absence of a single unified code that includes the legislation of all sects results in clashes of jurisdiction between the sects themselves or between the sects and the civil authority.
Thus, one can clearly see that the current Lebanese law and the absence of a single code in Lebanon are due to the domination of traditionalism and religious power because of patriarchal representation. In other words, the Lebanese possess this traditional religious notion where the household is directed by the head of the household, the husband, father or brother, who is principally responsible for every major decision, plan or goal.
For instance, the Qur’an in one of its verses said of women that “Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other…” Hence, the woman is repressed in Moslem communities while from the Christian side, the laws seem less strict. For example, regarding divorce, Jesus placed women at equality with men. “Whosoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:32, 19:9) By using these religious examples, the aim is to show and explain the inferiority of women in different communities.
The legitimacy of the PSL was established by the Lebanese constitution in article 9 which guarantees respect of the PSL for each particular sect in Lebanon. The 18 different sects in Lebanon have to each abide to its PSL and the court of its sect. Regardless of popular belief toward a single unified code, the rights and responsibilities of a Lebanese individual are regulated not by Lebanese civil law but by PSL circulated by the various sects.
Within the Personal Status Law, we can identify three main categories concerning the various government ruling on the PSL which contains forms of discrimination against women; A- Economic Laws, B-Political Laws, and C-Marriage and family laws.
A- Economic Laws:
In terms of labour laws, in work-related issues including appointments, promotion and assigned duties, the Lebanese law does not discriminate between women and men. However, Article 3 of the Employment Act and Article 46 of the Social Security Law, both give male civil servants or workers the right to benefit from welfare, a right denied to their female counterparts. Article 10 of the benefits and services regulations at the state’s employees’ cooperative and Article 14 of the Social Security Law discriminate against women with regards to their family members in access to health care, hospitalization and other social benefits. In addition, the Lebanese government has not made allowances for paternity leave. In other words, this means that the Lebanese still view that it is mainly the mother’s job to take care of the child and not that of a father, hence not allowing paternity leave.
Civil Status Law:
There are no precise legal documents concerning the civil status of women in particular. They are all written to address the Lebanese population as a whole. Thus, when the Lebanese woman reaches the age of 18, she is granted full majority except in few instances where the law states otherwise. A Lebanese woman has the right to monetary possessions and financial management and spending. The most recent accomplishment reached in 1995 was that of granting married women full civil rights in what concerns life insurance policies and recognizing their qualifications regarding insurance contracts. However, real estate laws do not recognize gender equality, since women cannot stand as witnesses when registering personal data on official documents. In regard to inheritance-related laws, the Lebanese abide by their confessional origins. According to the Islamic law, men have the right to inherit twice as much as the women can. On the other hand, the law of inheritance for non-Moslems is equal.
The Lebanese law states that the minimum wage should apply to both men and women without any form of discrimination. Thus, the principle of equal pay for equal work is obligatory according to the law. Also, the end of service indemnity system in Lebanon states that both man and woman employee should be treated equally and following the same rules and conditions. In addition, a woman has the right to retire and obtain her life insurance earlier if marriage takes place.
B- Political Laws:
In the case of citizenship, when a foreign woman marries a Lebanese man, she can gain Lebanese nationality after one year of marriage and upon her request. Also, a Lebanese woman can stay so even after marrying a foreigner, unless she asks for the removal of her name from the registry to gain her husband’s nationality. However, this can be reversed for women in case of divorce and thus she could re-acquire Lebanese nationality. However, a foreigner who marries a Lebanese woman can only become a Lebanese citizen based on a presidential decree and after having proven that he spent at least one year in Lebanon since his marriage. Regarding a child’s citizenship, the Lebanese law states that a child in principle obtains his father’s nationality and that a mother’s nationality cannot be granted to a child. For instance, the children of a Lebanese mother and a foreigner cannot become Lebanese citizens. Thus, granting Lebanese nationality to children based on the mother’s origins is one of Lebanon’s reservations on CEDAW. This, however, becomes a serious problem for women who are divorced, widowed, or abandoned and try to raise their children in Lebanon. Without nationality and citizenship, the children often are denied access to education, health and employment rights.
