Women Empowered for Leadership (WE4L) is a women’s leadership empowerment programme that works to ensure women have equal opportunities and the capacity to fully participate in political life and decision-making processes, while also creating more public recognition and support for women in leadership positions. Implemented by Hivos and funded by the Ministry of the Netherlands FLOW fund, WE4L uses a combination of advocacy, skills training, knowledge tools and coalition-building. The program works directly with potential women leaders, as well as with political parties, trade unions, civil society organization, the media and the creative sector. Hivos and our local partners provide strategic, media and communication expertise.
Hivos was founded in 1968, inspired by humanist values. The founders held the conviction that development work should be secular, as true cooperation presumes respect for differing beliefs. “necessary changes should spring from communities themselves – from people at the base of society.” These convictions are still reflected in the work. Hivos believes that human life in its many forms is valuable, and that people are filled with potential. Living a life in freedom and dignity, with respect for each other and the planet, leads to greater individual well-being and fair, vibrant societies.
Lebanon Support is a research centre for and about civil society. It is a multidisciplinary space creating synergies and bridging between researchers, experts, civil society and NGO practitioners, and activists. Lebanon Support aims to foster social change through innovative uses of social science, digital technologies, and publication and exchange of knowledge.
URIKA Agency is an experienced branding, marketing, advertising, public relations and production agency based in Beirut – Lebanon with a focus on transforming civil society endeavors to success visual stories disseminated to the wider public.
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“Women, power, and politics: Timelines and Milestones”
In 1974, women in Lebanon marched against the country’s flawed economic policies raising the slogan “monopoly is strangling the people’s necks.” In 1999, their demands were echoed in the “my nationality is a right for me and my family” nationwide campaign. In 2015, they demonstrated against the violence of “the patriarchal regime”; and in 2018, they “shared” one “anger” despite their differences in terms of class, race, religion, origin, and occupation. Though these women have different backgrounds and trajectories, they all experience degrees of marginalisation and exclusion where their histories, stories, and struggles were and are still silenced, their contributions are often sidelined, their achievements are left out from official narratives and histories.
“Women, power, and politics: Timelines and Milestones” aims at documenting pioneering women in society, culture, and politics and leading figures of the women’s movements in Lebanon, the key historical, social and political events that shaped and affected those movements, and the legal and political achievements and gains they realised. This timeline is an attempt to bring to light a selection of the stories, struggles, contributions, and achievements women in Lebanon experienced, lived and still live.
This timeline is a joint partnership between Hivos, Lebanon Support and URIKA Agency under the Women Empowered for Leadership Programme, which is funded by the Foreign Ministry of the Netherlands’ FLOW fund.
In an effort to continue recording the Lebanese women’s movement leaders, contributions, and achievements in Lebanon, we encourage readers, activists, writers, academics, and researchers to engage in this ongoing documentation process and to share with us events, figures and sources they deem significant to the women’s movement in Lebanon.
Labibah Hashim was among the first pioneering women in Lebanon to publish women’s periodicals. The monthly periodical she founded, Fatat al-Sharq, was published from 1906-1929 1, with some sources dating its first issue back to 1900 2 . The publication advocated for women’s liberation, and their right to education and political participation. Alongside the periodical, Hashim hosted a cultural salon at her house to discuss the issues raised in the periodical; the salon was a popular destination for writers, poets, and journalists, including Ahmed Lutfi al-Sayyid, editor of al-Jaridah 3. She also contributed to the growing literature produced by Arab women writers at the time. Her novel, Qalb al-Rajul (The Heart of Man, 1904), was a “major literary achievement” with regards to character development in women’s fiction4. Her novel followed trends similar to the literature produced at the time, whereby the main plot drew on events from Egypt and Lebanon. In one of her commentaries, she said:
“I deeply believe in the importance of the press because of its great influence on the life of the nation. In my view, it is the second school that nurtures attentive minds and refines the intellect.” 5
Born in Amchit, Mount Lebanon, Afifah Karam received her education in missionary schools in Lebanon until she immigrated to the US with her husband in 1887. She was a major contributor to the New York-based journal, al-Huda, and went on to become its editor at a later stage 1. She published her first novel, Badi’ah wa Fu’ad (Badi’ah and Fu’ad), in 1906, in which “for the first time in the history of Arabic fiction, we meet a woman advocating, in strong terms, the necessity of a general solidarity among women.” 2 The sense of solidarity she called for further manifested in her subsequent novels, as well, including Fatimah al-Badawiyyah (Fatimah the Bedouin, 1908). Major themes in her other writings included the criticism of the clergy and the government, and early marriage in Lebanon.
Malaka Saad was a critical writer, addressing the preoccupation of women in their looks and their lack of involvement in working alongside men. In 1908, she published the first edition of al-Jens al-Latif (The Gentler Sex) one of the first women’s magazines in the Arab world 1. With women as its target audience, it called upon them to edify themselves by becoming better versed in the arts and literature. She also followed the progression of the women’s movements in the region, particularly in Egypt, where she resided for most of her life. In the preface of the first edition of al-Jens al-Latif she wrote:
“The magazine aims to empower women as human beings who know that freedom is not about makeup, wearing luxurious clothes, showing off, and lacking self-restraint. Freedom is about knowing our right and duty to not be insulted or sold for a price like slaves; to not be a toy in the hands of men who believe we were not created to help them, but to be lying comfortably in humiliation, deprived of participating in beneficial public works.” 2
Although mistaken for an Egyptian, Mayy Ziyadah is a Lebanese-Palestinian poet who is mostly known for her cultural salon, which she started hosting in 1913 1 . The salon was a bastion for Egyptian and non-Egyptian intellectual giants. It convened every Tuesday, and was frequented by more than 30 attendants. It provided a space for young writers and poets to meet “the elite of the Arab intelligentsia” 2. Apart from her salon, Ziyadah is considered to be one of the first Arab feminists, as she was concerned with the women’s emancipation movement that took place during the time of the Nahda and onwards. She objected to the “exclusion” of women from official and mainstream historiography, and was a strong advocate of the role that women ought to play in the arts.
Salma (Salima) Abi Rashed was the first woman lawyer who proved herself in the courts of the Ba’abda district in Lebanon. She was also a pioneering journalist, among many others, in the country. In 1911, she managed her brother’s political daily newspaper, al-Nasir (The Supporter) 1. In 1914, she founded Fatat Lobnan (The Woman of Lebanon), a monthly scientific and literary magazine with a focus on women 2. The magazine emphasized women’s equal right to work in all the fields that men had historically occupied. Although the magazine was discontinued not long after its initial publication (it was issued for around eight months in the year 1914), it remained one of the first women’s magazines in Lebanon, and was an example to follow in neighbouring cities at the time, including Damascus, which saw the publication of al-Arous, the Bride (continued its issuance in 1914).
Anbarah Salam Khalidi, a pioneering Lebanese feminist, established the Awakening of the Young Arab Women Association to help finance young women’s education. In 1926, she took off her veil in a public lecture at the American University of Beirut, causing a scandal and contributing to the veiling and unveiling debates in Lebanon.
1914-1915 Anbarah Salam Khalidi, a pioneering Lebanese feminist, established the Awakening of the Young Arab Women Association to help finance young women’s education 1. Though the association’s vision was mainly cultural, it was also concerned with politics through its clear rejection of the Turkish and other foreign influences 2.
Princess Nagla Abou al-Lama founded the literary magazine al-Fajr (The Dawn) in 1919. The magazine was a major destination for many women writers of the time; it targeted both men and women, but emphasised women’s contributions and achievements. The publication of al-Fajr lasted for six years in Beirut (1919-1924), and was reprinted under the direction of princess Abou al-Lama’s brother in 1951 1. Like many of her contemporaries, princess Abou al-Lama encouraged Lebanese and Arab industries, which led her to work with many women’s associations, including the Lebanese Women’s Associations 2.
Afifah Saab joined the women’s magazines movement in Shouwaifat by establishing her magazine, al-Khidr (A Woman’s Chamber), a woman’s literary, scientific monthly magazine with an additional focus on health 1. The magazine was published for eight years from 1919-1927, and welcomed all writers of the era. It is often regarded as the first Druze women’s magazine. Saab was concerned with women’s rights in general and with the rights of Druze women in particular, and so discussing the status of Druze women became a recurring theme in her speeches 2.
Beginning in the 1920s, women’s groups, associations, and organisations’ growing activism and advocacy for women’s social and political rights (right to vote and to run for elections) began to take shape. This was manifested in the creation of several societies and associations. As Anbarah Salam Khalidi, a prominent feminist of the time, wrote in her memoir, the 1920s were a time when “feminist activity began to take institutional shape, and Lebanese women’s societies began to thrive.1” Furthermore, the debate regarding the veiling of women in Lebanon culminated in the emergence of camps advocating for and against the act of wearing the veil, and writers such as Nazira Zain al-Din published al-Hijab wa al-Sefour (Veiling and Unveiling, 1928) contributing to this debate.
Born in the Mokhtara village, Mount Lebanon, Julya Tu’mah Dimashqiyyah is often referred to as the first woman journalist in Lebanon. She founded the monthly magazine al-Mar’ah al-Jadidah (The New Woman, 1921) in Beirut, which went on to be published for seven years. Her magazine was among the most respected magazines in Lebanon 1. She usually addressed women in her column entitled “To the daughters of my country,” where “she called upon women to occupy their rightful place in society.” 2. She played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Lebanese Women’s Union. She married Badr Dimashqiyyah, a Muslim man; their inter-faith marriage was deemed revolutionary at a time when inter-faith marriage was not socially accepted 3.
Born in the Shouf, Mount Lebanon, Habuba Haddad quickly became one of the most esteemed women of her time; she was a writer, journalist, and an anchor 1. She founded the monthly magazine, al-Hayah al-Jadidah (The New Life), in 1921, and published it in Beirut in 1922, where it was distributed for five years. She was a member of the Journalists’ Syndicate in Paris (established in 1921) 2. She opened her house for literary, journalistic, and political discussions, turning it into a salon from 1921-1930 3. Her salon became a destination for many literary figures of the time, including Salma Sa’igh, Mary Yanni, and Julya Tu’mah Dimashqiyyah 4. In her recent life, she was awarded the National Order of the Cedar, one of the highest honorary orders in Lebanon.
