To launch its campaign for “Women as Equal Citizens: Advocating for Change in Muslim-Majority Societies,” The Women’s Learning Partnership, in cooperation with the Dialogue Project of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC, sponsored a four-day seminar at SAIS. The event concluded with a Sept. 6 presentation open to the general public by five project participants.
The campaign emphasizes grassroots efforts and respect of the regional culture in order to bring about reform policies as well as legislation concerning gender equality. Although the majority of constitutions in the Arab world guarantee women equal rights under the law, in many of these countries women are denied the right of nationality, a key part of citizenship. For example, women who marry men of other nationalities are unable to pass their own nationality on to their husbands or children.
“It has never occurred to me that I was not a real citizen!” states Zahra, a Lebanese woman married to an Egyptian, both of whom live in Lebanon, on the Women’s Learning Partnership Web site. “My daughter is Egyptian, same as her father. She is considered to be an alien,” Zahra explains. “Aside from the excruciating process of securing her annual residency permit, we have to put up with prejudice. I do not understand! When they said that nationality can be passed on through blood, they mean only men’s blood! In this day and age in Lebanon, only men are considered to be full citizens.” According to the organizers of the campaign, “These laws undermine women’s status as equal citizens in their home countries, preventing them from participating fully in public life.” The campaign is being waged in six countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco.
Speakers at the final presentation included Lina Abou-Habib from Lebanon, Asma Khader from Jordan, Amina Lemrini from Morocco, and Mahnaz Afkhami, who now lives in the U.S., but whose focus is her native Iran. In her introductory remarks, Azar Nafisi, author of the best-selling book Reading Lolita in Tehran, told her audience that the mindset of the area needs to change, and that the women in the region are the focus of that change.