In Lebanon, the penal system’s many rulings discriminate between women and men especially in what concerns adultery, which clearly extends to the Lebanese penal code. The most widely criticized is Article 562 that states “whoever catches his wife, or one of his parents or offspring, or his sister, in the act of witnessed adultery, or during illegal sexual intercourse, and kills or injures one of them without premeditation, shall benefit from the mitigating excuse…And whoever catches his wife, or one of his parents or offspring, or his sister in a suspicious situation with another person and kills or injures one of them shall benefit from the mitigating excuse.” This article not only contravenes the CEDAW, but also all international charters related to human rights of which Lebanon signed. Furthermore, abortion is legally forbidden, and the law only allows the termination of pregnancy for medical reasons.
The testimony of a woman, in the ruling of the PSL, is unequal to that of a man. According to article 54 of the Lebanese Civil Code which was issued on March 15, 1926, the testimony of a women witness is possible only when two females are involved. Hence, the female’s legal value is viewed as equal to half that of a male. Furthermore, the PSL of Moslems defines the inequality of Lebanese women’s testimony by stating that “two women’s testimony in court is equivalent to that of one man.” Druze Personal Status Laws have the same conditions with regard to testimony. These conditions of the civil code and the PSL of Moslems contradict the Lebanese Constitution, Article 7, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 2, as well as the Declaration of the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Articles 1, 2 and 6.
On the other hand, in Christian Personal Status Laws, the testimony of a single woman is regarded as equal in most testimonial cases. This practice applies to Christian religious courts and Christian Personal Status Laws. Also this means that the Christian PSL do not call for the presence of two male figures when a single woman’s testimony is presented.
The registration of marriage in Lebanon is not regulated by the civil code in instance where the civil law is overruled by the PSL. Although PSL of every sect differ, some similarities can be found. For example, the marriage of women in the Moslem and Christian sects are alike in that they both require the exchange of consent and free will in order for a marriage to be applicable. However, Christian PSLs view marriage as a sacrament while Moslem marriages are considered as contracts, which are usually assumed to specifically specify the rights and responsibilities of the partners.
For example, the Sunni Moslem PSLs regard the marriage contract as the actual legal marriage ceremony. The contract is, most of the time, finalized at the home of the groom with only males in attendance. It is the bride’s male representative who signs for her. According to Article 8 of the Sunni PSL: “A Moslem woman at an eligible age (17 years and older) with a reasonable mind has the right to propose or announce marriage by her own consent.”
Some Christian sects such as the Protestant, Armenian, Orthodox and Roman Orthodox state that a woman becomes eligible for marriage at age 15 (Article 54 of Roman Orthodox sect). However, Catholic women are not regarded as eligible if they are under 17 years old, at which then parental approval is required. According to Article 24 of the Christian PSL, “a Christian Catholic woman is empowered to marry only if she obtains the consent of her parents and a statement from the priest that she has received parental approval, as well as the approval of the local head of the church for her marriage.” Article 18 of the Christian Roman Orthodox Sect states that, “the marriage ceremony must take place with the approval of the bride and groom, the announcement of the female’s wishes in marital life, and the female’s consent and approval of the marriage. The marriage ceremony must take place in public.”
According to Article 47 and 46, the PSLs of the Druze sect also require the woman’s approval for marriage. “A marriage contract for a woman should be undertaken by her guardian and upon her consent to do so.” The marriage of an adult Druze woman is considered possible when she is 17 years old. Then, a Druze woman must seek parental consent which then calls upon one of the sect’s Sheikhs to inform him of their daughter’s wish for marriage. The Sheikh then asks for a 15-day review period and if after 15 days he receives the parent’s consent, the girl will be free to marry. The same procedure goes for the Sunni sect; however, the Shiite sect, unlike the Druze and Sunni, does not require a female who is of age to acquire any permission from her custodian in order to marry. In other words, a Shiite woman can sign a marriage contract by her free will even if no custodian is present.
Furthermore, in regard to marriage laws, the PSL, Article 73, limits the freedom of Lebanese women to act and thus becomes the basis of their suppression by men. In the Moslem PSL, mutual consent and exchange of vows with the full knowledge of the conditions and wishes of both partners who act of their own free will, as found in the Greek Orthodox PSLs, is absent. Under the Moslem marriage laws, the husband possesses three rights over his wife: obedience, residence at home and the right to punish her. The wife, on the other hand, has only two minor rights over her husband: (1) financial rights and alimony and (2) moral rights: justice and equality among the different wives and fair treatment. In this respect, Moslem women are seen as objects manipulated by their husbands. Thus, Moslem women do not enjoy free will and the exchange of vows with full knowledge of their desired rights. Any objections to cruel treatment remain unspoken because the Moslem PSLs favor male authority.
Another vital issue to take note of in regard to marriage and relating to the status of Lebanese women is that a married women under both Moslem and Christian PSLs “must obtain travel permission signed by her husband on application to receive a passport or on renewing passports.”
