Some have faced authorities on the frontlines. Others have formed a human barricade to separate protesters from armed forces. One even kicked a loaded bodyguard in the groin. Women have had enough with the patriarchal system that prioritizes men. They refuse to be silenced, they refuse to be patronized — not anymore.
Lebanese women led the October revolution because it's time their voices be heard. They, after decades of fighting, demand to be seen. Women of all ages and backgrounds have been taking to the streets to protest against the ruling elites in Lebanon and the patriarchal systems in place.
Women from towns with high political affiliation did not mince their words. As outspoken as ever, they scrutinized those leaders with no filter whatsoever. Women in many parts of the world, and particularly in the Arab region, are often told to resort to the "politeness" theory while speaking. That is, women must use language that is deemed polite by society (aka no cuss words), must have a certain feminine tone when speaking (whatever that means), and must be emotional, supportive, and not too quiet, yet not too loud in their approach.
Women from the northern, southern, and central parts of Lebanon took part in the protests and demonstrated that there is no such thing as "women's language" while challenging the idea of politeness. Their words were angry, candid, and bold — and they did not hold back, not for a second. They were far from the polite lady narrative society has perpetuated for years. They finally got to be themselves. They were women with voices, with demands, with honor. That's how they should be described.
They challenged gender norms society has set for women. She shouldn't go down to the streets because she *should* stay at home. She shouldn't confront an armed man because she *should* obey his orders. She shouldn't scream at the top of her lungs because she *should* speak gently and politely. No, women are done with all that; they are demanding the rights they've been denied for decades with their entire soul.
"What happens to this fight when we go back to our everyday struggles with the patriarchal system in place, its laws, customs and traditions?" asks activist Maya Ammar in a recently published video, highlighting the real struggle women in the country are faced with on a daily basis.
Enter nationality laws.
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 The outdated law denies the Lebanese citizenship to children and spouses of Lebanese women married to foreign men.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 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 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 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.
"Vaginas brought you into the world & vaginas will vote you out," one protester wrote on her placard.
Women are done with the patriarchy, a system that treats women as second-class citizens. They want rights men are granted by default. They want laws to be amended to be equal for all.
Enter Lebanon's discriminatory personal status laws.
Lebanese women struggle under the country's personal status laws. Lebanese NGO KAFA (Enough) Violence & Exploitation describes the unjust and discriminatory laws as "moral abuse," as 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, after which custody reverts to the fathers. However, each religious court makes its own decisions pertaining to other cases as well.
One victim of such discriminatory laws died earlier this month in a car crash. Lebanon lost Nadyn Jouny, a brave Lebanese women's rights fighter, on Oct. 6 but her fight will forever be remembered. Several people honored her struggle on posters during the ongoing protests.
Jouny rose to prominence a few years back after going public with her fight to regain custody of her only son, Karam, following a bitter divorce battle. Her outspokenness and courage made her a beacon of hope for divorced Lebanese women who are often stripped from their right to raise their own children under the country’s flawed and discriminatory sectarian personal status laws.
What about women in politics?
Women in Lebanon were granted the right to vote in 1952; however, the percentage of their representation in every parliament since then has been consistently low. Lebanon's current 128-member parliament has only six women, and with the current state, many things remain unanswered. On Oct. 29, Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned. Under Article 69 of the constitution, his resignation translates into the dismissal of the government. When this happens, parliament convenes until a new cabinet is formed. Until the new cabinet officially assumes its responsibilities, the resigned cabinet is required to remain in a state of caretaker and maintain the continuity of public affairs.
In the protests' early days, Lebanese Forces parliamentary bloc also requested the resignation of its four ministers in the government. Having said that, it remains unclear what's to come and what that means for women in politics.
During the 2018 elections - which saw a new electoral law take ground, with no quota for women - witnessed a record number of female candidates register. Government officials failed to pass a women's quota law, which would guarantee women's voice in parliament. Without an official quota law, a rise in female representation cannot be guaranteed. Women in Lebanon have always been marginalized when it comes to politics.
Nine months after the elections, political leaders eventually agreed on the formation of a new government comprised of 30 ministers, four of whom were women. With the resignation of Hariri, this may all be subject to change.
Lebanese women have long been seeking political participation in a system dominated by men. But we fight on and the revolution is our battleground.
"The soul of this revolution"
The protests - which began on Oct. 17 - were still ongoing as of Tuesday morning. Prior to Hariri's resignation, a group of men (supporters of Hezbollah and Amal Movement) attacked protesters who were blocking a major highway. They proceeded to chase the demonstrators to Martyrs' Square, destroying tents, stages, and chairs that had been up for 13 consecutive days.
The attack came hours before the country's PM was set to address the country. The fate of the country remains to be seen, but what is clear is the fate of women in Lebanon. They won't stop until they get what they went down to the streets for.