Beyond the obvious differences in the traditional roles of men and women, living in a society where basic rights depend on gender holds the occasional eyeopener. I have become accustomed to people assuming I don’t work, don’t drive, and do 100% of the cooking. I wasn’t overly surprised to be receive consoling comments about expecting a girl. But although many Lebanese women do work and drive, these stereotypes are not on their way to oblivion.
There has been recent coverage in local media of the fact that women are not able to open bank accounts for their children. The father must be present at the bank to carry out the required formalities. It is also true that a domestic worker cannot open a bank account for herself alone. She needs permission from her employer.
I wonder if permission of the mistress of the house is enough or whether she needs the patriarch’s signature. This could mean a married Lebanese woman has more authority over her maid than her own children, while the domestic worker is actually taking a maternal role with the kids. Its a particularly confusing pecking order especially if the kids start ordering the maid around as of age six.
On a visit to a new gynaecologist I was buzzed in and stood for a moment or two waiting to see if I would be registered first or if I should take a seat on the leather couches. After a moment the receptionist looked up. Her first words were: “What is your husband’s name?” The main identifier for my pregnancy health record. I noted also that the nursery on the maternity ward at one hospital, full of tiny babies in tiny beds, bore a notice restricting access to “mothers and husbands only”.
I knew that a family head could claim a daughter as a dependant until marriage, regardless of her age, and after marriage should she become a widow, while boys cease to be declarable after 18 or after their education ends. But I only recently discovered that while a man can claim a tax rebate for his non-working wife and any children, a working woman with an unemployed husband can claim neither for him, nor for any children. Not much consolation in the fact that her wages would be lower than a man’s anyway so she would not be taxed so much.
It’s not exactly a thriving stay-at-home dad culture. Having said that, since my husband and I work from home anyway, people seem to think we are both going to be stay-at-home parents, which is not quite the same thing. But never mind, we can always hire a foreigner to be our 24-hour nanny, cook and cleaner at rates so low as to make it nearly look like a good option to have a stranger sharing our flat and bringing up our kids. But not quite.