Where are their rights?

November 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Women worked to death in Lebanon

From The Guardian

Four Ethiopian domestic workers are thought to have killed themselves in three weeks. Lebanon must protect these women.

They mop floors, take out the rubbish, walk the dog, buy groceries and care for the children, the elderly or disabled. Many a well-to-do and lower middle class Lebanese family relies on migrant domestic workers to take care of their household, but when it comes to providing for these women, not all return the favour.

Migrant domestic workers – women who work as live-in or freelance housekeepers, cooks, and nannies – form a vital presence in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East, where women’s increased participation in the workforce has not been accompanied by state-backed social or childcare services.

There are thought to be about 200,000 women, mostly from the Philippines, Ethiopia and Sri Lanka, in Lebanon alone. But although they are becoming an intrinsic part of the country’s social fabric, their contribution is often overlooked. While many Lebanese people are careful to ensure their housekeepers are well treated, a significant number abuse them. In extreme cases, migrant domestic workers are killed or kill themselves.

The spate of suicides has become so bad in recent weeks it prompted Lebanese blogger Wissam to launch the grimly named Ethiopian Suicides blog. The website is dedicated to monitoring media reports on the deaths of foreign migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. “I have a dream,” Wissam says. “That migrant domestic workers will be treated humanely in Lebanon and will stop trying to commit or commit[ting] suicide.”

In the last three weeks alone, Wissam notes, four Ethiopian women have died. Lebanese police say the deaths of Kassaye Atsegenet, 24, Saneet Mariam, 30, Matente Kebede Zeditu, 26, Tezeta Yalmiya, 26 were probably suicides. But as human rights activists here will testify, the truth about what happened to them may never be known because police usually only take into account the employer’s testimony. Migrants who survive abuse or suicide attempts are not usually provided with a translator, meaning their version of events often does not get registered with officials.

Sadly, violations against such workers occur throughout the region and in some cases the women end up in slave-like conditions.

Reflecting the concern of sender countries for the wellbeing of their citizens, Ethiopia and the Philippines have placed bans on working in Lebanon and Jordan, but this has not stemmed the flow of illegal migrants smuggled in through third countries. Without the necessary work papers and embassy support, migrant women become even more vulnerable to human rights abuses.

One reason the women are driven to the edge is that, in Lebanon at least, they are not given protection under the country’s labour law. Such exclusion means that those who withhold salaries, confiscate passports, confine their employees to the house or otherwise abuse them, can literally get away with murder. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that five months after parliamentary elections, a Lebanese government is only now being formed.

The campaign to grant migrant domestic workers greater rights in the region has been led by Human Rights Watch. This summer, it contacted Lebanese beach resorts and found that 17 out of 27 private facilities practised some form of discrimination against such women by prohibiting them from swimming in the pool or even the Mediterranean sea.

A study conducted by the organisation last year found that more than one migrant domestic worker was dying in Lebanon each week – mostly from suspected suicide or by falling off a balcony while trying to escape abusive employers. The numbers sent ripples throughout the rights community and resulted in far more sustained local media coverage on the issue of domestic migrant workers. Judging by Wissam’s recent statistics, however, this does not appear to have persuaded the authorities to take sufficient measures to protect their rights.

The embassies of countries that supply migrant workers have a duty to protect their citizens. They could start by offering amnesty and assistance to all illegal workers, increasing their legal protection capabilities and properly informing women at home of their rights and responsibilities while working abroad. Many countries, such as Nepal or Madagascar, which are sending women to the Middle East in increasing numbers, would do well to increase their diplomatic representation from consular level to embassies.

Many migrant workers come to the Middle East seeking a better life for the families they left behind. The Lebanese themselves have a long history of migration and hardship, and should know first-hand the difficulties of living and working in a foreign country. Just as many Lebanese abroad work hard with the hopes of eventually returning home, the Lebanese should ensure that these women get to go back to their countries – alive and well, not in body bags.

Categories: Lebanon

Thank you for not smoking!

October 30, 2009 1 comment

Wednesday night was an almost smoke-free night on Gemmayzeh Street in Beirut. Around 35 pubs and restaurants took part in the “Ain’t No Smoking 2nite” campaign, an initiative by Rotaract Club. Rotaract Club is currently trying to push the authorities “to provide a non smoking section in every pub, bar, restaurant, café or public place” in Lebanon. There’s an online petition that can be signed to support this cause. I didn’t get to go to Gemmayzeh on Wednesday to see the atmosphere first hand, but I came across the following article which I thought I’d share with everyone. 