Based on these issues and laws in marriage, it is clear that Lebanese women’s inferior status and capacity in marriage is governed by the traditional PSLs, which unjustly impose men authority over women. Thus, it can be said that customs and laws are still an authoritative factor regarding Lebanese women.
Divorce laws are possibly the most complex of the PSLs affecting Lebanese women because it is considered a religious act and thus, a traditional matter in Lebanese law. In the Catholic and Moslem sects, discrimination against women is very high since it is still very much bound by tradition and male authority, while in Orthodox, Protestant and Druze sects, women have some power to regulate divorce. In either case, Lebanese women are under male authority and dependent on religious male chiefs who will rule in the woman’s divorce only when it sounds acceptable and witnesses are presented. If these requirements are not met, divorce may be denied. Hence, discrimination against women is still very much present.
According to Lebanese laws, divorce is the abolition of the marriage contract. Concerning its effect on the status of women, it differs in every religious sect. In the Islamic law (except the Druze sect), Article 112 and 113 of the Lebanese Family Rights Code, which deals with divorce, states that “divorce is a man’s right; he can effect it independent of his wife, without her consent, and without resort to the court. There is no need for her consent and no need for a new dowry.”
However, in the case of non-Catholic Christians, a Christian woman can initiate divorce by requesting the cancellation of the marriage in court. With the court’s positive decision, she is granted legal separation based on the causes described in the law. In the Catholic Church, on the other hand, there is no divorce: “Marriage cannot be broken by any human authority until death.”
The Druze sect gave the wife the right to ask for divorce through the court which no longer made it the absolute right of the husband. Article 137 states that “it is upon the wife to demand divorce and her right to consult the Sheikh of her sect about divorce procedures and the reasons for claiming such a divorce. The divorce, then, will be granted and executed.”
According to the Lebanese PSLs of all religious communities, Moslem, Christian and Druze, the father has supreme authority over his children. Articles 121, 120 and 119 of the Moslem and Druze law state:
Article (121) It is required of the father figure to instruct and educate his children in
accordance with his authority and ability as a father.
Article (120) The father has the right to impose his authority over his children until they
reach the age of maturity, when the latter, cannot leave home without the father’s approval.
Article (119) The children should abide by the authority of their father and respect him
as a father figure no matter what their age.
Hence, parental authority favors the husband or the father. Similarly, in the Greek
Orthodox law, the father is given preference over the mother in the right to bring up their children. Also, in the Catholic sect, parental authority is usually given to the father and this can only be discharged by a court verdict. These discriminations against women are a discrimination to the Declaration of Elimination of Discrimination against Women which states: “Parents shall have equal rights and duties in matters relating to their children, and equal responsibilities of husband and wife on matters of parental authority.” Hence, the PSLs annul women’s parental authority in favor of patriarchal male parental authority.
Although forbidden in the Christian and Druze sect, but applicable to Shiites and Sunnis, polygamy represent a major discrimination against women in the Moslem law where women have no other choice but to submit to it. For instance, if a Moslem man decided to marry more than one woman and has the consent of the father of a woman he would like to marry, then most probably, the woman will accept to get married. Since she has been taught by her family that polygamy is not wrong and the community around is traditional, the woman will most likely not stand in for her rights.
Inheritance regulations under Christian PSLs (Article 9) of 23/6/1959 provide for “the transfer of the assets of the deceased to the heirs and to those covered in the will.” Thus, men and women are equal under this law; the deceased person can dictate the transfer of his assets to the heir stated in his will. However, this used to be in a case of a will but if no will was concerned, then, the male inherited twice the amount of a woman. But, this, under the Christian Law changed in 1959 and gave the same equal inheritance to both men and women.
Lebanese Moslems follow the Moslem law in matters of inheritance. A man inherits twice the amount a woman does. If the man dies and his wife is still living and does not leave an heir, she would inherit one fourth of the estate. However, if he has an heir, she receives one eighth. As for the husband, if his wife dies, in the first case he would inherit half and in the second case, a fourth. The principle that the male inherits the equivalent of the portion of two females applies equally to children. Moreover, according to the Sunni sect, the daughter does not inherit anything, while in the Shiite sect, article 146 states that “the daughter, even if she is an only child, receives all the inheritance.” In the Druze sect, inheritance follows the Sunni laws.