Mary Yanni was one of the most notable women of her time. She established Minerva in 1923 in Beirut, publicising it as a magazine for “Literature, Art, and Sociology.” The magazine was originally published in 1916 and 1917 on a monthly basis, but its publication was suspended due to the scarcity of paper in Lebanon during World War I 1. It would then be reprinted between from 1923 to 1929 2. Yanni was a supporter of women’s right to equality with men. She dedicated several sections of the magazine to discussing women’s roles and achievements in the Nahda era, particularly in the fields of education and journalism 3. In her introduction to the magazine’s first issue in 1927, she wrote:
“Now in its fourth year, Minerva reasserts its commitment to strengthening women’s role and helping the Eastern girl to rise from the abyss of ignorance, and to gain her legitimate rights and equality with men in society.” 4
Another pioneering woman journalist from Tripoli, North Governorate, Aminah Khoury Makdisi launched her magazine, Moured al-Ahdath (The Events Provider), in 1923, in Beirut, publishing it until 1926 1. The magazine specialised in scientific and literary writing, but was unique in producing a special addendum for children, sold alongside the magazine. She recorded the biographies of the pioneering women of her time, and collected them in a book that was published in 1958 under the title of Hamelat al-Nour, the “Carriers of Light.” 2 In her introduction, she shed light on the contributions of women in Lebanon, writing that:
“No doubt that in our Arab East, especially in Lebanon, there is a big group of women enlighteners who dispelled the darkness spread by ignorance. As leaders of social movements and pioneers in humanitarian services, they contributed to building our modern civilisations. And so I hope there would be someone who collects their biographies to commemorate their memory for the generations to come.” 3
Born and raised in Beirut, Salma Sayegh became one of the most renowned early writers, novelists, and feminists of the Nahda era in Lebanon. She contributed to the creation of the Society for Women’s Renaissance along with other women contemporaries 1. She wrote for many magazines, edited Sawt al-Mar’a, The Women’s Voice 2, and authored several novels, including al-Nasamat (The Breeze, 1923). She also contributed to the cultural salons movement in Lebanon by hosting one in her house in Beirut in the 1940s and early 1950s, before passing away in 1953.
Though the formation of the Women’s Union in Lebanon and Syria started taking shape in 1920-1921 1, it was formally founded in 1924 to band together Lebanese women’s groups, associations, and activists 2, in particular nationalists and leftists across Syria and Lebanon 3. It is also often referred to as the Lebanese Women’s Union; according to a plethora of sources documenting women’s movements in Lebanon, it was an active organisation with a social, cultural, and political focus 4. It held conferences and conventions for women from across the Arab region, and was chaired by several pioneering women, including Ibtihaj Qaddoura. In later years (1928-1929), the Lebanese Women’s Union changed to become the Arab (Lebanese) Women’s Union 5. In 1946, the Union bifurcated to two separate organisations: the Women’s Union led by Ibtihaj Qaddoura; and the Lebanese Women Solidarity Association, led by Laure Thabet 6. The two unions reunified in 1952 to form the Lebanese Council for Women.
Born in Tripoli and raised in Alexandria, Fatima (Roz) Mohyeldin al-Youssif became one of the most distinguished women in Egypt for her role in establishing the magazine Roz al-Youssif, a bastion for political opposition against the British colonisation of Egypt at the time 1. The magazine was printed and distributed from 1925-1958, first on a weekly, then on a daily, basis. When it was first published, Roz al-Youssif had an artistic flair, with a focus is on the arts, theatre, celebrity news, and famous actresses. A year into its distribution, the magazine took a political turn, and it sparked the attention of opposition figures in Egypt, such as Saad Zaghloul 2. In its third and fourth year of publication, due to its critical content, the Egyptian regime suspended and confiscated over sixty out of a total of 104 issues intended for distribution 3. Though her pioneering efforts lied mostly in the realm of political journalism, she left a print on the theatre scene in Egypt, where she joined many theatre and acting groups. 4
Among the many salons that sprouted in Lebanon, a lesser-known one was hosted by a Muslim woman called Hajjah Fatimah al-Rifai beginning in 1927. Though she was religious, al-Rifai hosted her circle for both men and women three times a month, defying some of the social norms of the “conservative circles” of her time. The crowd frequenting the salon reportedly conversed about literary issues until the early hours of the morning. 1
Nazira Zain al-Din was one of the first women to discuss the issues of women in Islam after studying Islamic doctrines in the Quran and hadith. She advocated for women’s right to education and accessing political office. She contributed to the rising debate on “veiling and unveiling,” and to that end, wrote two influential books: al-Hijab wa al-Sefour (Veiling and Unveiling, 1928) and al-Fatah wa al-Sheyoukh (The Young Woman and the Sheikhs, 1929). As a result of the ideas she put forth in the book, the Muslim clergy accused her of apostasy. 1
18 April 1928 – The first women’s conference held in Beirut was organised by the Women’s Union, and was attended by delegations from Syria and Lebanon 1.
Despite political resistance, advancing women’s political roles and participation garnered the attention of pioneering women across the Arab region, with Lebanese women being at the forefront of this momentum. Not only were activist women in Lebanon concerned with the fight against the local colonial rule, but they also embraced the Palestinian question, which became a focal part of their activism. This was manifested in the call that the Arab Lebanese Women’s Union directed to the British ruler of Palestine on 26 May 1938 1.
Edma Abouchdid was the first woman to graduate from the American University of Beirut with a B.A. in 1926, and was also the first woman to graduate from the Medical Program of the Faculty of Medicine in 1931.
During a parliamentary session, Deputy Sheikh Yussef Al Khazin requested that women be granted the right to vote; his request was supported by a mere three votes, and the bill was not passed as a consequence 1. This incident nevertheless sparked early discussions on women’s political participation, which would continue for several years to come 2.
The Regie Libanaise des Tabacs et Tombacs, commonly known as the Regie, was established, in 1935, as a monopoly over the tobacco industry in Lebanon and Syria. The emergence of this monopoly enraged local tobacco merchants, politicians, unionists, and heads of social organisations across the cities of Beirut, Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, and Tripoli. This led to the call for peaceful protests in which students, and “unemployed tobacco working women and men” from the old tobacco factories, demonstrated side by side demanding the compensation and unemployment indemnities promised to them by the French 1. These protests were later supported by the nascent Arab Feminist Union, long before it was formally established in 1944.
Ibtihaj Qaddoura’s journey with women’s movements and associations started in 1914 with the creation of the Awakening of the Young Arab Women Association along with other feminist contemporaries such as Anbarah Salam Khalidi. From that date onwards, she advocated for women’s rights in every form. She participated in, led, and organised protests; wrote petitions 1; chaired organisations such as the Arab Lebanese Women’s Union (formerly known as the Women’s Union) and the Lebanese Council for Women (1953-1966); and addressed presidents and parliamentarians to grant women their political rights. In 1936, she wrote on behalf of the Arab Lebanese Women’s Union to the Lebanese Parliament:
“The Women’s Union wishes your honourable council to recognize women as citizens and to grant them their civil rights, and draw your attention that women share your nationality, civilisation, and history.” 2
Women capitalised on the Lebanese-French Agreement that stipulated equal civil and political rights to all citizens, and demanded their right to vote and run elections 1.
Zahiyah Maksad Salman was an advocate of child welfare in Lebanon. Her activism led to “the establishment of day care centres across Lebanon as early as 1937.”1 Additionally, she was the founding president of the National Committee for Child’s Day. 2 She was one of the founders of the General Arab Women’s Union in 1944-1945. In 1972, she ran for Parliament as part of a group of women nominated by the Lebanese Women’s council, yet she withdrew before the elections. 3
Salwa Nassar was the first woman to enrol in the American University of Beirut’s Mathematics Department. Upon her graduation from AUB, she was awarded a scholarship from Smith College in Boston, Massachusetts where she obtained her M.S. in Physics. In 1945, she was awarded a Ph.D. in “Cosmic Ray Showers” from the University of California, Berkeley. In 1950, she became the first woman to chair the Physics Department at AUB. 1
Though Lebanese feminist activism emerged long before Lebanon’s independence in 1943, it gained momentum post-independence, making way for subsequent “waves” of feminism with different actors, demands, advocacy tactics, political discourses, and temporalities. The first wave of feminism materialized in great part thanks to the efforts of elite men and women who were involved in charitable causes, including providing education for women in order to improve their caregiving roles; in other words to be better mothers. The accessibility of education to women incentivised them to establish organisations with diverse goals and purposes; “religious, national cultural, and familial.”
But political rights for women remained a top priority for this generation of pioneering feminists, as they connected the country’s independence with the possibility of acquiring new rights and freedoms for women. As a result, feminist movements of the time employed a nationalist rhetoric that highlighted independence as an integral constituent of women’s identity. This association led the feminist agenda to be aligned with the paternalistic traditions and sectarian system of the time – both of which were deeply rooted in Lebanese society and politics – and to focus on women who belonged to the upper class. Encouraged by the rising number of women journalists, this first generation of activists advocated for the right to vote, to political representation, and to access to education. In the face of resistance to the advancement of their political and social rights, women took to the streets alongside their male counterparts, and their collective actions became more visible for the upcoming decades.
Women marched alongside men, demanding the release of Sheikh Bshara el-Khoury, Lebanon’s newly elected president post-independence; Prime Minister Riyad al-Solh; as well as other members of the Cabinet, from prison 1. Protesters also demanded that the Declaration of Independence be issued. The presidents of the Women’s Union, Eveline Boustros (elected in 1943) and Ibtihaj Qaddoura (elected in 1945), led a number of demonstrations affirming that “a woman is no longer solely for the home, because the whole world can no longer do without her services.” 2
Much like her contemporaries, Rose Attallah Shahfah was an active woman in the realms of writing and promoting women’s rights. She wrote for several magazines and newspapers of her time, including al-Arous (The Bride) and Sout al-Maraa (Women’s Voice), among others. She headed several women’s organisation in Syria and Lebanon, including the Lebanese Women’s Union in 1944. One of her books, Wahi al-Omouma (The Inspiration of Motherhood), was a collection of articles and speeches that were collected by Goergi Baz, a biographer and an author known as the “Women’s Supporter” 1. She lectured in several universities in Arab countries, from Egypt to Syria, and attended women’s conferences in Lebanon and worldwide. 2
The First Arab Women’s Conference, which took place in Cairo under the leadership of Egyptian feminist Huda Sha’rawi, aimed at laying women’s claims to political participation instead of focusing on social reforms 1.
