Challenging discriminatory laws to create gender equality in Lebanon: Verena's story

Verena El Amil is a 26-year-old lawyer from Beirut, Lebanon and a beacon of hope for women in the country who are fighting for their rights and equality. She is committed to creating a more equitable society and tackling the patriarchal norms and ‘sectorial divisions’ that block progress for women. 

It was during her time at university that Verena became politically involved, through a secular and progressive movement called ‘Taleb’. She co-founded a network for students who shared political views on progressive values such as social equality and secularism, and ran for the 2022 parliamentary elections in Lebanon, with the aim of addressing the many social issues that limit women’s rights.

Verena El Amil, women's rights lawyer, Lebanon
Verena El Amil

Verena is a strong advocate for changing the religion-based personal status laws in Lebanon, which has 15 separate personal status regimes based on religious sects, significantly marginalising women. She told us: “This creates differences in the rights of women based on their sect and corresponding law. Additionally, the kafala system for migrant women workers and the justification of ‘honour killings’ and marital rape further perpetuate gender inequality.”

Challenging discrimination to create an inclusive society 

What inspired me to do this work is the patriarchal system that was constructed and maintained to benefit the ruling sectorial class, where men control and hold power over women.

I firmly believe that every problem is a political one and these social issues are at the core political, because of the sectorial divisions and sectorial leadership that led society to such a criminal and unfavourable context for women.

Verena El Amil

I refused to take part in this political reality and took matters into my own hands, beginning with my political involvement in the university and subsequent electoral campaigns.

However, I face numerous obstacles and challenges in my work, including patriarchal norms and the sectorial divisions in society that perpetuate gender inequality. As a young female lawyer, I also face sexism and discrimination in a male-dominated field that further exacerbates the gender gap in wages and access to opportunities.

Achieving equity and equality for all women 

To address these obstacles, we must work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable society by promoting progressive values. We must address the patriarchal norms and sectorial divisions in society by implementing policies and laws that protect women’s rights and promote gender equity, for example criminalising ‘honour killings’ and ensuring migrant women workers have access to basic rights. 

If I could change one thing today to improve equity and equality for women, it would be to implement a unified personal status law that promotes gender equity and ensures that women have the same rights and protections regardless of their religious sect. Additionally, this would promote gender equity by ensuring that women have the same rights and protections as men and help to address the sectorial divisions in society that perpetuate gender inequality.