The Personal Status Laws vis a vis the UN Charter:
The UN Charter’s main aim is to promote equality. Therefore, equality between men and women remains a vital issue to confront in which the UN Charter also seeks equality in their rights, opportunities and responsibilities. Article 1 of the charter states the need to: “achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinctions.” Since Lebanon is a member of the United Nations, it has the responsibility to achieve equality despite its fundamental values of traditionalism. However, the Lebanese constitution remains controversial and the Personal Status Laws discriminate against the principles of the UN Charter. In matters of decision-making, inheritance, marriage and divorce, women’s capacity of independence in regard to their husband is nullified and hence are discriminated against and are culturally and traditionally found inferior to men. Thus, only through the full implementation of the UN Charter can women in Lebanon escape traditionalism. However, as long as the sectarian Personal Status Laws remain in effect, any concerted effort of Lebanese women to attain equal status will be in vain. If Lebanon does not make an effort to recognize the UN Charter’s provisions as a boost to improve the situation of women, the traditional Lebanese community will continue to ignore women’s emancipation as a major goal necessary for the stabilization of society. In other words, Lebanon needs to make the improvement of women right a priority in order to efficiently reform for the sake of the society.
III- Legal Improvements:
It is important to note that distinctive improvements have been noted in what concerns the legal status of women in Lebanon since the 1980s and in the following aspects:
1- Family Planning: Two articles in the Lebanese legal system have been eliminated since 1983. These stated that anyone who tried prescribing or promoting or even selling contraceptive methods and improve its accessibility should be punished.
2- Retirement: Unify age at retirement between women and men to 64 years, according to the social security law of 1987.
3- Real Estate: The law that prevented women to act as witnesses in the domain of real estate was completely modified by the year 1993 and allowed women to completely witness under any circumstances.
4- Business: Modification of the law that did not give married women the right to manage their own businesses unless she obtains her husband’s explicit or implicit consent to do so. This modification was accomplished in 1994.
5- Employment in the diplomatic sector: Elimination of the law that stated that women employed in the diplomatic sector should be transferred from foreign affairs to an administrative position in case she marries a foreigner. Also, Lebanon ratified CEDAW under one condition, which was to retain its reservation concerning women’s right in awarding their nationality to their children (article 9, item 2) and the equal right between women and men concerning marriage, family and children’s custody.
These improvements show that the Lebanese government has done some efforts to improve women rights and eliminate some forms of discrimination. It is a good start and it is slowly progressing. However, if more attention is put toward it, then it can progress in an even faster way. Nonetheless, women rights in Lebanon are gradually progressing as society reforms.
Part 2: Field Study and Interviews
After a thorough review of Lebanese laws that discriminate against women, I can now move to the second part of my research; the various field studies and interviews I performed while in Lebanon. The crucial point of this part is to show how various key figures interviewed, who play an important role in Lebanon in representing the thoughts of many, think in terms of women and the opinions the interviewees have about various vital issues that discriminate against women. As we have observed earlier, women are discriminated on three main levels: social, political and legal. It is important to note each level of discrimination and try connecting it to the way people think in Lebanon, which in turn is creating the prejudice. I have selected specific people that represent a large number of the populace and who possess different and similar ways of thoughts concerning the discriminations in order to observe the nature of injustice in the law. I will first start by briefly talking about each person I chose to interview and why their thoughts represent an important way of thinking in Lebanon. Then I will analyze and discuss the interviews as a whole and highlight what struck me most while relating it to the various reasons why injustice is occurring in regard to the law. Next, based on the interviews, I will draw my reaction to the interviews and observe the social, religious, legal and political dimensions of the injustice while showing how a particular way of thought is bringing the Lebanese society to its current standing.
I interviewed 13 different people in Lebanon, each chosen carefully, as they represented both an intellectual and general way of thought in Lebanon. In order to represent a rational way of analysis, I interviewed people from every sect that represent a social, religious, legal, or political stature in Lebanon. Also, to avoid missing main ideas, I created a general interview form that I used for most of the interviews and modified it as needed. In the interview form, I first proceeded by introducing myself, in addition to describing the research I was doing. Second, I asked the interviewees to give me their general vision and perception of Lebanese women and where they stand today. Third, I asked them about the various discriminatory laws in regard to political, religious and social issues. Finally, I asked them about the traditional values of Lebanese society and possible solutions.
