Event Reports

The Gender-Citizenship Nexus: Lebanese Family Status Law and the Challenge of Legal Pluralism

The Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Lebanon, in partnership with Notre Dame University’s Chair of Religious, Cultural and Philosophical Studies and the Father and Sons for Citizenship (NGO), organized a panel discussion on “The Gender-Citizenship Nexus: Lebanese Family Status Law and the Challenge of Legal Pluralism”.

Lebanon's personal status laws were established as early as 1936 as a way of allowing the different historical religious groups in the country to apply their own laws in relation to family affairs. There is little or no government oversight of these religious courts.

In the Foundation’s effort to address topics pertaining to the reinforcement of the rule of law in Lebanon, as well as in the MENA region, many initiatives have sought to address the tensions between religious legal systems and the principles of the secular rule of law.

The panel discussion at NDU has allowed the public to discuss another facet of the personal status laws, which emanates from the plurality of the legal systems in Lebanon and deals with the Lebanese family law and its correlation with challenges in gender and citizenship.

The speech of Princess Mada Arslan (Public Relations Officer of the Committee for Women Political Empowerment) was delivered by Christy Madi, media instructor at NDU, who stated that the term of legal pluralism is a “diplomatic term that is being currently used instead of the reality of the legal discrimination especially towards women and other vulnerable groups. Also in the first part of the panel, Dr. Bassel Akar, Director of the Center for Applied Research in Education, presented the concept of legal pluralism following a twofold path, one that revolves around its implementation in the educational curriculum, in particular within the civic education classes in schools and another, in the workspace, where “activating a new social kind” is necessary, where women enjoy the right to maternity, rather than being denied work if they are newly married.

The second panel started with Fateh Azzam , Director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship, at AUB who stated that the forms of discrimination in regulating the family status are explicitly established in the sectarian Lebanese laws that govern the personal status, and the fact that the religious sects are singlehandedly making laws and regulating the family status in Lebanon has resulted in consecrating numerous and complex forms of discrimination from which all the categories (and sects) of the community– and often without knowing – are suffering from, especially women and children. Then and now, Lebanese women's best chance of accessing resources and influence is through membership in a kinship group. But in exchange, what Lebanese anthropologist Suad Joseph calls the "care/control paradigm" of the kin contract required women to internalize and embrace "patriarchal moralities, structures of authority, and codes of behavior." To make the system work for them, they had to accept the system. Dr. Eugene Sensenig-Dabbous, Fathers and Sons for Citizenship, NDU, stressed on the need to propagate the right religious thinking in the public Lebanese life since, he explained, when we seek to understand the spiritual depth of religions, we tend to have more constructive dialogues and interactions. Tom Horning from the Fathers and Sons for Citizenship NGO and the Conservatoire Libanais, is living in Lebanon since 1994 and is married to a Lebanese women and hence, he scrupulously shared with the public his experiences throughout the years within the Lebanese kafala system, especially in regard to his daughter, who is born in Lebanon, but unfortunately does not hold a legal identity.

The presentation of the speakers, as well as the constructive interventions from the public showed that although the sectarian connection constitutes a defining lament for the personal status that should be applied according to the sectarian belonging of the individuals, the existence of this connection does not constitute however, by law and by Constitution, an exclusive condition, contrarily to what is prevailing today.