The Regie Libanaise des Tabacs et Tombacs, commonly known as the Regie continued to be a French tobacco monopoly until 1960 when the management, “privileges, and properties” of the company were “transferred to the Lebanese government.” 1 Its workforce reached over 3,000 workers by 1966, 40% of whom were women, making the Regie a huge economic enterprise in Lebanon, and a source of income to thousands of Lebanese workers and farmers. 2 A scattered number of strikes took place in 1944 and 1945, whereby the women and men working at the Regie demanded wages increases, in addition to full pension for women who left work upon getting married. 3 The government rejected these demands, and strikes were quelled by the police force, resulting in numerous injuries, among whom were women workers Georgette Haddad and Mary Salih. These strikes paved the way for the Regie’s major strike in 1946.
A graduate of the American University of Beirut in 1937, Angela Jurdak Khoury became AUB’s first woman instructor. She joined the diplomatic corps and acted as a Consul of Lebanon in the US after Lebanon gained its independence in 1943, making her the first Lebanese woman diplomat 1. After the creation of the United Nations, Khoury was appointed as Secretary-General to the Delegation of Lebanon to the United Nations Conference on International Organisation in San Francisco. She also became Lebanon’s representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
In 1945, the weekly newspaper Sout al-Maraa (Women’s Voice) launched its inaugural issue. Edvick Jureidini Shayboub became the newspaper’s editor-in-chief in 1951. The newspaper was specialised in women’s affairs, from their rights and movements to activism 1. Shayboub wrote for women and became one of the most prominent writers of children’s fiction 2. In 1946 she became among the first woman to work at the Lebanese Radio (Radio Lebanon) after the French handed the station over to the Lebanese government 3. She was also the only woman from the Middle East to be invited to the first International Conference for Radio and Television, hosted in London in 1969 4.
In June 1946, men and women working at the Regie threatened to hold a general strike unless the administration agreed to their demands, which included wage increases and receiving long-term contracts. When the administration did not respond to their demands, women workers called for a strike. The strike started officially on 11 June 1946, with several influential organisers being transferred from the company’s branch in Beirut to the Tripoli branch in order to enfeeble the movement. Nevertheless, the strike withheld these pressures for a month, until the company’s administration invited workers to end their strike in return for studying their demands. When the workers failed to see any signs indicating that the administration would listen to their demands, they occupied the company and the storages. Men and women workers organised themselves into two committees that managed the strike.
What was unprecedented about these committees was the fact that the first one to be formed was headed by a woman, Asthma Malkun 1. Workers blockaded the company’s distribution trucks from transferring cigarettes to the market, resulting in bloody confrontations between the workers and the police forces that got deployed in the strike’s premises in Mar Mikhael and Furn el-Chebbak neighbourhoods. The first victim to fall was Warda Butrus Ibrahim, who was shot by the police on 27 June 1946. Though the deaths and casualties caused by the Regie strikes and culminated in the passing of the Lebanese Labour Law on 23 September 1946, it is worth noting that the Regie strikes did not transpire alone. Beginning in 1925, there were significant efforts targeted towards building unions and holding strikes across the soap-making industry, publishing houses, and the shoemaking industry, among others. 2
Regarding the absence of records for working women’s participation in mobilisation for their rights, Farah Kobeissi, a feminist political activist, said:
“There is no documentation of the women’s movements with regards to their demands for social justice. There is clear marginalisation and silence about women because the majority of their movements existed outside of organised structures or syndicates. We only know of two incidents where the names of women were mentioned: Warda Butrus of the Regie factory and Fatimah al-Khawajeh of al-Ghandour factory. What they both had in common was one thing: the fact that they were martyrs – as though women could not be known until they die. Not much was known about Fatimah’s life; it’s only recently that people started talking about her and tried to trace her life.
Whoever was handling the archival work back then – be it in the media or from the syndicates – did not focus on the role of women because of the assumption that syndicate members are men, and that the ideal worker is a man who supports his family, not a woman who supports hers.” 3
Segregated along sectarian lines, the Lebanese Women Solidarity Association was founded to bring together elite women and haute bourgeoisie women representatives from 20 Christian organisations across Lebanon.
Anissa Rawda Najjar was a lifelong advocate of rural women’s rights, her activism spanning over 45 years 1. In 1951, she established the Village Welfare Society (VWS) with Eveline Bostrous, which was one of the first women’s associations to be concerned with rural women 2. She represented Lebanon in several international and Arab conferences, including the Arab Women’s Union conventions in 1953 and 1956. In 1977, she became the vice president of the International Women’s League for Peace and Freedom.
20 March 1951 – Women across all areas in Lebanon congregated in massive demonstrations in front of the parliament during the parliament’s weekly sessions in order to demand their political rights. During these marches, the Head of the Arab Lebanese Women’s Union, Ibtihaj Qaddoura, submitted a petition to the president of the parliament. 1 Other demonstrations followed in different parts of the country. 2
4 November 1952 – President Camille Chamoun passed Decree no. 6, which stated that women educated at the primary level or holding equivalent certificates were granted the right to vote and be elected to any public office (mainly Articles 2, 3, 21, and others). But radical women’s groups repudiated these conditions, and continued to fight for the political rights of all women, educated and uneducated, alike.
1 January 1952 – All of the women’s groups in Lebanon gathered at the Roxy Movie Theatre under the auspices of the First Lady to demand full suffrage. 1
As an influential figure in the Lebanese feminist movement, Laure Moghaizel’s accomplishments and contributions are countless. She was a founding member of many associations and organisations concerned with women’s rights and freedoms, including the Executive Committee for Women’s Associations, the Lebanese Council for Women (1953), and the Lebanese Association of Women Researchers (tajamo’ al-Bahithat al-Lobnaneyat). She campaigned for the reform of family laws and citizenship laws for women, as well as for the elimination of legal punishment for the use of contraceptives, among others causes. She promoted the legal rights of women in Lebanon in local, regional, and international conferences, including as the preparatory meetings for both the Nairobi and Beijing conferences in 1985 and 1995, respectively 1. As a witness to Moghaizel’s activism, Jean Said Makdisi, a feminist writer, said:
“She was a sharp woman; she was well-read; she knew the laws. While others spent time formulating their thoughts, she readily expressed her ideas. When she spoke at meetings, others did not speak much after her.” 2
Between 1953 and 1975, Lebanon had six parliaments: the 8th Parliament (1953-1957), the 9th Parliament (1957-1960), the 10th Parliament (1960-1964), the 11th Parliament (1964-1968), the 12th Parliament (1968-1972) , and the 13th Parliament (1972-1991) for which the parliamentary term was extended due to the Civil War (1975-1990).
Over this period, eight women in total ran for elections, three of them running several times (both Munira al-Solh ran three times and Nuhad Sa’eed ran three times, while Emily Fares Ibrahim ran twice). During the first parliamentary elections held from 12 July to 9 August 1953 1, the first Lebanese woman to run for elections was Emily Fares Ibrahim 2. She ran for a Maronite seat in Zahleh, but was not elected 3. More women have followed suit since then. Apart from being the first woman to run for elections, Ibrahim was a feminist, a poet, and a literary writer who she wrote extensively about women’s activism in Lebanon; among her books are al-Harakah al-Nisa’eya al-Lubnaneya (The Lebanese Women’s Movement) and al-Katebat al-Lubnaneyat (Lebanese Women Writers) 4. She also headed several national committees such as the National Mobilisation Committee, was established after the Israeli occupation in 1892. Finally, in 1992, she was given the National Order of the Cedar, one of the highest orders to be awarded in the Lebanese Republic.
18 February 1953 – More legal reforms were implemented and stipulations promoting gender equality were laid down in Decree no. 37. The provisions in Article no. 2 of the decree gave both educated and uneducated women the right to vote and run for elections at the parliamentary level. In practice, however, women continued to vote accompanied by their fathers and spouses who often influenced their votes 1. The literature on gender in Lebanon indicates that Lebanese society maintained the view that women were not suitable for public office, hence they should not be involved in the elections 2.
Zahiya Kaddoura Kaffafi was a critical academic and historian of Lebanon as well as of women’s movements. She was among the few women activists to openly “oppose the French Mandate in Lebanon.” Kaffafi published numerous works and studies, several of which have been translated into multiple languages 1. She became the chairperson of the History Department at the Lebanese University in 1961. In 1959, the Lebanese government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nominated her to be a consultant for the Arab League 2.
Since Lebanon has no unified family law system, the religious courts of the 18 recognised sects administer personal status laws that cover marriage, divorce, maternal custody, inheritance, and property rights. Before the issuance of this law, non-Muslim confessions used to follow the Hanafi madhab – one of the four Sunni Muslim schools of jurisprudence – in all cases of inheritance, and in the absence of a formal will. In the latter case, however – when a formal will was left by the deceased – non-Muslim confessions used a 1929 law that regulated how wills were legally processed. Nevertheless, the new law issued in 1959 addressing inheritance for non-Muslim confessions laid down the conditions for inheritance for persons with dual nationalities, illegal children, and unborn children, and stipulated equal shares for men and women.
For the third parliamentary elections held from 12 June to 2 July 1960 1, two women ran for elections. The first was Munira al-Solh, the first woman to run for the Sunni seat in Beirut. However, she lost with 2,165 votes out of 22,692 2. The second was Renee al-Hajj who ran for the Maronite Seat in Jezzine and lost with 601 votes out of 12,047 3.
Noura Nowayhed Halawani launched Donia al-Maraa (The Woman’s World) in 1960. The magazine focused on a wide array of women’s issues, from women’s political rights to the challenges they face in the different aspects of social life. The magazine proved to be popular, and was distributed and sold widely across the Arab world 1.
Article 1 of Law no. 15 issued in 1925 stipulated that the Lebanese nationality is to be passed through a) patrilineal/paternal line (having a Lebanese father); b) the right of the soil (being born on Lebanese land) without holding another nationality at birth; or c) being born on Lebanese land to unknown parents or to parents with an unknown nationality. On 11 January 1960, some amendments were passed to improve the status of women acquiring the Lebanese citizenship. Article 5 of Decree no. 15 was amended to allow foreign women married to Lebanese spouses to become Lebanese citizens, and to pass over the Lebanese nationality to children from previous marriages. Ironically, however, these amendments did not apply to Lebanese women (Article 4 of Decree no. 15 issued in 1925).
