Coming together to end gender discrimination in nationality laws
A call for urgent action by government to end gender discrimination in nationality laws and uphold their commitments to sex equality.
From April 24-25, 2019, Equality Now’s Antonia Kirkland, Suad Abu-Dayyeh and Esther Waweru joined civil society leaders from Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East and the Gulf (including Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Bahrain), South Asia and Southeast Asia at the crossroads where East meets West, for the first global meeting of the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, a coalition dedicated to achieving a world where every country’s nationality law treats citizens as equals regardless of their gender. Equality Now is a co-founder and Steering Committee member, since the coalition formed in 2014, along with Equal Rights Trust, the Institute for Statelessness and Inclusion, UNHCR, Women’s Refugee Commission as well as Women’s Learning Partnership.
In recognition of the inalienable right of every person to equality and equal treatment before the law, and the extent to which nationality rights impact the enjoyment of a wide-range of civil, political, economic and social rights, together we strongly call for urgent action to end gender discrimination in nationality laws.
Over the past century, as governments across the world took steps to end discrimination against women, many countries enacted reforms to uphold the right of citizens, both women and men, to pass their nationality to their children and spouses on an equal basis. Over the last 5 years there has been further progress.
- Twenty-five countries deny women the right to pass their nationality to their own children on an equal basis with men.
- Approximately fifty countries retain gender-discriminatory provisions in their nationality laws, such as provisions denying women the right to pass nationality to a foreign spouse under the same terms as men, and linking women’s ability to acquire, change, or retain their own citizenship to their marital status.
There is no justification for the maintenance of nationality laws that deny women and men equal rights.
These laws violate the right to equality, equality before the law, and non-discrimination on the basis of sex that are enshrined in international law and most countries’ constitutions. A number of international conventions, ratified by almost all countries worldwide, include specific provisions which enshrine gender-equal nationality rights, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In addition to these obligations, countries around the world have committed to ending gender discrimination (and therefore gender discrimination in nationality laws) in numerous regional treaties and declarations, such as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol), the Arab Declaration on Belonging and Identity, the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, and others.
Resulting human rights violations and unnecessary suffering
The persistence of gender discrimination in nationality laws results in wide-ranging human rights violations and the unnecessary suffering of affected women, men, and children, including denied access to education, healthcare, employment, freedom of movement, permanent residence in the state territory, and family unity, and is a root cause of statelessness. At their core, these laws undermine women’s equality in society and the family. And the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – developed and universally endorsed by all nations in 2015 – cannot be realized in the absence of gender-equal nationality laws.
The Beijing Platform for Action
The Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA), adopted in 1995, calls on States to “revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex” and states, “equality between women and men are prerequisites for achieving political, social, economic, cultural and environmental security among all peoples.” As we approach the 25-year anniversary of the BPfA, we emphasize that gender-equal nationality laws are indispensable to achieving the long-overdue BPfA government commitments.
While virtually all governments have stated their commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment, such statements are grossly contradicted by a lack of action to reform discriminatory nationality laws.
We call on all governments in countries with gender-discriminatory nationality laws to enact reforms without delay to uphold equal nationality rights for equal citizens, women and men. Additionally, we urge all governments to ratify and implement international and regional human rights treaties. Temporary and partial measures are not enough, but, pending reforms, governments must ensure that the children and spouses of women citizens have access to the same social services and residency rights as the families of male citizens. We further encourage governments to work with civil society experts to achieve and successfully implement reforms to end gender discrimination in nationality laws. Now is the time for action!
Roughly 75% of countries worldwide uphold gender equality in their nationality laws. It is time for 100%.