Women were once silenced in the 10,452-square-kilometer land of patriarchy. But as the Oct. 17 revolution has proven, Lebanese women are fed up with their spot on the sidelines. They are on the frontlines now, demanding their rights be given and voices be heard.
Lebanese NGO KAFA - meaning "Enough" in Arabic - recently released a powerful video titled "A Story of People." It tells the tale of Lebanese women's evolution over the years, from accepting their treatment as second-class citizens to becoming outspoken individuals who won't take "NO" for an answer. The video does so through the lens of a fictional character named Lama, who is a victim of the flaws that exist in the Lebanese society that hinder women's place in a so-called man's world.
The country's revolution gave women like Lama the chance to rise up against the flawed system and burst the patriarchy's little bubble of primitiveness.
The video starts off by telling the story of Lama, a young girl who knows exactly how to handle the many obstacles individuals in Lebanon must deal with on a daily basis — from the power outages to filthy tap water.
"She dreamed of finishing her studies ... but everything changed quickly when they decided she was already a woman," the video states, referencing the country's lack of protection of minors in the case of marriage. In Lebanon, there is no minimum age for marriage, something KAFA has been fighting against for years.
As a country with multiple religions, the Lebanese law grants the authority to the various religious courts over personal matters, leaving women under sectarian personal status laws rather than a unified governmental one. Thus, women are left exactly where they have always been regarding personal matters including marriage and other familial issues.
As such, each religious sect has distinct personal status laws governing marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Some of these laws allow girls younger than 15 to get married.
The video moves on to talk about Lama's friend Ayman whose mother, Nawal, "worked hard all her life to give her children everything they needed." Despite all her hard efforts, she couldn't give them the one thing they needed to excel in the country: her nationality.
So Ayman, despite earning a university degree, ended up working at a coffee shop with a man named Nabil.
This section of the video criticizes Lebanon's nationality law which only allows Lebanese men married to foreign wives to pass on their nationality to children and spouses while Lebanese women married to foreign men cannot do the same.
Women's rights activists in the country have repeatedly called for the amendment of Lebanon's 1925 nationality law. 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 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.
Now, speaking of Nabil ... this man met a woman named Suha, fell in love, but didn't know that his love would be met with obstacles as the country he lives in doesn't recognize interfaith marriages. Again, this has to do with the fact that the country lacks a civil code for personal status matters, including both marriage and divorce.
Thus, many Lebanese who opt to have civil marriage travel abroad to do so. Cyprus is the most commonly known destination; some travel agencies even provide packages to facilitate the process for couples.
According to a 2015 Human Rights Watch report, those who marry under a civil code abroad do so for one of two reasons. Either because they want to refrain from being subject to religious laws or because they are from different religious backgrounds. The Lebanese Court of Cassation, the country's highest court, recognizes these marriages in accordance with Article 25 of Decree 60 L.R. Their marriage contract is governed by the respective country's civil code.
"More than 800 Lebanese couples married in civil ceremonies in Cyprus in 2011," according to HRW.
And when two people of the same religion actually do fall in love, sometimes that marriage results in domestic violence against the woman. The lack of laws to protect women from such abuse is another major problem in Lebanon, which often renders women helpless in situations where children are in the picture. Why? Custody talks.
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, after which custody reverts to the fathers. However, each religious court makes its own decisions pertaining to other cases as well.
The above is the heartbreaking story of Mariam in KAFA's video. But women aren't accepting the reality anymore. They are rewriting their own stories in hopes of a better Lebanon for future female generations.
A Story Of A Revolution:
"This story started a long time ago. We couldn't speak out back then, we couldn't tell our stories," the video states towards the end of the video before showing a different side of women today.
"A girl who decided that she doesn't need permission to speak up ... and when she did, all the women spoke up with her and all the people spoke up with them," the video continues.
"I am writing this story so we can complete it together. A story of people living in a country, a story of a girl living with those people, a story of heroes who decided to break into the story that has been repeating itself for decades to change the ending ... and write new stories."