Representing the religious dimension of people I met, two top Christian/Maronite figures. Moutran Abou Jaoude, now retired, was the president of the religious tribunal, which dealt with family matters such as marriage, divorce, and children custody. Presently he is still major figure of the Maronite sect just below his Excellency the head of the Maronite religious community, Patriarche Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir. His views are important because he possesses a great deal of knowledge on the subject and on the various laws in regard to women in Lebanon. The other I interviewed is the top figure of the Maronites in Lebanon -- Patriarche Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir. His views are crucial because he is the highest figure representing the Maronite sect in Lebanon and the general voice for all Christians. Then, to represent a large number of the Shiite sect in Lebanon and a rising influential force, I held an interview with Hizbullah officials. First I met with Set Reema Hajji, who is the political advisor of Hizbullah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. And second, I met with a Hizbullah religious figure, Cheikh Mohammad Kawtharani, who takes care of Shiite issues concerning family matters. From the Sunni side, I met with Cheikh Ziad Saheb, who is the President of the Islamic association in Lebanon and preaches people toward Islam. From the Druze sect, I met with Suheil Hamade, who is chief of parole in the Druze court.
Next, to represent the social dimension, I went to various organizations that dealt with women rights and advancement in Lebanese society to both observe their work and look at how they try to improve women’s rights. Amongst the various organizations I visited are the Good Shepherd Sisters, in origin French and whose mission is to be present for women and girls who are beaten or who need help; the Lebanese Women Democratic Gathering which is committed to protect and promote the culture of women’s rights within human rights, eliminate violence against women, and promote women’s involvement in economic, social, and political fields.
I also interviewed two ministries in Lebanon: the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Labour. Both are important for interviews for this study because they represent the legal dimension of the discriminations. From the Ministry of Labour, I interviewed Nazha Challita, a Moslem Sunnite woman who is chief of service of Labour, and Zouhair Fayad, a Druze head figure in the ministry.
From the legal dimension, I interviewed lawyers and Member of Parliament. Among them is MP Cheikh Farid Elias el Khazen who was recently elected in the Christian district of Jounieh and who was the Political Science Department advisor at American University of Beirut. I also interviewed Ibrahim Traboulsi, a family law lawyer, and also Father Abdo Kassm, who is judge of the Catholic tribunal on family matters in Lebanon.
This vast array of individuals I interviewed represent from one way or another the various different thoughts in Lebanon. Also we can observe from each interview as we analyze it how Lebanon came to be the way it is and what is halting its reform. As a start, one might wonder how confusing the Lebanese system is with this vast array of different individuals and all based on religion. One might notice that law, religion and politics all are a related entity and the very reason for the label of each person by its religion. That is because, as stated earlier, Lebanon’s constitution is based on religious divide and representation. Each individual represents their sect, but not the entire Lebanese population. Hence, an important point to note as I move to the analysis of the interviews is that each people interviewed mostly talked for their sect and represented their own religious thinking but however is not necessarily what every person of that particular sect is in agreement with. In other words, over-generalization based on what a person said should not be made to the entire religious community.
II) Discussion/Analysis of Interviews:
From the very first interviewee and sentence in the interview, Motran Abou Jaoude articulated that “Lebanon is a Middle Eastern country and hence is male dominated and it is based on tradition, we follow the blood of the father.” Right away, I had to place Lebanon in a regional context more than an internal one. I remarked that Abou Jaoude had raised a crucial point regarding Middle Eastern society and how tradition still played a fundamental role. Further stated by MP Farid el Khazen: “in order to first discuss women, we have to put Lebanon in a regional context. In Lebanon, both in practice and law, women have more rights than in other Arab countries.” Hence, from one hand, I had a key religious figure stating that Lebanon is in fact male dominated because of the region it is situated in and from the other, a key politician raising that based on regional location, women in Lebanon do enjoy a lot more rights than in other Arab countries. This first remark on the importance of Lebanon based on its regional location hinted to me that regional factors do affect Lebanon.
