Inspirational and brave Lebanese women's rights fighter Nadyn Jouny tragically lost her life in a traffic accident early on Sunday.
The incident took place on the country's Damour highway while Jouny was driving towards Beirut. A friend was with her at the time but survived the crash. Speaking to Annahar newspaper, Jouny's sister said her family has no further details on how the accident happened. Many have called on authorities to investigate the incident as early reports stated that the 29-year-old's vehicle veered off the road then flipped upside down after another car rammed hers.
Local women's rights organization, ABAAD - which Jouny was affiliated with - paid tribute to the phenomenal woman who refused to stay silent in the face of injustice. In a statement posted on Facebook, the NGO invited Jouny's friends and allies to honor the activist on Wednesday at 3 p.m. The activist's funeral is set to take place on Monday in her hometown of Bint Jbeil in South Lebanon.
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.
For years, Jouny spoke out against all religious courts that grant fathers full custody of their kids and focused on the Shia custody laws that took her son away after she divorced her husband.
Under the Shia sect’s Jaafari court rules, in the case of divorce, a father gets immediate custody of male children once they turn 2 and of female children once they turn 7. There's only one exception to this and that's if significant evidence shows the father is unfit to raise a child.
The Jaafari court isn’t the only executioner of such discriminatory codes though. Lebanon has 15 separate personal status laws administered by different religious courts and most of them torment mothers during custody battles too.
According to Human Rights Watch, some of these courts may deem women "unfit" for custody over actions such as having a tattoo, posting photos on Facebook, or having a job.
This injustice that Lebanese women continue to be subjected to fueled Jouny’s relentless fight against the sexist system. Her voice inspired and motivated people just as much as her death shocked them.
Mourned and hailed by thousands
Jouny died without getting her most basic of rights back; she passed away while still fighting for change.
Just minutes after news of her tragic passing was confirmed by local press agencies, thousands took to social media to mourn the loss of the brave mother.
Many pointed out that even in the last days of her life, Jouny was heartbroken over the fact that she hadn't been able to regain custody of her son. Days before her death, the outspoken advocate took to Facebook to express her angst at missing out on his first day of the school year.
Everyone spoke of Jouny's courage
Many highlighted the core of her fight
"Bring down the religious courts."
Others circulated her powerful posts
"A mountain of bravery and love. You're always going to inspire us with your strength and heart."
"Tell God how those ruling in his name took your son away from you"
"Every mother lost a voice today, we lost a loud voice"
Rest in power
In Lebanon, custody decisions are up to religious courts
Lebanese women continue to struggle under the country's personal status laws. Lebanese NGO KAFA Violence & Exploitation describes the injustice and discrimination under said laws as "moral abuse" as women are treated as "subordinates rather than partners."
Among the most pressing issues under Lebanese personal status laws are the provisions pertaining to mothers' custody over their children.
Religious courts oversee custody battles because Lebanon does not have a unified civil personal status law. Instead, such decisions are left open to interpretation with each religious sect applying its own law on personal matters.
In many circumstances, religious judges adopt patriarchal views, leading to verdicts that usually serve the interests of male parties. On several occasions, public outrage erupted over cases of children being forcibly taken away from their divorced mothers following religious verdicts.
In all denominations, custody in the event of divorce is mainly determined by the child's age. Mothers only take custody of their young children up until a certain age, which varies per sect (refer to the 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.
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, and assets.