The Problem

Nationality laws in 26 countries worldwide prevent mothers from passing their nationality to their children on an equal basis with fathers. Over 50 countries deny female citizens equal rights with male citizens in their ability to acquire, change and retain their nationality, and to confer nationality to non-national spouses.

This discrimination results in significant human rights violations and suffering for individuals and families, contributing to myriad of problems. These laws are also in contradiction to international law, including state commitments to a number of international conventions.

Countries that discriminate against mothers in their ability to confer nationality on their children*:
The Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Brunei, Burundi, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kiribati, Kuwait, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nepal, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Togo, United Arab Emirates

Countries that discriminate against unmarried fathers in their ability to confer nationality on their children*:
The Bahamas, Barbados, Madagascar, Malaysia, the United States
 

Countries that discriminate in a women’s ability to confer nationality to spouses and/or acquire, change and retain her nationality:
Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin, Brunei, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo (Republic of), Egypt, Guatemala, Guinea, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kiribati, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mauritius, Monaco, Morocco, Nauru, Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Syrian Arab Republic, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen

 

   

Gender-Discriminatory Nationality Laws and...

Women's Rights Violations:

Denying women and men equal nationality rights is a clear form of discrimination based on sex. The vast majority of nationality laws that maintain gender-based discrimination, discriminate against women by denying women equal rights to acquire, change, retain and confer nationality to children or spouses. These laws are often the legacy of laws implemented under colonial rule and are rooted in systems that held women to be unequal to men. Nationality laws that discriminate on the basis of gender are in contradiction to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which explicitly obliges States to guarantee equal nationality rights to women (Article 9). When a State denies equal nationality rights to women and men, it creates a category of second class citizens. Gender equality cannot be realized in a country that maintains gender-discriminatory nationality laws.

Statelessness:

Gender discrimination in nationality laws is one of the primary causes of statelessness, a status whereby an individual is not recognized as a citizen by any country. Statelessness can occur when children are unable to acquire their parents’ nationality, or when a woman loses her nationality due to her gender and marital status, in addition to other causes. Statelessness results in wide-ranging and significant human rights violations and hardships that can impact individuals and their families for generations. In addition to other human rights violations, stateless individuals are denied participation in political processes, including the right to vote and run for public office. There are an estimated 12 million stateless individuals worldwide. Ending gender discrimination in nationality laws is critical to eradicating statelessness and is listed as Action #3 in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Global Action Plan to End Statelessness by 2024. Action #3 also calls for stakeholders to work with the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights to realize this goal. 

Obstacles to Children’s Education:

Gender discrimination in nationality laws impedes a child’s access to education in a number of countries. Stateless children and those living in their mother’s country without that country’s citizenship are often prevented from attending public school until all children with citizenship are registered and are often forced to pay higher school fees. Many, because of their nationality status, have no access to state-sponsored education. This situation continues through secondary and tertiary education, severely limiting children’s access to education and, later, job opportunities. This is in contradiction to State obligations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), in addition to other human rights conventions.

Lack of Healthcare & Social Services:

When individuals lack citizenship due to sex-discriminatory nationality laws, they are also frequently denied access to social services including national healthcare. The higher costs of private healthcare can increase the occurrence of untreated diseases and inhibit preventative healthcare interventions. Affected individuals may also be denied driver’s licenses, bank accounts and access to social welfare programs. The marginalization and hardships faced by these individuals can also lead to social alienation and psychological distress.

Discriminatory Nationality Laws & Gender-based Violence:

Gender discrimination in nationality laws can contribute to gender-based violence. Women who have lost their nationality through marriage or whose children do not have access to their mother’s nationality may be less likely to leave an abusive marriage. Additionally, there is a higher risk of human trafficking among statelessness women and girls. Gender discrimination in nationality laws can also contribute to child and forced marriages. Girls who are without nationality in their home country may be forced into early marriage in hopes of obtaining greater security and access to the benefits of citizenship. Women who become pregnant as a result of rape have an increased risk of having stateless children when a State’s nationality is based on paternity.

Threatened Family Unity:

Countries that deny women equal rights to confer nationality to foreign spouses threaten family unity, including the child’s right to know and be cared for by his or her parents. For example, when foreign men are denied access to their spouses’ nationality, they may be forced to live away from their children due to challenges in acquiring residency permits and obstacles to employment. Couples have even reported not starting a family because of the hardships their children would face due to the mother's inability to confer nationality to her children.

Lack of Economic Opportunities & Poverty:

When women are unable to confer nationality on their spouses, their husbands may be denied work permits and must often pay expensive residency permits. Women whose children and husbands are denied her nationality may be forced to provide for the entire family, even when children reach adulthood. Children’s lack of educational opportunities due to discriminatory nationality laws can lead to a life of economic hardship and barriers to formal employment. Children denied citizenship through their mother are often prevented to acquiring their inheritance, including the family home. Denied social services only exacerbate these families’ vulnerability.

Violations of International Law:

Gender discrimination in Nationality Laws contradicts a number of international conventions and agreements, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on Statelessness, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). CEDAW explicitly obliges States to guarantee equal nationality rights to women in the ability to acquire, change and retain their nationality, including the right to confer nationality on spouses (Article 9[1]), and to guarantee women equal rights to confer nationality to their children (Article 9[2]). Sex-discriminatory nationality laws impede children’s access to nationality and family unity, healthcare, and education, in violation of the CRC (Articles 7, 24 and 28 respectively).

National Resiliency & Development:

Discriminatory nationality laws inhibit individuals from fully contributing to society, hampering development. At least 9 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are negatively impacted by gender discrimination in nationality laws. Goal 5 cannot be realized without the elimination of this discrimination. Equal nationality laws support greater national stability, economic development, good health and prosperity by allowing more people to contribute to their country’s economy and development. Eliminating discriminatory nationality laws promotes inclusion, family unity, and a more engaged citizenry.

Psychological Distress & Social Marginalization:

Many persons affected by gender discrimination in nationality laws experience psychological distress and social marginalization. Prevented from fully participating in economic, social, and political life, those denied citizenship because of gender discrimination in the law have reported suffering from depression and anxiety, feeling that they are trapped in their situation, often with no means to seek redress. Children suffer from being told that they do not truly belong. Parents struggle to provide for their families and to cope with the fact that their children will be denied many opportunities simply because the law denies women and men equality.

 

*Countries listed maintain gender discriminatory provisions regarding the right of mothers or fathers to confer nationality on newborn children. Some countries excluded from these lists have reformed their nationality law but have not made these reforms fully retroactive. As a result, nationals from several countries not listed here are denied the equal right to confer nationality on children born before reforms were implemented.