Beirut’s smoke-free night draws widespread public support

From the Behavioral Health Central


Courtesy of © Maya Zankoul http://www.mayazankoul.wordpress.com

It’s Wednesday night in Gemmayzeh, and busy too: blue clouds loiter above large groups of revelers, bunched up outside clubs and bars on what is usually a quiet night for Beirut’s party hub. Despite the crowds, inside the majority of the many venues the air tonight is unusually clear – because on October 28 there “Ain’t no smoking” in Gemmayzeh.

Some 35 clubs, bars and restaurants  throughout the street took part in “Ain’t No Smoking night;” a Rotaract Club initiative to encourage venues to consider regular smoke-free nights, and raise public awareness about the risks of second-hand smoke. 

One of the Rotaract Club’s organizers, Patrick, said the objective of the campaign was to give nonsmokers comfortable places to go out and enjoy themselves without having to breathe in second hand smoke. 

“It is about rights for nonsmokers” he said, “We hope some of these bars will adopt a weekly nonsmoking night to attract more nonsmokers to the area.” 

Abbas, another Rotaract organizer, said that many more pubs and restaurants have participated in the event compared to the last one they threw and noted that lots of people had turned up especially for the smoke-free event. Abbas also said that they have “even found many smokers to be encouraging of this idea and giving us their support!” 

Carmen and Mira, two regular smokers standing outside “Mue” agreed with Abbas. 

“We think it’s a good idea. We don’t have to suffer the second hand smoke of others,” said the pair. “Even though we smoke ourselves it’s good to get away from such a smoky environment. We hope a permanent ban happens, like many European countries.” 

Another smoker added: “It means fewer people will smoke, especially the youngsters.” 

However, not everyone on Gemmayzeh agreed. 

“I should have the freedom to smoke where I want. If they want to improve people’s health they should install better ventilation systems,” said Rashad, a regular smoker.

It is not just the patrons that hold strong opinions on the issue.

“Personally I hate smoking but our bar cannot afford to force its customers not to smoke on the premises. Wednesday is our busiest night and people do not like change,” said Tony, from the Melting Pot – one of the few bars not participating in the smoke-free night.

“A lot of our customers are heavy smokers and it would be very harmful for business to overlook that fact,” he added.

Not all business owners agreed with Tony’s sentiments. Abir from Olio said that she thought the night was a good initiative. 

“Most places in Gemmayzeh don’t have good ventilation and after a long night it can get very annoying breathing in lots of smoke,” she said. “A lot more people would go out if smoking was banned as they would feel more comfortable not having to breathe in passive smoke.”

However, she also noted that considering Lebanon’s strong views on the matter, a ban would be highly unlikely to occur any time within the next five years, at least.

While there were definitely mixed opinions on the subject, most people seemed to enjoy themselves.

In a country known for its heavy consumption of tobacco, most people seemed to adapt to the smoke-free night well and no one tried to break the rules.

The smoke-free bars packed to weekend capacity suggest there may be hope yet for a smoke-free Lebanon. However, for the time being at least, initiatives like this are the closest nonsmokers are going to get.

Lebanese Event: Meet, greet, paint and have a cookie, please.

October 29, 2009 3 comments

Yesterday, Ceramics Lounge in Saifi Village, Beirut hosted the Comics on Cermiacs event which included the book signing of Maya Zankoul‘s Amalgam. The event was a great way for people of all ages to meet the woman behind the idea, potentially get her book signed, paint on ceramics with friends and taste the new cookies by Cooki3man! I went there to check out myself and I thought I’d share some photos as  well. I hope more socially interactive events of this sort will take place in the future.  

Maya Zankoul signing her book Amalgam

Maya Zankoul signing her book Amalgam


Book Signing


An attendee painting on ceramics

An attendee painting on ceramics


One of the kids who were at the Comics on Ceramics event

One of the kids who were at the Comics on Ceramics event


More participants

More youth participants at the event


Wide Shot



One kid's masterpiece.


Cooki3man cookies

Cookies or what's left of them by Cooki3man.

What’s the funniest Lebanese ad?

October 26, 2009 3 comments

I came across this Lebanese ad for the first time today and it made me laugh. This got me thinking about what could potentially be the funniest Lebanese ad out there. If you’ve got one, please don’t hesistate to send it over! We all need a good laugh.

Categories: Lebanon Tags: , ,

First Swine Flu Death in Lebanon

October 26, 2009 Leave a comment

Here is what has most recently been reported in the news on Swine Flu in Lebanon.

From Middle East Online

Lebanon confirmed its first swine flu death on Monday, with the health ministry saying the A(H1N1) virus claimed the life of a pregnant 30-year-old woman.

“The deceased was thirty years old and eight months pregnant,” a ministry statement said, adding that the woman died on Saturday.

The woman had been suffering from respiratory problems and high fever but tests done “before and after the death show she was carrying the new flu virus,” the statement said.


From The Daily Star

[…] International College (IC) announced it would be shutting its middle school in Beirut for six days starting Tuesday because of the high number of students suffering from the virus. 