Until today, Lebanese women are not able to pass on their nationality to their spouses or children; in other words, nationality cannot be acquired through maternal line 1. There are two instances in which a Lebanese mother can grant the Lebanese citizenship to her children: the first is if her children are “illegal,” minors, and she recognises them as her own 2; the second is if the mother is unmarried, and her children have remained without a nationality for a year after their birth. This discrepancy between men and women concerning nationality law is symptomatic of the confounding effect of patriarchy and the confessional system on discrimination against women. A UNDP study conducted in 2008 estimated the number of men, women, and children who are affected by the ongoing nationality codes to be 77,400 3. Nationality and citizenship rights remain a contentious issue for the government, and are continuously evaded and relegated to the threat of naturalisation and resettlement of Palestinian and Syrian refugees. Nevertheless, the discriminatory origins of the law dating back to 1925 are unrelated to the Palestinian and Syrian refugee crises. 4
Even though women started running for parliamentary elections beginning in 1953, the majority of them lost the elections to male rivals. During the pre-Civil War period, the first women elected to the Parliament were so upon the death of a father or husband who was involved in political life. As such, in 1963, Myrna Boustany, was the first woman elected in the Parliament in the Shouf district on the Maronite seat. She was elected to finish her deceased father’s term 1. She served for one year until the next elections were held in 1964.
After the Civil War ended, Lebanon had five parliaments; the 18th Parliament (1992-1996), the 19th Parliament (1996-2000), the 20th Parliament (2000-2005), the 21st Parliament (2005-2009), and the 22nd Parliament (2009-2013). Even though the parliamentary term for the 22nd Parliament ended in June 2013, the term has been extended until the present day, and parliamentary elections were postponed three times. They are scheduled to be held in May 2018.
During the fourth parliamentary elections held from 5 April to 3 May 1964 1, two women ran for the elections. The first was Ibriza al-Meoushi, who ran for a seat in the Shouf district, but later withdrew her candidacy. The second was Munira al-Solh who ran again for the Sunni seat in Beirut and lost with 999 out of 29,584 votes 2.
Nidal al-Ashkar was among the most influential women to shape the cultural landscape of Lebanon and the Arab world. Much of the development of theatre in Beirut is attributed to her efforts, which culminated in the establishment of Mohtaraf Beirut lil Masrah and Masrah al-madinah (al-Madina theatre) 1. She tapped into the world of theatre, poetry, and many other art forms.
Lebanon became signatory of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Article 5 of the convention grants citizens (both men and women) their right to choose their citizenship.
After the Arab defeat in the Six-Day War, a second cycle of Lebanese feminism emerged. The disappointing defeat elicited a critique of nationalist ideologies and gave rise to leftist feminism. Women’s organisations at the time were mostly concerned with humanitarian work, which was encouraged by Fouad Chehab’s reformist policies. Despite the separation that transpired on an organisational level between women’s organisations and political parties, the former remained affiliated with the latter’s ideologies. For example, al-Tajammou al-Nisa’i al-Dimocrati al-Lubnani (the Lebanese Democratic Gathering of Women – LDGW) was affiliated with Munazamat al-‘amal al-Shuyu’i (the Organisation of Communist Action – OCA) and al-Ittihad al-Nisa’i al-Taqaddumi (the Progressive Women’s Union) was connected to the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP).
Overall, political tension shaped this second wave of feminism, resulting in the feminist agenda’s focus shifting from women’s rights to alleviating the ramifications of political violence of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). Hence, charitable work, refugees, and war victims became the focal areas of activism for women’s organisations. Those who study the Lebanese feminist movement identify this period as a phase in which the movement went back to its “pastoral functions.” 1
In summary, this second generation of feminists strived for expanded political rights, notably suffrage. Yet, women’s organisations were unable to uphold and mould the values they defended into their discourse, which continued to be aligned with the sectarian system. Moreover, female identity continued to be associated with national identity and with the absence of influence on decision-making processes.
Leftist feminist organisations separated themselves from the Lebanese political parties that once incubated them, becoming autonomous. In other words, they formed their own independent structures and entities. This separation set the scene for the growing activism that Lebanon witnessed in later stages.
During the fifth parliamentary elections held from 24 March to 7 April 1968 1, two women ran for the elections. The first was Munira al-Solh who ran again for the same seat in Beirut (third district), but withdrew her candidacy before the elections. The second was Nuhad Sa’eed who ran again for the Maronite seat in Byblos and lost with 10,917 out of 21,813 votes 2.
Despite advocating for women’s rights in rural Lebanon since 1947, the leftist League for Lebanese Women’s Rights became legally recognized in 1970. It sought to promote women’s political participation, lobby for women’s rights in the Lebanese Parliament, and bridge the gaps between different social groups.
In the absence of a unified family law system in Lebanon, religious courts predominantly oversee the application of personal status laws with little governmental oversight. The religious courts of 18 recognised sects handle issues of marriage, divorce, custody, inheritance, and property rights. The concept of “citizenship” is bifurcated into “Lebanese men” and “Lebanese women,” and is divided along sectarian lines, resulting in 18 different articulations of citizenship in Lebanon. Additionally, the laws discriminate against women and are a breach of human rights, including the rights to non-discrimination, physical integrity, and health.
The Lebanese Democratic Party attempted to pass a bill to establish a “unified personal status law,” to no avail. This provided a precedent that the party would capitalize on in 1981, but the bill failed to reach the parliament yet again.
For the sixth parliamentary elections held from 16 to 30 April 1972 1, four women ran for the elections. The first was Nuhad Sa’eed, who ran for the third time for the Maronite seat in Byblos, but lost with 9,863 out 23,736 votes. The second was Emily Fares Ibrahim, who ran for the Maronite seat in Ba’abda, but lost. The other two women were Zahiyah Salman and Nazira Tarabay, both of whom ran for the Maronite seats in Byblos, only to withdraw before the elections.
Al-Ghandour factory, which produces biscuits and candy, had a notorious reputation for mistreating workers. Like the Regie, al-Ghandour factory had a high percentage of working women who were discriminated against in terms wages, and who were getting physically and verbally humiliated 1. As a result, on 3 November 1972, close to 1,500 working women and men held a strike until the administration of al-Ghandour implemented the newly passed wage law, which stipulated a 5% wage increase and an increase in the minimum wage from 185 Liras to 205 Liras.
The workers held the strikes at the factory’s branches in Chiyah and Choueifat, and deployed other protest tactics, such as touring marches in streets of Beirut. The strike’s momentum lasted until 11 November 1972, when it was violently dispersed by police forces who used tear gas, batons, and live bullets. The clashes resulted in several casualties and two deaths from the workers’ side: Yusif al-Attar and Fatimah al-Khawajeh, the latter of whom is considered to be the second woman martyr after Warda Butrus Ibrahim of the Regie factory strike in 1946 2.
Lebanese women gained the right to travel without their husbands’ permission, a tradition that was spread at the time, especially in rural areas. Nevertheless, Lebanese husbands have the right to ban their wives from traveling without their certified permission by registering their wives’ names at specified international travel points. This process can be carried out with the help of the Lebanese General Security office. As for unmarried women, they may travel freely once they reach the age of 18.
On 30 November 1974, women’s groups, committees, and organisations (including the League for Lebanese Women’s rights) protested the country’s deteriorating economic situation and the rising prices. They were joined by other demonstrating groups that also demanded the amendment of Article 50 of the Labour Law and Decree 34/67 concerning representation in trade affairs. The women’s march featured slogans such as “Hey mom, where is the sugar?,” and “Monopoly is strangling the people’s necks.” 1
Insaf Laawar Modaad was a journalist whose work and writing actively addressed women’s rights. She wrote to the Lebanese Council for Women in 1975 raising the demands of women in the labour force, bringing issues such as maternity leave to the Council’s attention. She raised the same demands at the Beijing conference in 1995, and published these demands in print and broadcast media 1. She also ran for elections in 1992 for the Druze seat in Ba’abda.
Khola Arsalan was among the most active women concerned with healthcare during the Lebanese Civil War. She founded a medical committee that toured Lebanese hospitals to provide medicine and treatment for the injured of the Civil War 1.
As part of the International Women’s Day’s activities, the Lebanese Democratic Party held a meeting for the representatives of all political parties in order to discuss women’s issues and propose an action plan. Despite the fact that all political parties included clauses in their party platforms in favour of civil marriage, equal pay, equality between men and women, and women’s education, the outbreak of Civil War halted the agreement between the left and the right over the issue of women’s rights. Instead, women’s rights and the debate over civil marriage were compromised at the expense of reaching unity between the different allies.
The United Nations organised the World Conference on Women to initiate a dialogue on equality between third world feminists and their western counterparts. A delegation represented Lebanese women among women from other Arab countries.
Not only was Wedad Shaktoura a pioneering women’s rights activist, but she was also a leader at the Communist Action Organisation in Lebanon. She worked with professional syndicates in Lebanon such as the Teachers’ Syndicate. In 1961, Shakhtoura ran for elections in the board of the Teachers’ Syndicate, and she managed to win and represent the syndicate in coordination committees around Lebanon 1. She also supported the Palestinian cause, and helped in organising a woman’s sit-in that took place at AUB in 1982.
The Lebanese Women Democratic Gathering (RDFL) was established under notice 25/A.D. with the aim of cooperating with democratic forces to achieve full gender equality, and combat violence. It utilised international bills, conventions, and treaties as references to achieve its goals. Yet, it faced hurdles due to the fact that such legal references were not yet recognised or ratified in Lebanon 1.
Born in Lebanon in 1925 to a Greek mother and a Syrian father, Etel Adnan is a writer and painter whose work navigates multiple identities, languages, and cultures. She writes in both English and French, and her writing has garnered fame in Lebanon and beyond. Her 1977 novel Sitt Marie Rose stood out the most, being one of the very first novels to be written during the Lebanese Civil War. In May 2017, she received the AUB University Medal, the university’s most prestigious recognition.
Lebanon ratified ILO convention no. 100 on equal remuneration between men and women; ILO convention no. 111 on gender discrimination in employment and occupation; and ILO convention no. 122 on employment policies that promote productivity and free of choice of employment.
