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By Laudy Issa
KAFA’s new unifying draft for a civil personal status law in Lebanon seems more essential than ever during the COVID-19 lockdown, considering the “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” that United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently spoke of.
The Hivos WE4L partner, a civil society organization established in 2005 to end exploitation and violence against women, is strongly advocating for the introduction of a new civil law that ensures equality between women and men in Lebanon in all personal affairs.
Lebanese personal status laws practically render women “secondary citizens,” as highlighted by another Hivos Partner, Lebanon Support, in their latest publication on women’s political participation in Lebanon and the limits of aid-driven empowerment. One of the most cited distinction between women and men in Lebanon is the prior’s inability to pass on their nationality to their children, in addition to the lack of recognition of and protection from marital rape.
“The reality that women live through under sectarian [personal status] laws contradicts the most basic human rights proclaimed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” reads the new draft from KAFA.
Before delving into the contents of the draft, KAFA sheds light on the shared experience of injustice and inequality that women in Lebanon continue to live through.
“The sectarian laws, which reflect a patriarchal, hierarchical structure that was dominant in previous centuries, have wronged and marginalized women,” says KAFA. Women, according to the civil society group, no longer accept being placed on the sidelines of history.
Aside from the unfairness of sectarian laws, the Hivos WE4L partner believes modernizing and unifying the laws that govern personal affairs in Lebanon are essential to being able to respond to the needs of citizens. Their updated law protects the rights of the individual, family and society, putting both women and children on equal footing with the men that current laws favor.
“Citizenship should be directly tied to the state rather than pass through sects,” KAFA states.
KAFA’s draft civil personal status law, funded by the Netherlands Foreign Ministry FLOW fund, protects women through 157 articles divided under two broad categories: marriage and inheritance. Under marriage, KAFA highlights general provisions, issues related to marriage, children, divorce, disputes of parentage, and adoption. Under inheritance, the WE4L partner discusses wills, the distribution of estates, missing persons’ properties, revocation, acceptance, executors of wills, and lawsuits regarding inheritance among other things.
In conjunction, Kafa also published a legal study on the history of suggested unifying personal status laws in Lebanon.
“If we review all the bills, we can see that they affirm the principle of equality between men and women,” reads the KAFA study. “But when we go into the details of their rights and duties, the level of equality falls back to be replaced by discrimination.”
Earlier personal status bills were more discriminatory, as noted by KAFA. Later bills offered more protection. Despite that, we see bills that place women in a weaker bargaining position over the custody of their children –which can be used to practice authority over them.
KAFA’s draft is unifying, which means only one personal status law would be used for everyone in the country, as opposed to the 15 separate personal status laws currently utilized by the different recognized religious communities in Lebanon.
Going past the individual level, KAFA’s unifying personal status law offers a unique gateway to a level of democratization that has not been seen at a national level in the country.
Their updated law is focused on a human rights system alone, separating legislation from personal religious beliefs in a way that ensures equality for all members of society and balances individual rights, freedoms, and duties.
“The multiplicity of sects in Lebanon poses a unique challenge,” says KAFA, which maintains the absolute right of citizens to practice their religions freely but also criticizes how us institutions and sectarian politics cling to personal status laws as a way to maintain their authority and power over people. “Politicians need to want to change.”