Amid ongoing Mother's Day festivities, and on a more somber note, it is crucial to remember the hardships mothers face under patriarchal systems across the Arab world. Lebanese mothers are a case in point.
Despite significant strides accomplished in recent years, Lebanese women continue to be subjected to unjust laws, with the rights of mothers falling among the causes championed by women's rights groups.
Apart from struggling with societal pressure and gender norms, Lebanese mothers face injustice under the country's personal status and nationality laws:
Lebanese mothers are barred from passing on their nationality to their children
Women's rights activists in the country have repeatedly called for the amendment of Lebanon's 1925 nationality law.
The outdated law denies the Lebanese citizenship to children and spouses of Lebanese women married to foreign men. Meanwhile, foreign women married to Lebanese men are allowed citizenship after one year, and the children of Lebanese fathers are granted the Lebanese citizenship.
Additionally, the law grants citizenship to children "born in Lebanon who would not otherwise acquire another nationality through birth or affiliation, or those born in Lebanon to unknown parents or parents of unknown nationalities."
"Children of Lebanese mothers with unknown paternity therefore have greater claims to citizenship than those with Lebanese mothers and a known foreign father," according to the HRW.
Lebanese politicians have long argued against amending the nationality law, claiming that granting Lebanese citizenship to Palestinian men married to Lebanese women would disturb Lebanon's sectarian balance.
However, a 2016 census of Palestinians in Lebanon found only 3,707 cases "of a Palestinian head of household married to a spouse of a different nationality," according to the HRW.
As a result of the controversial law, non-citizen children and spouses face a multitude of struggles affecting various aspects of their lives. They are required to reapply for legal residency in Lebanon every one to three years and to obtain a permit to work in the country.
They are also denied access to national health insurance and government-subsidized medical care, and discriminated against in public schools and universities and in the job market.
For further insight on the reality of living under Lebanon's nationality law, StepFeed reached out to Razan Mneimneh, a Lebanese woman married to a Palestinian man. The Beirut-based couple now has a three-month old son, who was born in the United States.
"I was in denial at first. I kept jokingly telling myself, and others around me, that my son is better off without it anyway. But, as time passed during my pregnancy, I slowly starting [sic] growing an anger and deep resentment towards the unjust political system that was depriving my son out of a nationality his mother should rightfully pass on. This basic humanitarian right shouldn't even be up for discussion or debate," she said.
Discrimination in personal status laws amounts to "moral abuse"
Lebanese women struggle under the country's personal status laws. Lebanese NGO KAFA - meaning enough - Violence & Exploitation describes the injustice and discrimination under said laws as "moral abuse," since women are treated as "subordinates rather than partners."
This comes as Lebanon does not have a unified civil personal status law, but instead, leaves it to each of its religious sects to apply its own law on personal matters. Lebanon thus has 15 separate personal status laws administered by separate religious courts.
Among the most pressing issues under Lebanese personal status laws are the provisions pertaining to mothers' custody over their children.
In all denominations, custody in the event of divorce is mainly determined based on a child's age. Mothers only take custody of their young children up until a certain age, which varies per sect (refer to above table), after which custody reverts to the fathers.
However, Muslim Sunni and Christian judges are allowed to take into account the best interest of the child while deciding who maintains primary care, but this remains subject to the judges' discretionary authority.
According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), women can easily lose custody of their children if they remarry. They can also be deemed "unfit" for custody over actions such as having a tattoo, posting photos on Facebook, or having a job.
Plus, under the Shia personal status law, a non-Muslim mother is denied the right to maternal custody over her children, regardless of their age, according to KAFA.
Mothers are also undermined when it comes to guardianship, which is defined as "the preservation and upbringing of children and their assets until they reach adulthood."
In all groups except the Armenian-Orthodox, fathers have the right to guardianship, even when children are in the custody of their mothers. As the peremptory moral and financial guardian, a father has the exclusive right to make decisions about his children's education, travel, assets...
Speaking to StepFeed, Raghida Ghamlouch, a program manager at ABAAD, said the country's personal status laws discriminate against women not only in comparison with men, but also in comparison with other women based on their religious backgrounds. She noted that women's rights groups insist on the need for a unified civil personal status law.
According to Ghamlouch, child custody provisions force many women to endure violence and domestic abuse, rather than pursue divorce, fearing they would otherwise lose custody of their children.
Apart from unjust personal status laws, women struggle to seek their rights before religious courts. Ghamlouch explained that religious judges often adopt patriarchal views, leading to verdicts that usually serve the interests of male parties.
Therefore, on several occasions, public outrage erupted over cases of children being forcibly taken away from their divorced mothers in execution of religious verdicts.
Ghamlouch said concrete change can only be achieved if various sectors united their efforts. She also highlighted the significant feats accomplished by women's rights activists, adding that she maintains an optimistic view for the future of the movement.
This Mother's Day, let's grant mothers their rights
This Mother's Day, and everyday, we pay tribute to the mothers making sacrifices on a daily basis, the mothers finding strength despite decades of systematic oppression, and the mothers fighting to change the status quo, each in her own way.
Mothers play a crucial role in the women's rights movement, and it's high time they obtain the rights they are entitled to.