Next, I asked the perceptions and views of various interviewees on women in Lebanon. This is crucial to become aware of how each person perceives women and her condition in regard to men. Overall, everyone demonstrated positive views about women but demonstrated through the interviews different thoughts of women in general and her role in society. Abou Jaoude held that “Women in Lebanon are educated and there is no reason why they are not at the same level of women in the Occident.” Cheikh Mohammad Kawtharani noted that it is however imperative that women be aware of their rights because they are not: “If they knew their rights, they would be over the men’s position.” This raises a concern: While Abou Jaoude stated that women are educated enough and possess the means to be as advanced as women in the Occident, Kawtharani, however, observed that if women knew more about their rights, they would have been more capable to exercise them. Furthermore, Druze minister Suhail Hamade affirmed that “The Lebanese woman possesses character as she learns more” and that “with time, her role will become increasingly important, with condition ,that the society helps her advance so that she understands that she is important.” Here, we can observe three different perceptions of women. From the Christian side, women should have no problem being at the height of others, from the Moslem side, women should learn more of their rights to be able to exercise it completely, and from the Druze, women need the help of society to advance effectively. Patriarche Sfeir also added that “Here in Lebanon, women did not yet gain all her rights. Men gained more rights than women. However, nowadays, women in Lebanon came to a stage where she can do more than just be a mother,” hence also portraying women positively in the current Lebanese society. However, almost immediately after raising some views on women, each person, according to their sect started referring to women in their own sect rather than being Lebanese first. As MP el Khazen affirmed; “in the Christian sect, women enjoy more freedom. In the Hizbullah areas (Shiites) they apply the Iranian code of school, education, and dress. All Islamic views are the same concerning women.” Further, Patriarche Sfeir also said that: “In the Christian religion, women have the same rights as men,” and that “We as Christians, want to advance her condition, however the Moslems are refusing to advance.” Thus, one comes to examine that, right away, women in Lebanon are differentiated based on their sects and that one cannot talk about Lebanese women in general unless referring to her specific religion. This all ties back to the confessional structure of the Lebanese state that places lines between each sect, which makes it almost impossible to view a person for the nation first regardless of his/her religion. In fact, the only ones that made minor reference to religion were the women’s rights organization I interviewed. For instance, during my whole interview with Wadad Shartouha, founder of the Lebanese Women Democratic Gathering, she refrained from differentiating between women and religion. In fact she even stated that: “We refuse to meet with religious leaders because it will not lead us anywhere.” Shartouha, by not differentiating between women of various sects, successfully located the problem and affirmed that “The structure of confessionals and tribal is the biggest problem that is halting a civil code into being established. The problem with ‘democracy of confessionals’ is that every confession wants their parts and this is creating a governmental crisis. In addition, not only does this structure halt reforms for women but also it halts a democratic development in the country.” Hence, only a democratic organization for women who tries campaigning for civil law and who know that women rights will never improve unless the state structure changes, knows it is heading in the right direction. It is better than having to differentiate between Moslems and Christians every time an issue is brought or blaming one or the other that the Lebanese society is where it is today. As long as a sect blames the other, Lebanon cannot advance.
In regard to the legal perspective concerning the source of women discrimination, family lawyer Ibrahim Traboulsi made clear that because of religious laws in Lebanon, and the fact that every community has its own law, discrimination cannot be avoided. Hence he states that “The best thing to insure equality among everyone is to put a civil law.” Furthermore, he affirms that a civil law contradicts the Quran and thus this is the main reason why Moslem key figures reject it. When I asked Sunni Cheikh Ziad Saheb about a civil law, he indeed said he strongly stood against it. “I want to continue like this in the Islamic law. Religion and nation, beginning and end, mind and heart, material and spiritual all in one. Islam serves as a regulation for everything. It has a law and verdict. It is a complete system to govern everything. You cannot take just take some parts of Islam, you have to take it all, the complete system you have to apply because it tackles everything in society.” Also, both Set Reema Hajji and Cheikh Mohammad Kawtharani have the same stance on the civil law. Suheil Hamade, minister of the Druze court, however, stated that he supported a civil law although some Druzes are against. However, he seemed very optimistic about the civil law because it seemed very practical to him.
