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Bridging civil society and government agencies:
Partnership for development policy formulation in the Asia Pacific region

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Our next Seminar....

1 September 2014
Civil Marriage, Not Civil War: The Lebanese Women’s Movement and the Search for Secular Citizenship
Seminar Venue: 29-106 (Hass Seminar room, entrance from Bldg 28 front)
Time: 12:10 - 13:30
Dr Nelia Hyndman-Rizk (Lecturer in Research Methods, School of Business, UNSW Canberra)
Chair: Dr Nico Warouw


This paper presents the findings of a Special Research Grant (SRG), "Beyond Sect: The Lebanese Women’s Movement and the Search for Secular Citizenship in the Arab Spring". The paper examines the relationship between citizens’ rights and women’s rights in the case of Lebanon and asks is civil marriage the key to solving the confessional impasse? Lebanon has long struggled with the problem of sectarianism, as the very construction of the Lebanese state is based upon a division of political power between three major religious sects, Maronite Catholics, Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims, and 15 minor sects, referred to as a system of Confessional Democracy. Despite 15 years of civil war and the subsequent reforms of the 1989 Taif Accord, which revised the ratio of Christians to Muslims to parity, today the March 8 and the March 14 coalitions have reached a political stalemate and the government is in a state of chronic paralysis. Adding to the dysfunction is the very low representation of women in parliament, with Lebanon ranked 122nd in the world. Women’s rights activists have called for a controversial 30% women’s quota to redress the imbalance and force social change using the "fast track model", based on the Beijing 1995 platform for action. The women’s quota is part of a broader campaign for political and social change in Lebanon, led by a coalition of women’s rights and civil society organisations in order to build a secular framework for both citizenship and the state, which includes four key pillars: electoral reform, including women’s quotas and proportional representation, nationality rights for women, the reform of personal status codes and, lastly, the right to civil marriage. Until 2013 civil marriages were only recognised if they were contracted outside of Lebanon (usually in Cyprus), but a recent civil marriage contracted inside of Lebanon reignited the national debate. The President supported the move, the then Prime Minister and prominent religious clerics opposed it, while protesters in downtown Beirut responded with signs which read: "Civil marriage not civil war". Finally the Interior Ministry registered Lebanon’s first civil marriage on April 25th 2013. Could this be a step in the right direction?

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UNSW ADFA Asia Pacific Seminar Series

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