"I have the right to live with dignity in this country. I have the right to raise my children in my country. I have the right to see them grow, work, and raise their own children in my country. This is my right!" They shouted in vain. For years, they have been calling for equality and justice. They staged demonstrations, demanding to be treated like any other Lebanese citizen with full rights. They are still struggling for their cause — to be able to give their nationality to their children. Many Lebanese women are still raising the flag of their cause, without respite, calling for their right to give their families Lebanese nationality.
Married to a foreigner, Mariam Ghazzal is an activist for the campaign My Nationality Is My Right and My Family's. She spoke to An-Nahar about the struggle she has faced in Lebanon just because she fell in love with a foreigner.
It all started as a love story. They fell madly in love and did not care about anything else, feeling that their love was a priority. A love that big impeded them from thinking about obstacles they might face in the future. The most important concern was to have a successful marriage and build a family.
Mariam did not know that their love would turn into a struggle in a country of freedom and openness. Lebanon deprives Lebanese mothers of passing their nationality on to their children. The country whose people incessantly praise freedom and co-existence, prevents Lebanese mothers from giving their nationality to their families, so their children have to get residence permits to stay here. Despite this, Mariam has refused to leave her homeland and travel. She decided to fight to acquire her legitimate right.
What is striking about this story is that Mariam's mother-in-law is Lebanese. Her husband was born and raised in Lebanon. He married a Lebanese and his children live here, but they are all considered "foreigners" by Lebanese authorities.
Love between Mariam and her husband is not prohibited. However, the ensuing consequences are difficult to bear … Mariam's daughter, who was born, raised and studied in Lebanon, did not have the right to work here because she was not Lebanese.
"She could not find a job," Mariam told An-Nahar sadly. It got worse when her daughter was diagnosed with cancer, adding to the woes of the already dismayed family. "My daughter got sick and could not get treatment," she said. "She died in Lebanon, and was buried here, but was still considered non-Lebanese." She then added frankly, "If we were not well off, we would not have been able to treat her."
Despite all this, the mother did not give up. She asked for help from many, but got turned down because her daughter was not Lebanese. The daughter was treated for three years before dying of her disease. The government still considered her a foreigner, although she was born and raised here.
"We were compelled to pay for treatment. Medications cost 12 million LBP ($8,000) every 21 days. Even if my children want to work, they should work outside Lebanon," Mariam said bitterly, trying to hide her sadness. She said, "My son wanted to study medicine, but chose another option because he is not allowed to practice the profession in Lebanon."
"As a Lebanese woman, how can I preserve my dignity when my daughter had to go through all of this, and my son cannot join a sports club to practice a hobby?" she asked. Mariam refuses to leave Lebanon. She prefers to stay and demand her rights. "I want to live with dignity in Lebanon."
Mariam addressed the speech of Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil after his return from a visit to Latin America. "He is talking about a law to restore citizenship, while we are shouting nonstop for nationality for our children. This is our legitimate right."
Officials fear demographic dysfunction if Lebanese women are given the right to pass their nationality on to their family. Mariam responds, "All of these justifications do not grant women their rights ... They have taken us back to the Stone Age. We live in a patriarchal society." She added, "Development and culture can only be achieved when we are all united and equal."
"If I am married to a non-Lebanese, is this a crime to be punished for? I am calling for my right, and I am fulfilling my obligations toward my country. Therefore, I want my right to grant my nationality to my children,"
The world is celebrating International Women's Day, but for Mariam, it is different. "What are we celebrating? Women are considered goods to be traded. We’ve reached a point where we ask ourselves why are we still living in this country, and where is our right?"
Myriam addressed every decision-maker: "As a Lebanese women, if you want to celebrate my day, give me my right."
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