Next, when asked about the source of discrimination, almost everyone agreed that the political, religious, and traditional factors are the biggest problems that are halting any forms of reform in Lebanon. Zouhair Fayad, Druze director in the Ministry of Labour, first stated that “all our problems in Lebanon, whether it is about women or children or lack of basic rights, come from politics.” Furthermore he added that: “the religious system in Lebanon is also halting the development of the law.” However, Set Reema Hajji, Hizbullah’s political advisor, leaned more toward tradition as the source of the injustice: “the discrimination is not due to the law but because the society created the discrimination.” She also noted that the mentality of the people, in other words, the way people are traditionally oriented and follow a certain thought, is the issue. Similarly, the Ministry of Social Affairs also recognized that mentality poses a big problem and that we need to change it. Furthermore, Shartouha also pointed that “we have to change the mentality of Lebanese people if we want to advance.” Hence, we can clearly state that mentality, which is attached to traditions, is a barrier to reforms because people themselves are refusing to change the way they perceive women in the society: that they should be good mothers, housewives and should not worry as much as men about work. This statement can be validated by looking at Set Hajji contradicting herself by stating that her definition of a successful woman is “first and foremost to be a good mother. Family is the most important thing for the society. Only, if she is a good mother, then she can work.” This very statement proves that she is too dwelled into the traditional image of the society and of how a successful woman should be in the eyes of the community that she herself is unable to change her mentality regarding women. The traditional nature of society has taken over even rational people into thinking that it is only women’s role to take care of the family and the men to be the primary provider and chief. Exactly as Hizbullah Cheikh Kawtharani put it, “the laws, the politics and society are not giving the chance to women to advance in society like men did.” Thus it is clear that society is putting constraints on women without even noticing. In addition, Suheil Hamade of the Druze sect also stated that “we have to be aware that women were not born to work in a big career field. This is because her primary goal is to be with children, take care of her house, and her husband before all. She has to take care of her husband and he has to be happy.” Hence such views contest everything they stated about the advancement of women in society. How can they expect a change in mentality if they are themselves drawn into traditional mentality and are unable to identify it and yet they state that tradition is the problem? This directly brings us back to the reason why one sect blames the other. As observed, mostly Moslems stated that the primary role of women were to be good mothers. The Christian side appeared indeed more open, which in turn led them to blame the other for where we are today in regard to women rights. MP el Khazen for instance claimed that “In 1997, civil marriage was proposed in Lebanon, however it was vetoed by Hariri and all Moslems. In Islam there is no civil marriage.” Furthermore, Father Abdo Kassm stated that: “Overall Moslems are very conservative. Christians are more open, we cannot come to an agreement.” Also Patriarche Sfeir affirmed that: “we, as Christians, want to advance her condition, however the Moslems are refusing to advance,” and in regard to accepting a civil code he replied: “If the Moslems accept, we accept,” in other words, knowing that key Moslem figures would deny a civil law because it is contrary to Islam. Therefore, at this rate it is hard to see any positive future change into a better Lebanon. People have to reform their traditional values. They have to be able to pinpoint it first in order to move on toward better rights established for women. In addition, accusing others for where the Lebanese society is today is not going to lead anywhere but to more sectarianism and in turn is going to halt even more the process of reform.
Socially, in matters regarding family laws, and various other discriminations against women such as polygamy, nationality, parental custody after divorce, these are all a result of traditional values which in turn made the laws discriminate in this manner. In addition, the ways politics is and because of the confessionals aspect of Lebanon, reform is having a hard time progressing. As Zouhair Fayad stated, “Socially, change is occurring, but the law is not adjusting to it. In other words, the law is stable and it is not moving with the rhythm of life” and also highlighted that the religious system and political instability are both halting reform. Also Shartouha cited that the problem comes from within and that this structure of confessionals is undemocratic and has to change. However, Set Hajji contests this very claim by saying that: “In Lebanon, every sect chose to have their religious law. Thus this is democracy.” Also, from a realistic view, some people simply believe that Lebanon cannot change and a civil law and being secular will not resolve our problems. As Father Kassm states, “I do not think it is possible to have a civil code or else Lebanon would lose its identity. A civil code in no way can work in Lebanon. I would like to but with 18 communities, it cannot happen.” What Father Kassm reaches actually is understanding because everyone wants something different and no one ever agrees because they all base themselves on religious scriptures and traditions and mix everything in politics. For instance, regarding testimony, Sunni Cheikh Ziad Saheb affirms that “emotionally a women is superior (double the man) and rationally the man is superior (double the woman)” and that is why in the Islamic thread they require two women to testify as opposed to one man; the women is much more susceptible to be drawn into her emotions because, according to Islam, by nature she is more gentle, caring and loving and thus, it could get in the way. This way of thought for instance would enrage many Christians but also other secular Moslems. At the end, the laws regarding each issue were made in regard to the religious and traditional nature of the state and politics is not efficiently helping the state reform.