Linda Matar became engaged in the public sphere from her early childhood and teenage years. She worked at silk factories, where she witnessed first-hand the unequal treatment of young women and girls despite their hard labour. In 1953, she joined the League for Lebanese Women’s Rights and became its president in 1978 1. She further coordinated the regional office of the Women International Democratic Federation. Among her major accomplishments are over 40 years of lobbying for the amendment of the laws that are discriminatory against women. She has also cofounded many women’s non-governmental organisations in Lebanon and has represented Lebanon in nearly 60 Arab and regional and international conferences. Additionally, in 1996, she ran for parliamentary elections, but was not elected. Speaking of this experience, she said:
“When I ran for elections, I told them [friends and family], ‘Don’t wait for me to succeed; I ran because it was my duty to run, but I knew I wouldn’t win because I did not have the toolkit. No one in my family was involved in politics; not my father nor my brother or husband, which left me backboneless… To this day, this hasn’t changed much, wasta [nepotism] plays a role.” 2
In an interview with writer Jean Said Makdisi, she spoke about Matar’s unique experience:
“Unlike her contemporaries,
Matar was a feminist who came from the factories. She had a different socialisation. She knew about feminist theorists like Simone de Beauvoir, though she did not necessarily read them in her time; her feminist stance was grounded in her experience as a working woman.” 3.
Emily Nasrallah (1931-2018) was one of the most famous writers in the Arab world, as well as passionate women’s rights activist who worked towards documenting the women’s rights movement and its figures. During the Lebanese Civil War, her writings depicted the changes and disintegration that the Lebanese society was going through. Her children’s book, Yawmiyyat Hirr (What Happened to Zeeko, 1999), is an example of her attempts at depicting everyday life in war-torn Beirut. In 2017, she was awarded the Goethe Medal.
Contraceptive methods were illegal, and their prescription, promotion, or sale were sanctioned by provisions in the Penal Code, originally derived from the 1920 French anti-contraception law. These provisions inflicted penalties – ranging from imprisonment to the payment of fines – on anyone who prevented pregnancy. It was not until 1983 that stipulations against contraception were abrogated, and the Ministry of Health assigned “a fund for family planning services, including sterilisation, which is not regulated by State law.”
Abortion remains illegal under the Lebanese Penal Code (Art. 539-540), however, resulting in a penalty of imprisonment. The penalty for abortion varies, but it can be extended if it was performed against a woman’s will or if it compromised her life, leading to her death. In case the abortion was carried out to “protect a woman’s honour,” the penalty for it is attenuated.
Abortions continue to be performed in Lebanon in hazardous conditions and illegal settings that can endanger women’s health; there are no official records of the numbers of these abortions, however. Emergency contraceptives are available in the Lebanese pharmaceutical market, and can be purchased over the counter.
The third World conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women was held in Nairobi, Kenya with the aim of bringing representatives of different governments as well as 15,000 NGO representatives of NGOs together. This event is described as being “the birth of global feminism,” resulting in the founding of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
It was only in 1987 that women gained equal accessibility to social benefits previously exclusive to men. The amendments made to the legislation governing the National Social Security Fund granted women the right to collect end-of-service indemnities from the NSSF at the same age as men, 60 years old, whereas they used to have to collect them five years earlier, at the age of 55 (Article 51 of the Social Security Law – SSL). These amendments were nevertheless not comprehensive, leaving out some stipulations that perpetuated “insecurity and inequality” for women in the workplace. Article 3 of the Labour Law and Article 46 of the SSL underline the aforementioned discrepancy; they offer welfare packages to male workers and civil servants whereby they can receive compensation if their wives do not work, while female employees are only eligible to receive such compensation if their husbands are deceased or have a disability that prevents them from working. Similarly, Articles 10 and 14 of the SSL do not extend the SSL coverage and other social benefits to the unemployed husbands of women employees.
In her memoir, Beirut Fragments: A War Memoir (1990), Jean Said Makdisi depicts life in war-torn Beirut. She describes neighbourhoods, buildings, and streets, exploring how each of these constructs contributes to the creation of a “landscape of memories” encompassing the war and people’s painful experiences within it. In her second book, Teta, Mother, and I: An Arab Woman’s Memoir (2005), Makdisi interweaves the personal, the domestic, social, and political spheres of three generations of women in her family across time and space. In an interview with Makdisi, the author spoke of her multi-layered identity, whereby she identified herself differently at different stages of her life. She currently considers herself to be an inquisitive writer who attempts to highlight the everyday stories of Arab women, and a lifelong feminist who continues to participate in and organise conferences, conventions, and debates about these themes 1. She also identifies as a mother, wife, and sister, as those roles coloured and contoured her manifold contributions to – and understanding of – feminism. She is also a member of the Lebanese Association of Women Researchers, where she writes on the lives of women living in the 1920s, the changes brought about by the World War I, and depictions of masculinity.
Jumana Merhi is the director of the Arab Institute for Human Rights in Lebanon, and the vice president of The Lebanese Democratic Women’s Gathering. She has been involved in advocating for women’s rights and fighting against gender-based violence since the 1990s.
Article 2 of the Lebanese Code of Civil Procedure, issued in 1983, necessitates that Lebanese courts adhere to the hierarchy of legal rules, which requires them to give international treaties jurisdictional precedence in the event of a conflict with national laws. However, feminist activist Laure Moghaizel, along with a delegation from the Human Rights Association, made a proposal for a clause to be added to the Lebanese constitution to commit Lebanon to international treaties – such as the International Declaration of Human Rights – with regards to issues related to human rights. Though the clause was not added to the body of the Lebanese constitution, it was added to its introduction on 27 September 27 1990. This recognition continues to empower activists to this today.
27 June 1990 – Alongside the Lebanese Women Democratic Gathering’s lobbying for the use of international conventions domestically, feminist activist Laure Moghaizel, together with a delegation from the Human Rights Association, proposed a clause to be added in the Lebanese constitution, which would commit Lebanon to the International Declaration of Human Rights. These legal efforts continue to be useful for contemporary activists, and paved the way for a third wave of feminism, which aimed at putting women at the heart of international treaties.
The first regular parliamentary elections after the Lebanese Civil War took place from 23 August to 11 October 1992 1, and six women ran for seats.
Three out of those six women were elected partially because of their close connections with strong political figures such as fathers or husbands. The first was Nayla Moawad, who ran for the Maronite seat in the Zgharta district and won with 90,599 out of 135,000 votes 2. She received the highest number of votes in the North. The second woman was Bahiya al-Hariri, sister of the then Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, who ran for the Sunni seat in the Sidon district, receiving 117,761 votes. The third woman was Maha Khoury Asaad, who ran for the Maronite seat in Byblos and won with 41 votes only. She also represented the Lebanese Parliament at the Inter-Parliamentary Union from 1992-1996.
Bushra al-Khalil was the first Shi’a woman to run for parliamentary elections in the South district. However, she lost the elections.
Dr. Fahima Charafeddine is an independent researcher and a longtime advocate of women’s rights. She has analysed the women’s movement in Lebanon, and is critical of the mainstream narrative about the movement. She explains her point of view saying:
“Although the Lebanese women’s movement is among the first to sprout in the region, the strategies of the movement, up until the 1990s, were centred on helping women gain their basic rights, such as education, healthcare, and the right to work. I believe the movement followed Kassem Amin’s ideas: making education and work available for women so they can become better mothers and caregivers.” 1
Charafeddine’s contributions to the study of the status of women in Lebanon are invaluable. Her study, “Predicament of Lebanese Women Married to Non-Lebanese” (2009), is one of the most influential ones conducted on Lebanese women’s right to citizenship and nationality. It is often used as a baseline to understand the impact of the stipulations of the Lebanese nationality law on Lebanese women. She, along with others, formed the National Committee for the Follow up of Women’s Issues in 1993 in preparation of the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women, to ensure effective participation on behalf of Lebanese women. She is currently the president of the committee.
Nimat Asaad Kanaan became the first woman general director of the Ministry of Social Affairs, occupying the position from 1993 to 2005. She headed many national projects, including the Project for Developing Social Care from 1972-1997, and was the vice president of the National Committee for Population 1.
Women gained the right to testify in matters related to land registry. In 1993, Article 54 of the Land Registry Law, which confined the testimony at the notary to men, was amended to allow anyone who is 18 years of age or older to testify. However, women continue to be considered “minors” in the civil registry, with men being viewed as the legal head of the family, and their “wives and children registered under their family census records.” In the event of a divorce, women go back to being recorded under their father’s registry.
Iqbal Doughan is a women’s rights activist, and is currently the president of the Working Women League in Lebanon. As a labour lawyer, she was the first woman director of the Lebanese directorate for the sorting of tobacco at the Regie factory. As a result, she ran for elections on the Regie Syndicate list, and became a member of the Syndicate from 1998 to 2006 1. She spoke briefly about her involvement in activism, saying:
“I started working at the Regie Libanaise des Tabacs et Tombacs. I joined the union, and from that point onwards, I shifted from doing political work to doing trade-union work. I came to the realisation that women worked in very poor conditions compared to men, even though they worked more. So I started working in favour of equal rights in the scope of trade-union work, and it was there where I met Emily Fares Ibrahim, who was the president of the Lebanese Council for Women at the time.” 2
She would then go on to become the vice president of the Lebanese Council for Women from 1996 to 2000, becoming its president from 2000 to 2004. She was re-elected for a new term in 2016, scheduled to end in 2019. She was one of the founders and the chairs of the Family Rights Network (2008), a network that promotes the reform of family laws and personal status codes. Doughan is currently working with many organisations to push for the reform of personal status laws and the amendment of the legal age of marriage.
Married women acquired the right to trade without the permission of their husbands.
According to the 1971 regulatory law of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Article 39 forced Lebanese women diplomats to leave their jobs should they marry a foreigner. In 1994, Law no. 376 repealed Article 39 and granted female diplomats the right to pursue their careers irrespective of their marital status or their marriage to foreigners.
Women were granted the right to enter commercial businesses, partnerships, and limited liability companies after the revocation of Articles 11, 12, and 13 of the Trade Law of 1942. These amendments recognise married women as independent legal actors.
