Nadira fights for equal citizenships
“My children are treated as foreigners, even though they were born here. It makes me so angry! They should have the same rights as everyone else.” This says Nadira Nahhas, from Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organisation CRTD.A in Lebanon.
The right to citizenship is far from equal in Lebanon, even for those who are born in the country by a Lebanese mother. Because of Lebanese women being denied by law to transfer their citizenship to their children, children with non-Lebanese fathers are in many ways excluded from society, including not having the right to vote and limited access to health care. Lebanese men however, automatically pass on their citizenship to their children. With constant campaigning, CRTD.A works to change this discriminatory law.
“We want everyone to have the right to citizenship, regardless of where their parents come from,” says Nadira Nahhas, who has been working with the issue for more than ten years.
Coffee and workshops
The organisation has extensive experience in working for gender equality as well as empowering women politically and economically. content
CRTD.A’s office in central Beirut is the main hub for all the organisation’s activities. A couple of floors up in a multi-storey building, employees and volunteers are working side by side. Coffee and tea are being served in small paper cups, and around the table in the meeting room a workshop is taking place. Around ten men and women of different ages receive training in human rights. One of the participants is Nadira. She listens intently and write down notes.
“I’ve learned about women’s rights by getting involved. And I have learned to talk to politicians, so that I can influence society. Working for CRTD.A has made me a better and stronger woman,” she says.
Many closed doors
Nadira’s husband is an American citizen. Even though they are married, he gets neither citizenship nor work permit in Lebanon, since Lebanese women can not transfer citizenship to their husbands either. Therefore, Nadira’s husband commutes to Saudi Arabia for work.
“Our two sons won’t get citizenship here, even though I am Lebanese and has Lebanese citizenship. When they were small, we had to pay the state for them to even be allowed to live in this country.”
On that front, however, progress has been made. Thanks to CRTD.A’s campaigns, these parents are no longer forced to pay. Still, the children always have to have valid passports and other documents in order.
Without citizenship many career paths become impossible, something that has caused Nadira and her family much sorrow.
“One of my sons studied medicine, but we were told that he would not be allowed to work within that area. My other son wanted to become a pilot, but that is not allowed either. That has been very disheartening.”
According to CRTD.A’s estimates, around half a million women, men and children are affected by the problem of being denied citizenship. For a long time this was a taboo subject, and it’s only in recent years that it has entered into public and media discussions. This thanks to awareness campaigns by civil society.
“Today everyone knows what the issue is about. It’s even being debated in the Parliament,” says Nadira.
What is the situation like for women in Lebanon?
“Not good. Many women probably think they have rights because they can wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts in the streets, but the fact is that women have fewer possibilities than men with regard to issues like child support, citizenship and divorce. Everything is being controlled by men. It makes me so angry! It makes me want to fight even more!”
“One hundred years after the US”
When she was younger, Nadira studied in the US. As she returned to Lebanon, the differences between the two countries became very clear to her.
“In the US, women have come a long way. Everyone has the right to citizenship. If you have problems with your husband, you can call the police, and they will throw him out. When I came back here, I thought ‘oh my god, we are a hundred years behind’.”
However, this has not discouraged Nadira, if anything the effect has rather been the opposite.
“I will continue to fight to change the law on citizenship, and at CRTD.A our approach is that we will succeed, sooner or later,” says Nadira.
Translated by: Malin Ekerstedt
Updated in: 2016-11-30