In 2022, four years after the Arab League’s endorsement of the Arab Declaration on Belonging and Identity, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region still records the highest ratio of sex discriminatory nationality laws, with 17 countries where women are denied the right to confer their nationalities to their children and/or spouses, which leaves them and their families at grave risk of violations of human rights.
As part of a series following the release of our updated report, The State We’re In: Ending Sexism In Nationality Laws – 2022 Edition – Update For A Disrupted World, this week we’re taking a look at the situation in the MENA region.
Impact on women and their families
In the MENA region, as in other parts of the world, denying women the right to pass nationality to children and spouses exposes families to the risk of statelessness, fear of deportation of children and spouses and family separation, and lack of access to publicly funded education, medical services, and social benefits.
Children and spouses who are denied the right to hold the citizenship of their parents in their country of residence have limited access to jobs and economic opportunities. Their freedom of movement is limited and they face hardships traveling abroad. Discrimination in nationality laws also makes women more vulnerable in abusive marriages, can cause difficulty for mothers in custody of and access to their children, and reinforces harmful practices like child marriage.
Many governments in the region, however, don’t see these laws as problematic. Lebanon and Jordan, for example, consider nationality laws as a matter of national security rather than a human rights issue. This has a very real impact on women and their families.
In Lebanon, Alia, who is a Lebanese woman married to a Palestinian man, is unable to pass her citizenship to her children or to her husband. She suffers in the children’s absence, as two of them were forced to move abroad for work due to discriminatory attitudes and being denied access to jobs in Lebanon.
And in Jordan, Thuraya, a Jordanian woman married to an Egyptian man, is unable to pass on her nationality to her husband or children and finds her children are unable to leave the country or access educational and other benefits.
Progress: a mixed bag
We have seen good progress toward achieving gender equality in nationality laws globally in 19 countries. Unfortunately, only a few of these are in the MENA region, and many of the changes have not been fully implemented, so there is still work to be done.
In 2017, Iraq passed an amendment to the Nationality Law which reduced the residency requirement from a five-year period to two years for the approval of the naturalization of a non-Iraqi man married to an Iraqi woman. This makes it easier for Iraqi women to pass nationality to their spouses, though the law still remains unequal, as Iraqi men have the right to pass nationality to their foreign spouses after two years, while in the case of Iraqi women, their spouses may be granted nationality based on the discretion of the authorities, and subject to the fulfillment of a number of conditions. Iraqi women also still do not have the same right as men to pass citizenship to their children born abroad.
In 2019, Iran passed an amendment to the Law on Determining the Nationality of Children Born from a Marriage of Iranian Women and Foreign Men. The amendments allow children born of Iranian mothers and non-Iranian fathers to submit applications to acquire Iranian nationality, whether they are born within or outside Iran. Though this is an extremely welcome step, the law still remains unequal as it does not allow Iranian women to pass nationality to their children on the same conditions as Iranian men.
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, the regulations are not being properly implemented. The discriminatory nationality law is yet to be amended.
In Egypt, the gender-discriminatory provisions were not addressed by the 2018 nationality law, and women still cannot confer their nationality to their children and spouses on an equal basis with men.
The Interim Sudanese Constitutional Declaration of 2019 states: “Every person born to a Sudanese mother or father shall have an inalienable right to enjoy Sudanese nationality and citizenship”. However, an unmarried mother cannot pass her nationality to her children on an equal basis with the father. Mothers have to go through the process of expressly applying for citizenship for their children.
Lebanon failed to adopt any of the 12 proposed bills between 2018 and 2020, and none of them had comprehensively addressed sex discrimination in the nationality law.
United Arab Emirates
According to reports, in June 2022, the United Arab Emirates issued a presidential decree that grants benefits to the children of Emirati mothers and foreign fathers. They have access to health and education equal to citizens. However, there is no change in the nationality law.
It’s time for real change
We call on MENA governments to eliminate all forms of gender discrimination in nationality laws and remove their reservation to Article 9 of CEDAW that grants women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality, and their full right to pass their nationality to their children.
Explore our full recommendations for governments in The State We’re In: Ending Sexism In Nationality Laws – 2022 Edition – Update For A Disrupted World