Late last month, Suriname joined a growing list of countries which have agreed to update their laws to allow mothers to pass their nationality to their children, and men to confer their nationality on their wives – as well as to close gaps which could make children stateless.
The move comes amid a global campaign which is calling on governments to amend all laws which deny women equal rights to men in relation to nationality and citizenship. Other countries such as Jordan are also tackling the issue – at least to some extent.
This is something which causes more harm and hardship than might be obvious at first glance. A report from Equality Now discusses how women can be disproportionately affected by laws which discriminate on this basis. The inability, largely of women, to pass on their nationality to their spouse or children can have grave consequences including statelessness, fear of deportation, lack of access to social services and benefits including health and education. It can also increase vulnerability to violence including child marriage and other related human rights abuses.
Women who live in their husband's country could be disadvantaged in terms of legal and social rights if they do not take on the nationality of their husbands. They may also face additional bureaucratic challenges. Losing her nationality of origin can leave a woman especially vulnerable if her marriage ends, particularly if her children have their father's nationality. Even if a woman is able to claim back her nationality on divorce or widowhood, delays and other hurdles in regaining citizenship can cause her considerable problems.
Last January, the Government of Jordan gave approval to grant the foreign spouses of Jordanian women and their children certain civil rights, including residence permits and improved access to state medical facilities, education and work in the private sector. These rights will considerably alleviate the hardships of the affected families, and we urge the government to implement them without delay.
However, as sex discrimination still remains in the Jordanian nationality law, including not giving women the right to pass on their citizenship to their children and foreign spouses, Equality Now continues to call on the government to amend its nationality law to remove such discrimination.
Friyal has been married for 21 years to an Egyptian man in Jordan. She is Jordanian but she cannot pass on her citizenship to her children. From the day she got married she has felt insecure. She was shocked when she realised that she could not register her children in her passport and that her husband needs a valid work permit in order for her children to go to school. Friyal is taking part in a campaign called My mother is Jordanian and her nationality is my right.
She believes her children have the right to live in dignity in Jordan, which they consider their homeland. Her son Mohamed does not work because, as a technical “foreigner” he can’t afford the fees for the work permit; he worked twice but he was not paid and could not file a complaint with the police for fear of being deported to Egypt, a country he has never known.
Eman, Friyal’s daughter, had to go through several bureaucratic procedures before she could get married. The family had to get Ministry of the Interior approval and then file that approval with the Sharia court. In doing so, the family was forced to pay a hefty fine because Eman’s father had not renewed his work permit due to the cost and additional family expenses required to pay for healthcare and education. The children are considered foreigners in their own country and therefore have to pay all fees associated with this status.
We call on Jordan and all governments with discriminatory nationality laws to revise them so that women and men can equally confer citizenship on their spouses and children. Discrimination relating to race or ethnicity should also be removed.
We also encourage governments to support the inclusion of a target on the elimination of all discriminatory laws, policies and practices in the post-2015 development framework.
Launched in Geneva in June, the International Campaign to End Gender Discrimination in Nationality Laws is a coalition of organisations including Equality Now, the Equal Rights Trust, Tilburg University Statelessness Programme, UNHCR, UN Women and the Women’s Refugee Commission. Other organisations and agencies are invited to join the campaign coalition.
Jacqui Hunt is London director, Equality Now