In a letter posted on the school’s website Saturday, IC President John Johnson said 50 students were absent from classes on Friday alone. “To date we have had 31 cases of this influenza in the Ras Beirut Middle School, 12 of whom have already recovered and returned to school,” he said. 

Johnson said IC was following regulations issued by the Center for Disease Control, which required siblings of swine flu patients to also stay at home for a five-day incubation period. All students are requested to stay at home and avoid contact with classmates until the school reopens on November 2.

Lebanon takes part in the International Day of Climate Action

October 25, 2009 Leave a comment

Activists demand climate action

From Al Jazeera English

Thousands of people have gathered for protests in more than 180 countries, calling for international action to curb the emissions causing global warming.

The International Day of Climate Action focused on the number 350, referring to 350 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere which some scientists say must not be exceeded to avoid runaway global warming.

[…] In the Lebanese capital Beirut hundreds of activists, many wearing snorkels, held demonstrations in key archaeological sites.
They gathered around the Roman ruins in central Beirut, in the ancient eastern city of Baalbek and along the coast, carrying  placards bearing the logo 350.
“It’s not the first time Beirut will have gone under water,” Wael Hmaidan of the IndyACT group organising Beirut’s protests said, explaining the goggle-wearing. “But this time it’s going  down because of climate change, and not earthquakes.”

Photo Credits: AFP

Photo Credits: AFP

AFP: Lebanese youths carry a banner bearing the logo “350”, to call for carbon emissions cuts to 350 parts per million

Kibbeh? Check. Hummus? Check. Tabbouleh?

October 24, 2009 5 comments
At first, I heard about the largest kibbeh plate and I thought those Lebanese women were so cute. Then came the fight for the largest hummus plate and I thought this is starting to become ridiculous. But despite my personal opinion, apparently the Lebanese feel very passionate about their hummus and so we’re officially in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest hummus serving. I hope everyone’s happy about it. Can we move on now? No. There’s only one more fight left (let’s hope it’s the last) and that’s for the largest tabbouleh plate, scheduled to take place tomorrow on the 25th of October. Okay, now I’m thinking are these people out of their minds? What’s the point? So we make it into the book and then what? Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE Lebanese hummus, but I really think there’s way more important issues that are WORTH fighting for besides food and world records. 
There are two questions I would like to find the answer for. One, how much money was spent to make this event today and two, what happened to all the hummus?
Photo Credits: AFP

Photo Credits: AFP

Lebanese chefs gathered around the largest hummus plate in Beirut, Lebanon.

She said ‘conservative’ and she was right.

October 23, 2009 3 comments

I don’t understand what the big deal is. In the recent Oprah episode which featured Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram, Oprah described Lebanon as a “deeply conservative” country. Today, I came across a Facebook group entitled “Dear Oprah… Lebanon is NOT like that,” and the photo for the group is a shot from the video used on the show. It’s a photo of veiled women. And so now I’m thinking, are these Facebook people serious? Are they really insulted by that image or by that word? You guys, Lebanon IS a conservative country. Sure, it’s the most liberal in the Arab World, and sure not all women are Muslim or veiled, but hey it falls under conservative. Ajram was featured as a star from the Middle East and not just from Lebanon. So why retaliate against the use of the word ‘conservative’? 

Please, consider the following. People from different religious backgrounds in Lebanon have to travel 150 miles to Cyprus in order to get married. A couple can’t under Lebanese law live together unless they’re married. And some still argue about the use of the word ‘conservative’? Trust me, there’s a lot worse that can be said besides conservative.


Nancy Ajram earns a new title: UNICEF goodwill ambassador

October 22, 2009 2 comments

Photo Credits: AFP

Photo Credits: AFP

Lebanon pop star appointed UNICEF goodwill ambassador



From AFP

Lebanese pop star Nancy Ajram has been appointed a goodwill ambassador for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), a UN official said on Thursday.”We are delighted to welcome Nancy Ajram to UNICEF,” Sigrid Kaag, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in Beirut.

“Goodwill ambassadors help focus the world’s attention on the needs of children and can act as agents of change,” she told journalists.

Ajram, 26, is the second UNICEF regional ambassador after Egyptian actor Mahmud Kabil, who has held the title since 2003.

“Being appointed UNICEF’s goodwill ambassador to the Middle East and North Africa is the biggest dream come true, the best thing that’s happened to me as an artist, a person and a mother,” Ajram told reporters.

“This is the first time I feel that I’m doing something that’s for others, that I’m using my fame to help others — to help children.”

Ajram won the 2008 World Music Award for best-selling Middle Eastern artist. She has been compared to the young Britney Spears and is well-known for her children’s songs.

She is married and has one daughter.

