This post is part of the Kolena Laila initiative.
Like most other places in the other Arab world, the Lebanese Laila is subject to an institutionalized form of patriarchy that finds its purest expression in the personal status. When a Lebanese woman is born she, like her male counterpart (say, Louai), has a personal status and a familial status and she can ask for an extract (ikhraj qayd, a form of ID) of both. When they get married, however, Laila and Louai part ways in the system. Whereas Louai opens his own “khanah” — a new familial extract listing the members of his nuclear family under his name — Laila is transferred from her father’s extract to that of her husband’s. At first glance it might seem that the new “khanah” actually belongs to the married couple, but should Laila get a divorce, she has to reapply to be transferred back to her father’s “khanah” while her children remain under her divorcee’s khanah.
This might sound like a trivial matter, but bear with me.
Many of the problems civil society is attempting to tackle today are linked to this form of registration. Into this personal status is written the sect, where the children follow the father’s. It also locates the individual in the sectarian matrix upon which marriage, divorce, and inheritance laws are based. Had we had a matriarchal society instead, where the khanahs are headed by women, these would still be issues to contend with. But because we live in a patriarchal society, Laila faces a problem Louai does not face. Should she get married to a non-Lebanese, she cannot start a “khanah” of her own under which she can include her children because Laila can give neither her children nor her husband the Lebanese citizenship. Though the way we are registered is not its cause, this problem traces yet another thread forming this Gordian knot of registration.
By a fluke of the system, I happen to be one of few Lebanese women who has a khanah of her own. A few years ago, I was discussing with a friend what might be a possible way to maintain this institutional independence should I get married to a Lebanese. Eventually I did not, so now I am extending the solution we came up with into a generic recipe for my other, new problem: giving the Lebanese citizenship to my future children. For this, you would need:
2 unmarried people
1 understanding family
1 or more baby born out of wedlock
* Do not get married just yet or, if married, get a divorce
* Have baby/babies out of wedlock — but in Lebanon — and register them in the nufus (personal register) as “illegitimate” (mawlud ghayr shar`i). This will add the children to your khanah or, usually, the family’s khanah and they will carry the last name of the family that acknowledges him. Documents needed for this procedure can be found here.
* Based upon this personal status, go to Internal Security and get the children a Lebanese passport each. Documents needed for this procedure can be found here.
* Finally, get married or remarried to your foreign husband, have him recognize the child or children as his own, and live happily ever after.
* To avoid the derision of bureaucrats, you could really abuse the system and get your father to do the paperwork!*
I know that doing this will cause problems to most Lebanese women, but I bring it up also to illustrate the interrelatedness of many of the problems civil society is attempting to address individually: sectarianism, religion, patriarchy, the way we are registered… and how these are embedded in the smallest details of our personal lives. I think that changing one aspect of the system without addressing more fundamental issues helps at some level, but in the long run it is only a band-aid that serves to make the system even more Byzantine. To be relevant for wider sections of society, the right for a mother to give her family the Lebanese citizenship and women’s rights more generally need to be addressed both individually as well as part of the larger struggle for a more just, more inclusive Lebanon.
* A disclaimer: I do not know anyone who has tried this method and I am in no way saying it is fool proof. In fact, if you find any problems with it, I would like to know before I try it myself!