Call for Equal Nationality Laws for Women on 50th Anniversary of Convention on Reduction of Statelessness

7 December 2011
Contact: LONDON: Jacqui Hunt, (44) (0)20-7839-5456,
AMMAN: Suad Abu-Dayyeh, +962 777 696 069, sabu-dayyeh@equalitynow.org
NEW YORK: Karen Asare, (01) 212-586-0906, media@equalitynow.org

Statelessness will Persist until Governments Abolish Sex Discriminatory Citizenship Laws

London, England - As UN member states gather in Geneva today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention, international human rights organisation Equality Now calls on governments to eliminate citizenship laws that discriminate against women. These inequitable laws are a major contributor to statelessness, as emphasised repeatedly by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “The right to a nationality is contained in many human rights instruments. That so many governments continue to deny women equal rights to confer citizenship on their husbands and children is unacceptable and leads to untold suffering of countless women and their families,” says Jacqui Hunt, London Director of Equality Now.

According to the UNCHR1 at least 33 countries around the world deny women equal rights to men to pass nationality onto their children, with many more countries discriminating against women with regard to gaining or keeping nationality or being able to pass nationality on to their spouses. Such is the reality of Hiam Abd El Samad, whose case Equality Now has highlighted. Born and living in Lebanon, El Samad married an Egyptian man with whom she had three daughters. Because the nationality law of Lebanon does not allow its women to confer Lebanese nationality upon non-national spouses and their resulting children, her family is unable to access the educational, health and other social benefits that Lebanese citizens are guaranteed. Though the Lebanese constitution states that all of its citizens are equal before the law, this contradictory law effectively disallows Lebanese women from enjoying equal civil and political rights.

Affecting upwards of 12 million people worldwide -- particularly in South East and Central Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East -- the consequences of statelessness are severe. “Because stateless people are technically not citizens of any country, they are often denied basic rights and access to employment, housing, education, and health care,” states UNHCR External Relations Associate Laura Padoan. “They may not be able to own property, open a bank account, get married legally, or register the birth of a child. Some face long periods of detention, because they cannot prove who they are or where they come from.”2  Furthermore, Equality Now has found that where women are unable to pass on citizenship to their children there is also the risk of early and unwanted marriage. Faced as adults with little or no right to live and work, even in the country of their birth, children might be married off early in the hopes of avoiding destitution.

Changes are moving in the right direction, most recently signalled in a decree by the President of the United Arab Emirates promoting citizenship rights for children of Emirati women born to non-nationals, as well as in amendments to Lebanese labour law easing regulations for work permits for non-national husbands of Lebanese women and for their children. Equality Now calls on all countries to revoke or amend all nationality laws that discriminate on the basis of sex. “We welcome news that some member states have already submitted pledges in this commemoration year to amend their sex discriminatory nationality laws. However, we urge them both to fulfil this pledge quickly and comprehensively and to encourage others to follow suit as one very concrete step in the elimination of statelessness and the consequent suffering of millions,” further states Jacqui Hunt.

Learn more about the case of Hiam Abd El Samad.

1. http://www.unhcr.org/4a8d0f1b9.html
2. http://www.unhcr.org/4ece5cb86.html