Women were granted the legal competence to enter life insurance contracts when article 997 of the Law of Obligations and Contracts was amended. Prior to this amendment, married women needed the permission of their husbands in order to enter a life insurance contract. The amended article stipulated that no third party was allowed to enter life insurance contracts on behalf of married women; in other words, the husbands’ permission is not needed. Entering such contracts is currently done after the approval of married women themselves, and under the supervision of the judiciary.
Following the fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, a third generation of feminists emerged in Lebanon. This generation helped in formulating new terms, such as “gender-based violence,” “full citizenship,” and “positive discrimination,” and pushed for legal and perceptual gender mainstreaming, as well as for the inclusion of women’s rights into human rights. This activism culminated in the signing of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1997, and binding Lebanon to achieve the conference’s goals by integrating them in domestic legal codes 1. Dr. Fahima Charafeddine, President of the National Committee for the Follow-up of Women’s Issues, considered the Beijing conference to be a turning point for women’s movements on both a local and global level. She recounts how it impacted the movement, saying:
“It wasn’t until Beijing that the women’s movement developed its strategies. The reader of the history of the women’s movement often conflates women’s organisations with the whole movement. It is true that women’s organisations have contributed greatly to the women’s movement, but they are not the women’s movement. After Beijing, the vision for the women’s movement was reconsidered and reshaped; it is now more about the strategic goals. The visions of women’s organisations became more focused on changing women’s status, and not merely serving them.” 2
Mid-1990s – International organisations’ efforts pushed the Lebanese government to partner with women’s organisations to facilitate the provision of social welfare services and reshape “the future of gender relations in the country.” To this end, the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW) (al-Hay’a al-Wataniya li-Shou’oun al-Mar’a al-Lubnaniya) was founded in 1996 to emphasise and outline the role of women in Lebanese society. Additionally, the National Committee for the Follow Up of Women’s Issues (CFUWI) (al-Lajna al-Ahlia li-Mutaba’at Qadaya al-Mar’a) and the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence Against Women (LECORVAW) were established in 1996 and 1997, respectively.
The promise of partnership and the establishment of women’s councils prompted feminist groups to institutionalise their activities and work as non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Not only did this process of NGOisation affect the internal organisational structures of women’s organisations, but it also impacted their goals and claims. Now women’s organisation sought to fight for gender equity and against stereotypes, enhance women’s economic status, political empowerment, and participation in civil society, and to end gender-based violence. A concomitant result of this “global” trend in civil society is the continuous dependence on donor funding, and the concurrent shaping of agendas and priorities of the recipient organisations.
In the second parliamentary elections, held from 8 August to 15 September 1996, three women won seats in the Parliament. The first was Nayla Moawad, who ran in Zgharta and won. The second was Nuhad Sa’eed, who ran in Byblos and won with 7,195 votes. The third was Bahiya al-Hariri, who ran in the South and won with 141,338 votes.
Inspired by the activism she witnessed during the Lebanese Civil War, Zoya Jureidini Rouhana decided to dedicate her efforts to advocating for gender-based violence. In so doing, she became one of the founding members of the Arab Women’s Court (an Arab network to resist violence against women) in 1995. In 1997, she was a founding member of the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence against Women. She is also a founding member of Kafa (enough) Violence & Exploitation, which she currently directs.
Not only was Mona Chemali Khalaf (1939-2018) an academic, but she was also a long-time activist and advocate of women’s rights in Lebanon. Her research and advocacy focused on gender and development issues, making her one of the few people who specialised in the field in Lebanon. From 1997 to 2005, she was appointed as the Director of the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World at the Lebanese American University. She joined numerous committees and organisations with the aim of advancing women’s rights, including the Lebanese National Commission for Women Affairs, and helped in preparing for milestone conferences, such as the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women.
16 April 1997 – The Lebanese state signed and ratified the 1981 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which lays out women’s social, economic, political, and civil rights, and stipulates non-discrimination and equality. Although the signing and ratification of CEDAW helped the Lebanese state to achieve big strides for women, it had some reservations. These reservations included article 9 (2), which seeks to give men and women equal rights with regards to the power to pass on their nationality to their children. Other reservations were against article 16 (1) (c) (d) (f) and (g), which addresses the eradication of discrimination against women in family and marriage matters, such as the rights and responsibilities in marriage, guardianship, and personal rights, including choosing a “family name and a profession.” Additionally, the Lebanese state decreed that it does not commit to Article 29’s paragraph 1 which gives the options of referral to a) arbitration or b) the International Court of Justice, in the event of a disagreement on the interpretation of CEDAW clauses. These reservations evoked responses from countries like Denmark, as well as the Committee for the Follow-Up on Women’s Issues, to question the Lebanese state’s commitment to CEDAW. It is worth noting that these reservations were maintained, and the National Commission for Lebanese Women made little efforts to amend them. Despite the Lebanese government’s establishment of the Women’s Affairs Ministry in later years, the government still lacks the political will to implement any national programme designed for empowering women and ending violence against them.
Launched by the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) in 1997 to advocate the holding of municipal elections on time, the campaign baladi, baldati, baladiyati (My country, my town, my municipality), was one of the first to be held by civil society actors in Lebanon. The campaign started in October 1997 and lasted until May 1998, mobilising the general public using several tactics, including rallies, petitions (over 100,000 signatures were collected), and sit-ins. Women’s participation was visible throughout this mobilisation. The campaign had a high response rate from the Lebanese public, and contributed to the holding the municipal elections in 1998, which were the first to be held after the Lebanese Civil War.
20 February 1999 – Article 562 of the Lebanese Penal Code stipulated an exemption from punishment in what is known as “honour crimes.” Honour crimes are committed by male figures, such as husbands, fathers, brothers against a female kin, such as a sister, mother, or wife who engages in an act of adultery or unlawful intercourse. Such crimes can also be committed against the male partner with whom said intercourse occurred. In both cases, the male perpetrators were exempted for committing these crimes. This Article was seen as a contradiction of Lebanon’s ratification of the International Declaration of Human Rights. The article was ultimately amended to allow for a reduced penalty.
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.
The third parliamentary elections were held from 27 August to 3 September 2000 1. The electoral campaign was described as “the most corrupt” since the end of the Civil War. Sixteen women ran for election that year, and only three women managed to get seats in the parliament: Bahiya al-Hariri, who kept her seat in the South, Nayla Moawad, who ran for a seat in Zgharta, and Ghenwa Jalloul, who ran for a seat in Beirut.
26 May 2000 – A number of articles in the Lebanese Labour Law were revoked and amended to achieve equal working conditions for men and women working in the public sector. The amended provisions included benefits and services offered to the employees and their families. In addition, women were allowed to have night shifts at work, and their fully paid maternity leave was extended from 40 to 60 days for public sector employees, and to seven weeks for private sector employees. Employers were also prohibited from dismissing pregnant employees from work beginning in their fifth month of pregnancy, or during their maternity leave.
Despite these stipulations and the fact that women can sue their employers, lawsuits against employers remain rare, and gender discrimination at the workplace remains omnipresent in Lebanon. The stipulations of the 1942 Lebanese Labour Code still exclude some workers from its mandate, including ِagricultural workers who are not affiliated with trade or industry sectors as well as domestic workers – who are mostly women– on the grounds that there would be a separate legislation to regulate these types of labour. Also, the definition of a worker includes “any man, woman, adolescent who works for the consideration of a wage or a salary…,” yet stipulations like Article 27 restrain the employment of children, adolescents, and women in some jobs – such as the production of alcohol – and prohibit women from working in hazardous jobs involving chemicals and electricity. Though such clauses are meant to protect women from hazard, singling women out and coupling them with children imply that adult women are perceived as juvenile figures, which is a notion that is codified and reflected in the law. Instead, safety measures for both men and women could be introduced.
Another instance of gender discrimination in the Labour law is manifested in the discrepancy in rest-time between women and men. While the former are given one hour of rest-time midday for each five hours of work, the later are granted one hour of rest-time midday for each six hours of work (Article 34). Finally, women are allowed to receive their end-of-service indemnities if they leave their work due to marriage on condition that they have completed more than a year of service, while men are not granted the same right. Such stipulation supports and sustains the perception of women as caregivers who should prioritise household duties.
In February 2000, the Supreme Court issued a resolution equalising insured individuals (men and women) with regards to maternity and health benefits, as well as family indemnities offered by Social Security Fund. Prior to the amendment, only insured men had access to health benefits and family indemnities, and were able to extend them to their wives and families. After the amendment was passed, women were granted the same rights that insured men had.
Beginning in the early 2000s, sexual, reproductive, and bodily rights were at the heart of the fourth generation of feminists that was emerging in Lebanon. This came in line with the same principles upheld by LGBTIQ movements around the world. This generation of activists supported and continues to raise awareness about the “legal vulnerability” of victims or marginalised groups, such as LGBTIQ people or migrant workers, as well as environmental issues, and androcentric approaches to arts and knowledge production. Fourth generation feminists also lobby for more sexual diversity and better economic and political empowerment for women, particularly with regards to gender quotas. In so doing, the feminists of today capitalised on the Internet and social media platforms in particular, which constantly connect them to their international counterparts.
With the establishment of Helem in 2004, the first LGBTIQ organisation in Lebanon and the region, many organisations focusing on sexual diversity and rights followed suit. Helem was conceived out of a momentum created by the meeting of the Anti-War & Anti-Globalisation Movement. The movement is comprised of “social movements, organisations, political parties, networks, and coalitions from 54 countries who are struggling for global peace and justice, and who are committed to equality, solidarity, and diversity.” They gathered in Beirut to express solidarity with the people in the region fighting for these principles.
Nayla Moawad was the first woman to be appointed as the Minister of Social Affairs from July 2005 to July 2008 in the cabinet of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and under the presidency of Emile Lahoud. Moawad was among the first women parliamentarians from 1991 to 2004. She was also a member of the Parliamentary Committee for money and budget and the committee for education. 1
The fourth parliamentary elections, held from 29 May to 19 June 2005, ended with six women winning seats, which is considered the highest level of participation of women in the history of the Lebanese Parliament to date. The winning women parliamentarians included Bahiya al-Hariri, Nayla Moawad, Setrida Geagea (wife of the leader of the Lebanese Forces Party), Solange al-Gemayel (wife of Bashir al-Gemayel, former leader of the Lebanese Forces), Ghenwa Jalloul, and Gilberte Zwein.
