Nationality Laws Progress - Equality Now

Nationality Laws Progress

Since 2013, there has been significant progress, both in terms of the amendment of discriminatory laws at the national level and the growing global movement for an end to discrimination within nationality laws.

Since 2013, there has been significant progress, both in terms of the amendment of discriminatory laws at the national level and the growing global movement for an end to discrimination within nationality laws.

A number of countries have either removed, or taken steps to address, discriminatory provisions within their nationality laws:

Lesotho: In December 2018, Lesotho enacted Constitutional reforms which now uphold citizen’s equal ability to confer nationality on spouses. 

Sierra Leone: On 5 July 2017, Sierra Leone's Parliament announced that the Citizenship Amendment Act 2017 passed into law, giving mothers equal rights with fathers to transmit their nationality to their children.

United States: On 12 June 2017, the US Supreme Court handed down a ruling in Sessions v. Morales-Santana (formerly Lynch v. Morales-Santana) to address the sex discrimination in the Immigration and Nationality Act. Going forward, unmarried American fathers and mothers will have the same residency requirements in order to pass on citizenship to their children born abroad, although the new length of the residency is still to be determined by Congress. Previously, fathers had to satisfy a longer residency time period than mothers, which the court found unconstitutional. Written by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this decision is consistent with international law and jurisprudence, which Equality Now and our global partners highlighted in our ‘friend of the court (amici curiae) brief’. While it is unfortunate that the sex discriminatory financial support requirement for a father remains as a condition for him giving his citizenship to a child born abroad and out of wedlock (not an issue in Session v. Morales-Santana), overall, the ruling represents real progress for both women and men in the movement for gender equality.

On 3 October 2016, Equality Now, Human Rights Watch and eight other international human rights organizations and institutions filed anamicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in the case of Lynch v. Morales-Santana currently before the US Supreme Court. The case challenges the federal Immigration and Nationality Act’s sex discriminatory residency requirements for unmarried fathers to transfer their nationality to children born abroad. (Equality Now filed an amicus brief with partners in the 2011 Flores-Villar case on the same issue which resulted in a tie and reaffirmed the lower court’s decision finding the discrimination to be constitutional.) In the current case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in July 2015 found these requirements to be unconstitutional.  The government appealed, however, and the US Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case on 9 November 2016. 

The amicus brief cites international law provisions on equality and nationality and provides examples of comparable court decisions as well as legislative progress towards equality in citizenship laws in other countries.  It also highlights the US role at the United Nations and in its human rights reports in promoting equal rights for women and men to transfer their nationality to their children –which is contradicted by the government's appeal in this case.  We hope the Supreme Court will consider the combined knowledge and expertise of the organizations from around the world on the brief.

We are very thankful to Professor Martha Davis, Counsel of Record for the brief, and to Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP for their pro-bono legal support. 


Madagascar: With the 25 January 2017 amendment to Madagascar's 1960 Nationality Code, women now have the right to transfer their nationality to their children on an equal basis with men. While further reform is needed, as women still cannot transfer their nationality to their spouses, we're pleased to see the government taking steps in the right direction.

Bahamas: The Bahamian public voted against amending the sex discriminatory Constitution in a referendum held on 7 June 2016. This was a rejection of the House of Assembly's 2 March 2016 passage of four bills that would have eliminated the discriminatory nationality provisions in the Constitution; the Senate also voted “yes” on these bills on 9 March. 

On 8 July 2013, the Constitutional Committee had recommended that the new Constitution, yet to be voted on, include “the amendment of the citizenship provisions to achieve gender-neutrality and full equality between men and women with respect to the acquisition or transmission of their nationality.”

Niger: On 8 December 2014, Law No. 2014-60 of 5 November 2014 modifying the Nationality Code came into effect so that married women can now pass their nationality to their foreign spouse on an equal basis with men.

Suriname: On 10 July 2014 Suriname’s National Assembly passed legislation granting Surinamese women the same rights as men to pass their nationality to their children and spouses.

Denmark: On 25 June 2014, the Government granted unmarried fathers the same rights as unmarried mothers to transfer their nationality to their children born abroad after 1 July 2014.

Vanuatu: On 16 January 2014, Parliament granted married women the right to pass their nationality to their foreign spouse on the same terms as married men.

Jordan: On 12 January 2014, the Government of Jordan approved regulations to grant the foreign spouses of Jordanian women and their children certain  rights or “privileged services” (Mazaya), including residence permits and improved access to state medical care facilities, education and work in the private sector. However, for the most part, the improvements have yet to be implemented. No changes have been proposed to amend the still discriminatory nationality law.

Austria: On 1 August 2013, changes to the nationality law came into effect so that the unmarried father of a child born to a non-Austrian national can now transmit his Austrian nationality without fulfilling additional requirements beyond proof of paternity. The requirement now is for paternity to be recognized by the father or a court within eight weeks of the birth of the child, but if this is not done there is also a provision for easier acquisition by the child of Austrian citizenship.

Senegal: On 25 June 2013, Parliament amended the law to grant Senegalese women the same rights as men to transfer their nationality to their husband and children.