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Lebanon Considers Granting Divorced Women More Rights

The government is proposing a bill that would allow divorcées to register their children in their own identity statements

Lebanon has taken another step towards establishing equal rights for women, this time in matters of personal status. The Lebanese government is currently discussing a new law that would allow divorced women in the country to include the names of their children in its government’s registry.

The registry contains a record on a family’s members, starting from the father then the wife, and children. In the event of a son’s marriage, the latter is removed from his father’s register but retains the family register number, allowing him to establish a new family register with his family. When a daughter marries, she is removed from her father’s register and is automatically added to her husband’s family register.

In the case of divorce, the norm is for the woman to be registered again in her parents’ identity statement. Such practices are common in Lebanon and other Arab countries.

The new bill under consideration would allow divorced women to register their children in their identity statements, giving them more rights to travel abroad with their children or pass on money or property as inheritance to their children.

“A divorced Lebanese woman—who has been re-registered to her parents’ identity statement—can request to include the names of her children and their registration numbers in the notes section of her statement, after contacting the relevant registry,” Elias Khoury, the Director-General of Personal Status at Lebanon’s Ministry of the Interior, stated on Wednesday.

Khoury explained that the new bill comes as part of the government’s latest framework towards achieving equality between men and women in Lebanese society. If passed into law, the measure would also give women the right to obtain official documents and achieve progress in all types of transactions.

“It a partial solution to issue of women’s equality in Lebanon,” Imad al-Hout, a Lebanese lawmaker told The Media Line. “I hope the issue will not end by just giving women in Lebanon the right to include their children in their identity statements.”

As it stands, al-Hout explained, the proposed bill does not allow divorced women to pass on their nationality to their children. Furthermore, the bill does not touch on religiously mixed couples. “This is a step to build upon,” al-Hout said.

Rabe, a Lebanese citizen who requested anonymity, told The Media Line: “My mother is Christian and my dad is a Muslim. I was deprived from receiving my mother’s inheritance because she was registered in my father’s identity statement.”

He explained that children should have the option to decide which identity statement they want to be registered in. Perhaps, he added, one could decide to be registered in both parents’ statements.

“My friend who is based in Spain is registered in his Christian mother’s statement. That helps him a lot there as he gives her name on official documents.”

Rabe further clarified that in some situations and for specific social and political circumstances, children after a certain age should make their own decisions, not based on government policy or the desires of parents. “In all cases, the mother should have the right to pass her name to her children.”

Maya Ammar, a Lebanese activist, told The Media Line that the new bill currently under discussion isn’t a real achievement. “Real achievements are happening in Tunisia, where the female and male inherits equally.” She contended that this “minor reform” will only increase discrimination against females rather than dissolve it.

Ammar described the new bill as an anesthetic measure that falls far short.  “We asked for something bigger than this. Lebanon is positioning itself as the ‘lighthouse of urbanization’ in the region, while neighboring countries are achieving far more in terms of women’s rights.”

Nada Nassife, a Lebanese activist, said that any step towards empowering Lebanese women is positive. However, the new bill excludes divorced women of a foreign nationality from registering their children in their identity statements.

“The proposed law is incomplete and needs further additions. For instance, children born from a Lebanese woman and a foreign father are not allowed to obtain Lebanese citizenship or receive rights as Lebanese citizens,” Nassife told The Media Line.

Jean Oguasabian, the minister for Women’s Affairs, stressed in a press release that the process of achieving women’s rights in the country requires legislative impetus on both sides, from the Lebanese parliament and government.

“I hope that the constitutional organizations will work as soon as possible towards the adoption of draft laws and proposals to make the necessary progress in the status of women and the development of Lebanese society,” Oguasabian wrote in the statement.

Qasem Qaser, a Lebanese political analyst, told The Media Line that discussing such bill is a positive sign that Lebanon is moving in the direction of women’s empowerment.

“It started with ending violence against women and moving beyond fixed positions in need of change. I do not think that any religion in the country sharply conflicts with the content of the bill.”