Women’s level of representation at the 2005 parliamentary elections was the highest in the history of modern Lebanon, with 6 women out of 128 parliamentarians being elected – the equivalent of 3%. This figure is still higher than the one achieved in the 2009 elections, whereby women’s representation in the Parliament amounted to a total of 1.7% 1.
Many NGOs joined the fight against confessional personal status laws, which are seen as a hurdle for the creation of national rules to protect vulnerable persons. As a manifestation of these ongoing efforts, the Network for the Rights of the Family launched campaign 13/15 to reform custody laws in all confessions. Yet, the laws continue to be administered by religious courts, and women are still denied their rights to equality before the law, in addition to all the rights guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Feryal Daloul became the first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Judicial Council. In 2006, then-Prime Minister Fouad Siniora approved the appointment of five new judges; Daloul was among them, and was also the youngest. Her appointment had significant implications for the increasing participation of women in the judiciary in Lebanon at the time, with 141 women judges being appointed out of a total of 452 judges. Today, the total number of judges amounts to 543 1, 48% 2 of whom are women. To ensure the protraction of this balanced representation, a quota system has been applied to the judiciary. Though this percentage reflects women’s remarkable presence in the judicial body in Lebanon, some regional as well as professional disparities continue to exist. The former is palpable upon the examination of the representation of women as judges. In 2010, for example, 48% of judges in Beirut, Ba’abda, and Jdeideh were women, whereas women made up a mere 25% and 21% of the judges, respectively, in the Beqaa (in the North) and Nabatiye (in the South). The latter disparity is witnessed in how women judges tend to handle cases that are more “suitable for women,” such as custody related matters.
Despite representing 51% of the Lebanese population and 54% of university graduates, it is rare to find women in the Lebanese Parliament and public offices, of which men constitute 97%. “The dynamics of marginalisation [of women] within the parties were exacerbated in the context of the civil war,” 1 leading to a further exclusion of women from politics, confining their roles to charity. To end this exclusion, women’s organisations demanded a 30% quota for women in parliamentary seats, and a bill proposing a 30% quota for women in the Parliament was drafted by the National Commission on Electoral Law, combining the majoritarian and proportional systems. The bill did was not pass, however, and the efforts to instil a quota for women continue to be made. 2
Bahiya al-Hariri was the first woman to become the Minister of Education and Higher Education. Al-Hariri was also among the first women to win seats in the Parliament from 1992 to 2009. During her terms at the Parliament, she was a member of the Parliamentary Child Committee and the Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs. 1
Raya Haffar el-Hassan was the first woman to be appointed Minister of Finance from 2009 to 2011. Prior to her appointment, she acted as an advisor to the Minister of Economy and Trade from 2000 to 2003, and was a member of the Office of the Prime Minister from 2005 to 2009.
Samira Soueidan was the first Lebanese woman to pass her Lebanese nationality to her children from her deceased Egyptian husband 1. The court, led by judges John Qazzi, Rana Habka, and Lamis Kazma, issued a verdict allowing Soueidan’s two sons and two daughters to receive the Lebanese citizenship. In May 2010, however, the Court of Cassation overturned the three judges’ verdict. 2
After the Feminist Collective fell apart, another feminist collective, Nasawiya, was created with a focus on self-empowerment, “identity politics,” and mutual support. Though it was not linked to any political party or ideology, the collective “approached the political sphere” by experience. Emerging political differences among the collective’s members led to its disbandment, however.
In September 2010, Article 59 of the Lebanese Labour Law was amended to grant Palestinian refugee workers 1, both men and women, the same rights as Lebanese workers – most notably, the right for compensation upon being dismissed from work. Additionally, on the same occasion, Palestinian refugee workers 2 were granted an end-of-service compensation by amending Article 9 of the Social Security Law (SSL).
Sawt an-Niswa was founded as a non-partisan feminist network and platform for theorisation and knowledge production. The network includes “feminist writers, activists, and artists” whose work records, analyses, and reflects on the realities and experiences of women in the Arab region.
The Anti-Racism Movement (ARM) was created as a grassroots movement of activists and feminists, along with migrant workers and migrant domestic workers. The collective was born after a notorious discriminatory and racist incident took place at Sporting Club, one of Beirut’s private beaches resorts. Ever since, the collective seeks to fight and uncover racist discriminatory practices and policies in Lebanon. It does so through its advocacy and awareness raising activities.
Since its establishment in 1919, the Bar Association did not see a woman in any of its top leadership positions until 2011, when Amale Haddad became the first woman to lead the Bar Association.
In 2011, Ghida Abdallah Anani founded ABAAD Resource Centre for Gender Equality, a Lebanon-based civil society organisation that promotes “sustainable social and economic development in the MENA region” by empowering marginalised groups such as women. Anani has been also a board member of the “Girls Not Brides Global Campaign” since 2014.
Though honour crimes are not prevalent in Lebanon, 66 honour crimes were reported between 1999 and 2007 according to a study conducted by the organisation Kafa (Enough Violence and Exploitation). Article 562 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which mitigated the penalty of killing women relatives or spouses on the grounds of “protecting family honour, gave the convicted perpetrators reduced penalties. The article was indicative of the state’s condoning of such crimes. It was only in August 2011 that Article 562 was repealed.
Since Lebanon lacks a unified civil personal status code, maternal custody remains one of the many contentious areas governed by several confessional laws. There are continuous efforts, however, to amend these laws to cater to the needs of Lebanese society. One of the recent achievements in this area was raising the age of maternal custody from seven years for boys and nine years for girls to 12 years for both in Sunni confessions. Furthermore, extending maternal custody remains at the discretion of judges, and is contingent upon the child’s interest. Though this is an important achievement, relinquishing the right to legislation in matters of custody to religious courts and authorities continues to undermine the authority of the Lebanese Parliament over its legislative mandate. It is worth noting that other confessions and religious groups had raised the age of maternal custody at a prior stage; in 2003, the Greek Orthodox confession raised it from seven years to 14 years for boys and from nine to 15 years for girls (Article 57). In 2005, the Evangelical confession raised it from seven years to 12 years for boys and girls (Article 62).
Article 9 of Law no. 149 issued in 1959 was amended to ensure equal rights for both men and women in relation to the reduction of the fees incurred on the heir when accessing their inheritance. Prior to the amendment, such reductions and exemptions were only applicable to men.
Article 31 of Law no. 144 issued in 1959, which stated that only men had access to reductions on income tax for their wives and children (5 children maximum), was amended. Now, working women can enjoy this reduction for both their husbands and children.
27 February 2011 – The Lebanese youth marched against the confessional system upon which Lebanon is based, since it is seen as a major impediment towards gender equality and full citizenship rights. In this mobilisation movement, the presence of women was significant, and they effectively participated in organisational efforts, using different protest tactics. This participation culminated in a women-led protest on 8 March 2011, when International Women’s Day is celebrated.
KAFA (enough) Violence & Exploitation initiated a campaign for personal status laws by calling for the integration of CEDAW norms in order to equalize the conditions of men and women, and to remove Lebanon’s reservations on CEDAW clauses, such as Article 16, which is concerned with matrimonial and family law. The slogans used throughout the campaign included “The personal status laws are ‘dissonant’” and “an outdated/patriarchal law cannot govern us today.”
The Lebanese government adopted the National Strategy for Women in Lebanon (2011-2021) 1, which includes social, economic, political, legal, educational, cultural, and environmental reforms that will help to achieve better gender equality and protect women and girls from all forms of discrimination and violence. In order to execute the National Strategy for Women in Lebanon (2011-2021), the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW) drafted what they termed the National Action Plan 2017-2019 (NAP), which aimed at defining attainable goals for the different local and national authorities and institutions, as well as their international partners, in order to implement the strategy. 2
Though civil marriages performed outside Lebanon are legally recognised in the country, officiating a civil marriage contract on Lebanese soil is illegal. Progress on the issue oscillated, however. After a landmark case in 2013, the first civil marriage took place in Lebanon. In 2015, however, the Minister of Interior and Municipalities Nouhad al-Machnouk reversed this development, and requested citizens planning on getting civil marriages to carry them out outside of Lebanon, knowing that their marriage would be recognised domestically.
The demands for civil marriage began in 1951, when the Lebanese Bar Association held a strike for almost six months to demand an optional civil marriage law. These efforts resumed in 1957 with MP Raymond Edde, Leader of the Lebanese National Bloc, proposing to the Parliament to allow civil marriage in Lebanon. In 1975, women’s organisations held a convention to discuss personal status laws, and demanded optional and non-compulsory civil marriage. To this day, Lebanese activists still advocate for the right to undertake civil marriage. They have run campaigns such as the “Campaign for Civil Wedding in Lebanon,” held information sharing events, provided legal advice, and organised protests like the one that took place 17 April 2017.
Maysem el-Noewri was the first woman to be appointed as General Director of the Ministry of Justice.
Bahia Baalbaky’s activism started taking shape upon the 1967 resignation of the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the ideologue of Arab nationalism. Baalbaky took part in a protest against his resignation in a popular march in Beirut, making it her first participation in a public protest 1. She has been actively advocating for women’s rights ever since, continuing to do so even after she became a member of the Secondary Schools’ Teachers Association in 1979. Major causes she advocated for include equal working conditions for men and women working in the public sector, and equalising men and women with regards to state benefits. In 2014, she was elected as a member of the executive board of the Teachers Association for two consecutive terms. She is currently the Head of Educational Affairs Committee in Public Secondary Schools’ Teachers of Lebanon (LPESPL). She is also one of the founders of the Independent Syndicate Current, an independent platform that represents the interests of secondary school teachers.
22 April 2014 –While the International Labour Organisation requires a standard minimum of 12 weeks of maternity leave, maternity leave in Lebanon was only seven weeks long. In April 2014, however, Article 38 of the 1959 Decree no. 112, and Articles 28 and 29 of the Lebanese Labour Law were all amended to extend maternity leave to 10 weeks with full pay. With regards to this issue, Bahia Baalbaky, a lifelong activist of the Secondary Schools’ Teachers Association in Lebanon and one of the founders of Independent Syndicate Current, expressed the need to take additional measures in order to further extend maternity leave. She said:
“We demanded a maternity leave of three months because the motherhood role isn’t just for women, it’s for the society as a whole. But maternity leave should be extended further. Motherhood, much like reproduction, is a social role; this responsibility does not only fall on women, but on the entire society. This is why women should be given the right to adequate maternity leave.” 1
15 May 2014 – Thanks to the lobbying and persistent efforts of women’s organisations and activists, a law criminalising domestic violence, and promoting the protection of women and family members from it, was issued. Prior to the issuance of this law, domestic violence was not penalised. According to reports from the Internal Security in Lebanon, 3,811 crime of sexual violence took place in the year 2014 alone. The law originally targeted women in Lebanon, who were the main victims of such crimes. However, confessional and political leaders extended the mandate of the law to include men and children in the family (excluding men outside the family as a social unit, which leaves out boyfriends and other male figures/friends).
