BEIRUT: Several hundred women’s rights activists marched in Beirut Wednesday calling for a reform of the Nationality Law, which doesn’t allow women to pass on their nationality to their families.
“I’m Lebanese … and my son is American,” said Anastasia Walker, who married an American man and said she was “completely ignorant” of the Nationality Law before her now 2-year-old son was born.
“As a Lebanese woman, not being able to give my nationality to my son is frustrating,” the 37-year-old said, adding she felt like “less of a person.”
The current Nationality Law, which was adopted under the French Mandate in 1925, allows men to pass on their nationality to their non-Lebanese wives and children a year after their marriage is registered, but prohibits Lebanese women, married to non-Lebanese, from doing the same.
According to U.N. figures in 2010, around 18,000 Lebanese women married non-Lebanese men between 1995 and 2008, and 41,400 individuals are children of a Lebanese mother and a foreign father.
A draft law aimed at replacing the current Nationality Law was first presented to Parliament in 2005, but was never examined by legislators.
A minor breakthrough was achieved last year, as a decree approved in April 2010 and effective since September now allows the children of Lebanese mothers and foreign fathers to be granted a renewable three-year residency permit.
With the formation of a new Cabinet and Speaker Nabih Berri announcing last week that legislative sessions to approve a series of bills will begin Aug. 3, activists are hoping the draft law will finally be debated.
Protesters chanting slogans such as “Me, my husband and my sons are strangers in this country” and “This is your right, women” marched from the Interior Ministry in Sanayeh to Riad Solh square, where organizers handed a copy of the draft law to a government representative, Omar Natour, the director general of the Justice Ministry
“We’re mobilizing because we now have a new government, and we’re hoping it can do something to change the law,” said Lama Naja, from the campaign, “My nationality is my right and the right of my family,” organizing the demonstration.
She said she had no idea whether the draft law would be put on the legislative session’s agenda.
“We haven’t heard anything … we’re hoping they will amend [the law] but nothing is certain,” Naja said, arguing the obstacles preventing the law’s approval are still the same.
“It’s hard because of sectarian groups who think a reform of the Nationality Law will affect the demographic balance between religions,” she said, adding that the idea that “most Lebanese women marry Muslims” is still very present.
Many believe that the new law would also lead to naturalization of Palestinian refugees married to Lebanese women.
A study entitled “Predicament of Lebanese Women Married to Non-Lebanese,” published in December 2009 by the National Committee for the Follow-up on Women’s Issues, proved the argument was unfounded, with only 2 percent of Lebanese women marrying non-Lebanese.
“We’ve been lobbying for years, and because of the unstable political situation, this law has never seen the light,” said Farah Kobaissy, an activist from the feminist group Nasawiya, who added that there were “no excuses anymore for not passing the law.”
To her, the arguments opposing the law are “silly” and are no more than “excuses” used by “all governments” not to pass the law.
She believed that even if the new law would actually put the demographic balance at risk, “women’s rights come first.”
Ali, a 32-year-old who preferred not to give his last name, said his sister was affected by the law and said he would campaign for the law to be reformed because “It’s about human rights.”
Mayada Abdallah, 30, said that since “Lebanon signed all international conventions; we must have this right.” She described the situation as “unbelievable in a democratic country.”
Lebanon ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1996, but expressed reservations about article 9.2, which stipulates that states should grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children.
Women’s rights activists have since then been calling for the reservation to be withdrawn.