Robert Fisk on freedom of speech in Lebanon

October 22, 2009 Leave a comment

I came across the following article written by Robert Fisk on the rights of journalists and freedom of speech in Lebanon. As an aspiring journalist myself, this raises a lot of concerns. Please feel free to comment.


Robert Fisk: End of an era for Lebanon’s free press

Once a bastion of journalistic independence, Beirut’s newspapers are losing their edge

From The Independent

By Robert Fisk

For decades, Lebanese journalism has been applauded as the freest, most outspoken and most literate in the heavily censored Arab world. Alas, no more. Beirut’s best-read daily has just shed more than 50 staff and LBC, one of the country’s best-known television stations, has just fired three of its most prominent presenters. The Lebanese media are being hit – like the rest of the world – by the internet and falling advertising revenues. But this is Lebanon, where politics is always involved. Is something rotten in the state of the Lebanese press?

Is it by chance that An Nahar‘s culture editor – whose supplement campaigned against assassinated prime minister Rafiq Hariri’s plans for rebuilding downtown Beirut – has been fired after the paper cosied up to the politics of Hariri’s son Saad, now the Lebanese prime minister designate? Is it a coincidence that the three senior presenters on LBC represented the last supporters of the old Lebanese Forces (of civil war infamy) still working at the channel?

Neither An Nahar nor LBC are saying anything. But the Lebanese are waiting to find out which of their more than 20 dailies will be the next to shed staff for “economic reasons”. Will the old lefty As Safir find that it has politically recalcitrant staff (unlikely) or will the lovely French-language daily L’Orient Le Jour – whose 18th century French is Royalist rather than Republican – have a battle with those writers who still love ex-General Michel Aoun, Maronite Christian ally of the Hizbollah?

The problem is not so much the politics of Lebanon but the feudal state of the press. You cannot start a newspaper in Beirut – you have to buy an existing title from someone else. This costs money. So the rich own newspapers. Not much different, you may say, from the rest of the world. But the system in Lebanon is archaic; there are families in Beirut who own newspapers but don’t publish them – they are still waiting for a buyer.

As Elias Khoury, the sacked culture editor of An Nahar, a prize-winning novelist and academic and one of 53 men and women fired by the paper, puts it: “Newspaper owners were originally journalists – and with capitalism, the system did not change. Television in this country are not the press – they are propaganda, owned by confessional groups or parties. It’s the papers that are real journalism.”

But “real” journalism is sometimes hard to come by. When the Syrian army was still in Lebanon, An Nahar was as careful as the rest of the press in making sure than no boats got rocked. Indeed, when the Syrian military first arrived in Beirut in 1976, its offices were raided – to make sure that its journalists realised that they would have to be as compliant as their colleagues on Al-Baath and Tichrin, those titans of Baathist journalism across the mountains in Damascus.

But, along with As Safir, An-Nahar had an edge about it. It poached a wonderful analyst called Jihad Zein from As Safir, and under boss Ghassan Tueni it upheld independent journalism. “Tueni offered me the cultural supplement,” Khoury says, “and if he was still in control, none of this would have happened.” It is now his granddaughter Nayla who is in charge. Along with Khoury, Edmund Saab, co-editor in chief, Saha Bahasin and Georges Nassif also lost their jobs. They were told to collect their dismissal notes from a Lebanese postal official on the pavement outside the paper’s central Beirut office.

“One journalist came to work at 6pm on a Friday – when the postman had left,” Khoury adds. “He worked the Friday night and on Saturday and Sunday – and read in our rival paper on Monday that he had been fired! This reveals things about our work and about Beirut. The formula that our supplement is independent – that we can say what we want – is no longer acceptable. I didn’t fit. My supplement campaigned against Solidere [in which Rafiq Hariri held 10 per cent of the shares] and we got journalists and architects to write about how the company was destroying Ottoman Beirut and saving only the French colonial buildings. No-one stopped us. I could play the role of a leftist intellectual.”

No more. Nayla Tueni’s involvement in the majority March 14th movement, led by Hariri’s son Saad – who himself runs a rather dull daily called Al-Mustaqbal – means An Nahar has taken on a distinctly pro-government flavour.

At the same time, LBC has dismissed three of its best-known journalists, apparently because they were the final remnant of the Lebanese Forces on the channel. Diamond Rahme Geagea, Denise Fakhry and Vera Abu Munsif were sacked along with dozens of fellow staff members, including one woman who was six months’ pregnant, a fact which would normally make her un-dismissable under Lebanese law. Even the Christian Maronite patriarch, Nasrallah Sfeir, has expressed his concern.

The Lebanese journalists’ union has no mandate to help unemployed writers. “Who protects the rights of journalists?” L’Orient Le Jour asked last week. In Lebanon, it seems, the answer is no one.