This November theLebanese Women’s Right to Nationality and Full Citizenship Campaign, led by WLP Lebanon/CRTD.A, realized important new achievements in its mobilization efforts, including record-breaking numbers of protestors in its November 25 sit-in. The Campaign, started by CRTD.A in 2011, seeks reform of the country’s discriminatory nationality laws, which prevent women from passing on their citizenship to husbands and children. As a result of CRTD.A’s two-year capacity building program with Campaign volunteers, using WLP leadership and political participation trainings, these volunteers launched the most successful protest mobilization the Campaign has seen to date. Following completion of the WLP program, volunteers formed a Campaign General Assembly to facilitate outreach throughout the country and stimulate widespread grassroots support for women’s equal right to nationality.
Over the past several months, the General Assembly has tirelessly conducted awareness raising activities across the country, with volunteers going door to door, passing out informational pamphlets in front of stores, and setting up “friendly roadblocks,” to inform the public of the injustice of women’s unequal citizenship rights in Lebanon and to encourage them to make their voices heard at the upcoming protest. As a result of these efforts, busloads upon busloads of women, men, and children came from all over the country to participate in the Nationality Campaign sit-in in front of the seat of government on Monday, November 25, 2013. While the Campaign provided estimates to security service of 300 protest participants, 1300 supporters in fact participated – by far the largest protest to date. Additionally, due to years of outreach and relationship building with media, major Lebanese newspapers covered the protest, in addition to national and regional television and radio. Furthermore, CRTD.A Executive Director Lina Abou Habib conducted a primetime newshour interview on the Campaign with Al Jazeera, and interviewed with the French Arabic-language Radio Montecarlo (akin to the U.S.’s Voice of America).
While legal reform for women’s equal nationality rights was the launching point of the campaign, it has evolved into expressing and advocating for an even more fundamental understanding about the relationship between women, as citizens, and the state. Namely, women shall be equal under the law as citizens, a category undefined by gender, and the state has an equal responsibility to all of its citizens. The Campaign has also stimulated a greater understanding and appreciation of women’s important role as active citizens.
The protest was held in conjunction with national celebrations for the country’s 70 years of independence. The Campaign capitalized on this, using the slogan, “Enough 70 years of exclusion and marginalization of women,” and stressed that there is no real independence if half the population isn’t given her rights. The Campaign also highlighted the fact that the discriminatory citizenship laws themselves are a relic of French colonial rule.
According to Abou Habib, this mobilization of women, who had traditionally remained silent in the face of discrimination, was a true victory. Those active in the Campaign have internalized their right to have their voices heard, and the power they can exert by going into the streets to demand their rights. For Abou Habib, the leadership and political participation trainings along with the volunteers’ work with the Campaign has shifted their thinking. “Before when they came [to volunteer] they would be discouraged. These past few months their faces were beaming – they were enthusiastic all the time, they would do interviews with media. They feel entitled to demand their rights,” said Abou Habib.
WLP is now working on developing this highly successful mobilization as an advocacy case study to be shared with activists across the Global South through WLP’s forthcoming advocacy toolkit.