III) Reactions, thoughts and possible solution:
After interviewing the many different people and analyzing what they had to say about Lebanon, the thing that struck me most was the sectarian nature of Lebanese society. Never before did I think Lebanon was this divided between different sects. The way people talked immediately brought to my attention that people are still very much attached to their roots and tradition and they seem constantly in fear that if they change the system, one group or another might be oppressed. Having done considerable research on Lebanon, I can right away say and agree with some of the interviewees that political instability in addition to tradition and religion are major factors halting or slowing down reform, not just in regard to women rights but also in regard to human rights as a whole. After my thorough analysis, in addition to my review of Lebanese laws vis-a-vis women, the next crucial step that needs to be taken in order to start moving forward is first and foremost, identifying the nature of the problem and coming together in a sort of mutual understanding in order to improve women and human rights in general. Also being able to accept criticism from one another is important. Furthermore, it is acceptable to disagree on some issues and on the way to resolve some things as long as the end result that we all would like to reach is the same. For example, if one thinks that the best solution to eliminate discrimination against women is to abide by Islamic rule, while another might think that the best solution is a civil law to eliminate all forms of discrimination. Let us stop here for a minute and think about this instance. The end result here is the elimination all discrimination against women rights. One believes it can be done religiously while the other secularly. This is what I call a healthy democracy; being able to accept each other’s views and work through them for a common understanding of what full women’s rights means. In other words, dialogue, interaction and cooperation between key political figures are essential for advancement and improvement. A healthy working country that enjoys a vast array of rights and that is considered a democracy always has different school of thoughts on many issues. However, as long as everyone identifies themselves as part of the nation, before his/her religion, then the state is sure to remain fair and democratic. Thus, in Lebanon, people have to learn to look past their fear of being oppressed by another sect and all come under one nation: the nation of Lebanon where people can come together, in opposition or agreement, but be able to still open dialogue and be willing to adjust to the needs of a pluralistic country. In other words, sacrifices have to be made in order to reach a common understanding that everyone can be satisfied of.
However, before being able to fully conclude and propose a solution, we have to identify all the problems that are causing a halt on reform. Then we have to tackle each problem by first knowing what we want in term of reform and what must change. We also have to define Lebanon: is it a democracy? Is it based on sects? Should it remain divided? What is Lebanese identity? Those types of questions are crucial to coming to a common understanding to what we want to accomplish.
The problems I have picked up after the interviews were first, constant sectarianism talks that kept getting in the way of essential women rights as Lebanese before belonging to their sects. Second, the perception of women differs widely. Third, constant blaming of the other sect for all the problems Lebanon has today. Fourth, the issue of civil law: if Lebanon acquires it, whether it would lose its identity. Fifth, political, religious, traditional, and legal factors that are interfering with women rights. What is an efficient way to address those factors and have less injustice toward women? Sixth, the mentality of the people is of course a problem. However, people who talk of it have to be able to see it in them before saying that it has to change.
The abovementioned are all problems that I examined from the interviews and that are posing a problem. The Lebanese government should no longer say that changing women’s laws is not a priority now. It is but it comes with specific steps. The first step is to acknowledge the discriminations nationally and define what Lebanon is -- democracy? Only then, we can provide further solutions to solving the various discriminations. We cannot jump from the first step to the last. Everything has to happen gradually as long as leaders start accepting each other’s ideas and come together under one nation and not their religion. Education is key. The younger generation has to be taught in an open environment while being mixed between each other. Also, it is crucial to teach young Lebanese that they belong to the nation before their religion. Furthermore, once sectarianism is diminished, people will be more likely to come together and open dialogue on such problems. Once dialogue is opened and the various level of discriminations acknowledged, Then Lebanon can start looking for a brighter future and ultimately sign all international laws on human rights such as CEDAW without any reservations.
My aim in this research and study was to locate the reasons behind the discriminations against women in Lebanon. The end result I was trying to reach was how tradition, politics and religion can influence a nation and halt the very reform of women rights and other major rights that needs to be attained. In addition, what I found out was both compelling and surprising. The sectarian nature of Lebanon, as I observed, is the most influencing factor that is affecting the Lebanese society. I have also noted that laws are strongly influenced by gender stereotypes embedded in social traditions about gender roles. Also, family law is regulated by religious laws and courts. There might be a lack of political will to challenge those long-standing social traditions. Also it is important to note that women sometimes get the wrong idea about their rights by listening to popular, and thus, traditional understanding. There should be strong action taken to educate the mass and provide accurate information and advice about fundamental legal rights and the ways to use them. Because tradition has been a certain way for centuries, it does not mean it cannot change and the world is not modernizing. Women should stand up for their rights and take action for positive change toward full equality between men and women in Lebanon. In this research, I have examined in detail Lebanese laws in regard to women, and then I have conducted a series of interviews while making sure to include people from every sect. I have then proceeded to a thorough and systematic analysis and discussion of the interviews while raising the most striking responses that both led me to believe more about the sectarian nature of the state and that proved me how tradition, politics and religion all are influences that are halting efficient women’s rights reform. I have also raised specific questions, concerns and solutions. Finally, I have addressed the problem I identified by proposing various solutions.
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