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Under that slogan hundreds of women demonstrated in Beirut for International Women’s Day. They marched from Beshara Khoury to Mina al-Hosn on March 10, 2019.

By Hasan al-Barazili

On top of the main demand for improvement in living conditions, two others were raised: down with Kafala system and equal rights facing the personal status law.

Kafala: Modern Slavery

“The Kafala (Sponsorship) System emerged in the 1950’s to regulate the relationship between employers and migrant workers in many countries in West Asia. It remains the routine practice in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and also in the Arab states of Jordan and Lebanon. The sponsorship system’s economic objective was to provide temporary, rotating labour that could be rapidly brought into the country in economic boom and expelled during less affl uent periods. Under the Kafala system a migrant worker’s immigration status is legally bound to an individual employer or sponsor (kafeel) for their contract period.

The migrant worker cannot enter the country, transfer employment nor leave the country for any reason without fi rst obtaining explicit written permission from the kafeel. The worker must be sponsored by a kafeel in order to enter the destination country and remains tied to this kafeel throughout their stay. The kafeel must report to the immigration authorities if the migrant worker leaves their employment and must ensure the worker leaves the country after the contract ends, including paying for the fl ight home.

Often the kafeel exerts further control over the migrant worker by confi scating their passport and travel documents, despite legislation in some destination countries that declares this practice illegal. This situates the migrant worker as completely dependent upon their kafeel for their livelihood and residency. The power that the Kafala system delegates to the sponsor over the migrant worker, has been likened to a contemporary form of slavery”[i].

Currently there are 250,000 domestic migrant workers in Lebanon, mainly from Ethiopia. The demonstrators want work permits issued and renewed by the Lebanese State without any bosses’ interference. That demand unites women’s rights and migrant workers’ rights movements.

No Right to Extend Nationality Status

The personal status law is discriminatory against Lebanese woman. It states that Lebanese men can extend nationality rights to their wife and children. The same is not provided for Lebanese women. It dates from 1925, updated in 1960.

The problems Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese men face as a result of discrimination against them in the nationality law:

  • The required residence permit for husbands and children;
  • Difficulty obtaining residence permits;
  • Husbands being forced to have fictive employment in the case of Palestinians as they are prohibited from owning property.

The problem of obtaining a residence permit is a nightmare not only for those with limited incomes but even for women who are of an above average class, who express their frustration over the time they have to spend on this issue and their anxiety over deadlines.  There are limited areas for work. The current situation keeps foreign men out of a large number of jobs, especially the liberal professions such as medicine, law, engineering and pharmacy[ii].

Among 4 million population, 77,400 residents are harmed according to Dr. Fahmiyya Sharafeddine, a Lebanese sociologist. She carried out a study for the UNDP on all marriages between Lebanese women and non-Lebanese men from 1995 to 2008. It shows that around 18,000 marriages were celebrated. 87.5% of them were Muslim couples (51.5% Sunni, 33.6% Shiite) and 12.5% Christians. The husbands were 74.7% Arabs (21.7% Palestinians, 22% Syrians, 8% Egyptians, 7.8% Iraqis, 5.2% Americans and 3.5% Jordanians).

For the Lebanese fertility rate of 2.3% these 18 thousand marriages resulted in 41.400 children. In spite of the fact they were born to Lebanese mothers they do not have any nationality rights[iii].

Across the nations, 25 countries do not provide equal rights for women regarding passing nationality rights[iv].

The protesters want full equality in the face of law. They want Lebanese women to pass national rights to their husbands and children, the same way Lebanese men do.

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[i] https://www.ilo.org/dyn/migpractice/docs/132/PB2.pdf

[ii] https://www.undp.org/content/dam/lebanon/docs/CrisisPreventionRecovery/SupplementArticles/17Supp/PEACE%20BUILDING%2017%20ENG%20p15.pdf

[iii] http://www.undp.org.lb/communication/publications/downloads/mujaz_en.pdf

[iv] https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/5aa10fd94.pdf