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Lebanese, but not Lebanese
Nationality is conferred on children by their fathers, not their mothers, an inequality that is meeting with increasing resistance in Beirut.
March 11, 2010 9:27 by Katherine Azmeh
At a recent Sunday luncheon in an upscale suburb of Beirut, a Canadian friend and his Lebanese wife introduced their newborn son to family and friends. The proud father sported a button on his lapel, proclaiming his support for a women’s issue that is becoming a hot topic of debate in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East.
Translated from the Arabic, the message contends: “My Nationality: For me and for them!”
In much of the region, nationality is conferred on children by their fathers, not by their mothers. In Lebanon and elsewhere, this inequality is meeting with increasing resistance, as more families call on their governments to recognize the citizenship of children born to parents of mixed nationalities.
“When the laws in most countries in the MENA and Gulf regions say that a citizen is someone born of a father of that country only, this clearly says that the state considers that only men are real citizens,” contends Lina Abou-Habib. She is executive director for the Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action (CRTD.A) – a non-governmental feminist organization based in Beirut, and working across the MENA and Gulf regions.
“Being denied the right to nationality directly [means] being denied social, economic and political rights,” Ms. Abou-Habib explains, hinting at the complex social issues that underlie the nationality debate.
For years, lawmakers have argued that mother to child nationality legislation would jeopardize religious or cultural stability. A draft law which would see equality between the genders in granting nationality rights was submitted to the Lebanon Parliament in May 2009, but has not met with much support.
The matter is particularly sensitive in Lebanon, where the confessional system of government performs a delicate balancing act among the diverse religious and ethnic constituency – distributing political power proportionally among the religious groups.
However women’s rights advocates challenge this notion, questioning the assertion that the prevalence of marriages between Lebanese women and non-citizens is high enough to effect changes in the political balance. Rather, activists highlight the many barriers to heath care, education, civic participation, and employment opportunities that hinder children of mixed nationality families.
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