15 May 2014 – Article 3 of Law no. 293 stipulated the amendments of Articles 487, 488, and 489, which discriminated against women with regards to adultery. The penalty for women who commit adultery was graver and more severe than that of men. The new amendments equalised the treatment of the spouses when it comes to the penalty of adultery, and being publically intimate with a person other than their spouse; the penalty for the former ranges from three months to two years and the latter ranges from a month to a year.
The “anti-prostitution” campaign “Al Hawa Ma Byinshara” (“Sex/love” cannot be bought) was launched by Kafa in September 2014. According to Kafa, “prostitution” in Lebanon and globally is not a choice that women willingly make, but a form of sexual exploitation that is imposed on women. The campaign called for uncovering the violent and exploitative practices that women experience in “prostitution”, as well as human trafficking. Nevertheless, many observers and civil society actors were critical of Kafa’s approach, adopting a position that does not criminalise “prostitution”, but rather legalises and regulates it like many countries around the world that regulate sex work.
25 December 2015 – The efforts of two years resulted in the establishment of the Syndicate of Men and Women Domestic Workers. The syndicate’s assembly was faced with resistance from the Lebanese Ministry of Labour. News reports reported that Sejaan Qazzi, the Minister of Labour, rejected the syndicate and threatened to use force against the workers who called for the assembly, and not to issue a license to legalise the status of the syndicate. Migrant and foreign workers have no right to establish such bodies as they are excluded from the legal protection of the Lebanese Labour Law. The assembly raised the demands of “recognising the right to organisation for all workers,” ratifying the ILO convention no. 87 concerning freedom of association and the right to organisation, and convention no. 189 concerning the conditions of domestic workers and the abolishment of the exploitative Kafala system (the sponsorship system).
However, according to Farah Kobeissi, a feminist political activist, the syndicate does not enjoy autonomy since it came to be under the auspices of the National Federation of Employees’ and Workers’ Unions in Lebanon (FENASOL). She said:
“Even the members of the syndicate were not given enough space to express themselves or to voice their opinions about their logos, the banners, or slogans they raise in marches due to the control coming from FENASOL. It is imposed on them by the leadership of the general federation. The majority of the leadership of the syndicate have already left the country; whether they did so voluntarily or by force remains unclear.” 1
Women’s participation in the Popular Movement (al-Hirak) in Lebanon, as well as the mobilisation movement that took place in 2015 to demand a solution for the garbage crisis that plagued Beirut, culminated in the forming of the Feminist Bloc, a collective of activists and feminists who have seen women’s demands absent from political mobilisations. The National Bloc raised the slogan “The patriarchal regime kills,” symbolising an intersectional feminist discourse that cuts across gender, race, and class.
Enaya Ezzedine was the first woman to hold the position of Minister of State for Administrative Development.
Wafaa Abed is an outspoken advocate of the involvement and participation of women in political parties in Lebanon. She also advocates for the implementation of fairer legal codes for women, particularly the need to eliminate discriminatory clauses in Lebanese Social Security Laws. She is currently the president of the Progressive Women’s Union, and the head of the Women’s Affairs Commission at The Progressive Socialist Party (PSP).
The National Commission for Lebanese Women was established in 1996, under the auspices of the government, to carry out the Beijing Platform for Action, which includes 12 objectives covering areas from the advancement of women’s participation in public life to ending violence against women and girls. Similarly, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was created to ensure achieving equality between Lebanese men and women, in their cultural, social, political, economic, civil rights, and that the country’s legal codes reflect such commitments. However, the Ministry’s mandate of authority, as well as its financial resources, remain limited; this impacts the mission it seeks to realise, and hence its influence is rather symbolic. It is worth noting that Lebanon’s first Minister of Women’s Affairs, Jean Oghassapian, is a man.
May 1, 2016 –Domestic men and women workers, along with civil society organisations, marched on Labour Day in 2016 to raise the demands of ratifying the ILO convention no. 189 concerning the provision of decent working conditions for domestic workers, and to put an end to the violence against domestic workers in police stations. This march has become a ritual on Labour Day for the past seven years in Lebanon, and continues to be used to advocate for workers’ rights, particularly domestic workers, who have been subject to many discriminatory policies and social practices.
Civil society organisations fought to change Article 522 that allows a rapist to marry his victim(s) to evade prosecution. Among these initiatives is the “A white dress doesn’t cover the rape” campaign launched by Abaad (Dimensions) Resource Centre for Gender Equality. The campaign used repulsive billboards depicting women dressed in “bloodied and torn white bridal gowns.” The billboards were shown in Beirut as well as other Lebanese cities. Additionally, bloodied gowns were hung along the Corniche of Beirut. The campaign garnered the attention of local and international media, and was deemed successful by civil society actors in Lebanon. After a fierce mobilisation against the clause, Article 522 was abrogated on 16 August 2017.
Dr. Fadia Kiwan is the founder and former director of the Institute of Political Science at Saint Joseph University, Lebanon. She continues to be a member of the executive board of the National Commission for Lebanese Women. As an academic and researcher, her work explores the issues of democratisation, women’s rights, and sustainable development.
The new electoral law passed in 2017 did not include a gender quota for women, a long-held demand to ensure women’s participation and representation in public office and the Parliament. Without this quota, women’s representation remains one of the lowest in the region with only 17 women elected and/or appointed to the Parliament since 1953.
The highest number of women MPs was in 2005, when the level of representation for women in the Lebanese Parliament reached six representatives out of 128 parliamentarians. The elected women are mostly widows, wives, and daughters of male political figures. Though the quota is a positive discrimination tool meant to enhance women’s political representation, it is not enough, in itself, as a measure of gender equality, and has to be accompanied by other legal and electoral reforms such as “regulating campaign spending.” 1
16 August 2017 – Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code was abrogated in 2017. The article allowed rapists to marry their victims to evade prosecution.
17 August 2017 – Even though civil marriages performed outside of Lebanon are legally accepted in the country, officiating civil marriages on Lebanese soil is not possible, due to the absence of civil personal status codes regulating such marriages. Contributing to the ongoing debate about the possibility of officiating civil marriages in Lebanon, the Ministry of Justice published a draft for a law that can regulate such an option. The issue of civil marriage continues to be a complex one because the resistance to such proposed drafts comes from religious authorities across most, if not all, confessions in Lebanon.
19 September 2017 – The Parliament passed a bill allowing married women to run for municipal office in their hometowns instead of having to run in their husbands’ hometowns. Yet, these amendments remained silent on the Ministry of Women’s Affairs’ proposal to have a 30% quota for women in elections.
17 October 2017 – The personal status law issued 1948, which governs the private aspects of the Druze confession in Lebanon issued, was amended. These amendments covered several areas, including the age of maternal custody and the minimum age for marriage, among others. Article 15, for example, raised the age of maternal custody from seven years to 12 years for boys and from nine years to 14 years for girls, and Article 3 prohibits marriage for boys and girls until they reach the ages of 16 and 15, respectively.
Though there is no unified minimum marriage age for women, the minimum age at marriage according to different courts ranges between 14 and 17 years, given that religious courts oversee the application of personal status laws. However, if the girl who is to be married is younger than the minimum age for marriage at the sect, religious courts can make exceptions, based on a guardian’s permission, and when the girls shows signs of physical and mental maturity. In Islamic sects, marriage consummation can take place once a woman minor reaches the age of 9 years. For this reason, local civil society organisations, such as Abaad Resource Centre for Gender Equality and the Lebanese Women’s Democratic Gathering (RDFL), partnered with the international Girls not Brides organisation to fight against those early marriages, with a particular focus on Syrian girls arriving as refugees to Lebanon, as they are more vulnerable to such practices. Other organisations also advocate for legal reforms. The RDFL drafted a law to abolish early marriage and to raise the minimum age for marriage to 18 years; this draft law was submitted to the Parliament on 28 March 2017. Additionally, Kafa, another local advocate of this mobilisation, put forward action plans to end gender-based violence in general, and early marriage in particular to protect children. Since 2015, the NGO launched a campaign using videos to denounce this practice, and push the parliament to pass the law to set the minimum age for marriage at 18.
In the absence of legal codes that address women’s sexual assault and harassment in the workplace and the public sphere, Lebanese or non-Lebanese women are discouraged from joining the workforce. These precarious conditions have led to high rates of death for domestic workers due to suicide from repeated abuse; in some cases, workers are murdered by employers. Though victims of harassment in the workplace have the legal right to leave work without notice, this exacerbates women’s situations, as they remain prone to such harassment with no legal protection; they also lose their means for economic and financial sustenance. Aside from Articles 503 and 507 of the Lebanese penal code, which penalise individuals who force others into sexual intercourse or indecent acts outside of wedlock on the condition of presenting witnesses, there are no other references made regarding sexual harassment. This left a huge gap in the Lebanese legal codes – a gap that is reflected in the state’s lack of commitment to protect its citizens from such risks.
Civil society organisations, such as Kafa and the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence Against Women, provide care, counselling, and safe shelter to women who experience violence, particularly marital violence, and who have no access to sufficient legal assistance. Initiatives and national campaigns fighting sexual violence and harassment have been on-going over the past decade, almost on a yearly basis. The most recent one is “Mish basita, not okay” which was launched in July 2017 by the Knowledge Is Power (KIP) Project on Gender and Sexuality at the American University of Beirut, in partnership with the Women’s Affairs Ministry.
The Human Rights Watch, Caritas Lebanon, the Migrant Community Centre (established by the Anti-Racism Movement), Amel Association International, Insan, the Danish Refugee Council, and Nasawiya, all provide information about domestic workers’ conditions, chart strategies to end violence against domestic workers, and offer legal assistance in some cases. Nevertheless, the judicial system remains unchanged, and domestic workers are stripped of their documents, making their fate solely dependent on their employers’ will.