1999 Activism

“My nationality is a right for me and my family”: Fighting for inclusive citizenship for women

Article 5 of decree no. 15, passed in 1925, was amended to allow foreign women to become Lebanese citizens if they are married to Lebanese men. Lebanese women, on the other hand, are denied the right of passing on their nationality through marriage or even giving birth. While Lebanese mothers are deprived of the right to pass their nationality on to their children and spouses, Article 4, of the same decree, asserts that non-Lebanese women with children from a former marriage can receive the Lebanese nationality if they marry a Lebanese man; the children they have from previous marriages may also receive the Lebanese nationality. There is a stark legal discrepancy indicating that patriarchal practices, coupled with confessional laws, confound discrimination against Lebanese women. The underlying threat of the “naturalisation and resettlement” of Palestinian and Syrian refugees is used to put the issue of nationality on hold. Only unmarried mothers are able to pass on their Lebanese citizenship to their children if they remained with no nationality a year into their birth.

Many legal milestones have been achieved in this regard. In 2009, a Lebanese woman married to an Egyptian man was able to pass on her nationality to her children with a court verdict, but the decision was revoked a year later after the Lebanese state appealed the decision. The case was dismissed on the grounds of lacking jurisdiction “to decide on the constitutionality of the law or its compatibility with international constitutional norms recognised by Lebanon.” The issue still remains highly debated, and several civil society campaigns were launched to promote an inclusive citizenship law, the most notable of which is the cross-national “My nationality is a right for me and my family” campaign, which seeks to grant women from six Arab countries (Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, Algeria, Morocco, and Jordan) the right to nationality and full citizenship. The campaign has garnered support from movements all over the Arab world as well as internationally, and proved to be effective as countries such as Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Palestine, Libya, Yemen, and Tunisia started reforming their nationality laws.