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The State We’re In: Ending Sexism in Nationality Laws

Equality Now’s report, which has been sent to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, documents a wide range of harmful consequences and calls on governments to remove all discrimination against women in passing on their nationality to their husbands and children. It highlights those countries where women do not have the same rights as men to convey their nationality, engendering much hardship for the families concerned.

Progress since 2013

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.
  • 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.