A Call for States to Grant Women and Men Everywhere Equal Citizenship
By Catherine Harrington, Campaign Manager for the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights
This week in Geneva, the United Nations will mark the midway point of the UN Refugee Agency’s 10-year #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness. The Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, a coalition of national and international organizations housed at the Women’s Refugee Commission, has supported this effort over the past five years by working to end one of the root causes of statelessness: gender discrimination in nationality laws.
Countless times, after responding to questions about what I do for work, I get the same response: “I had no idea that problem exists; that is terrible.” Indeed. Today, 25 countries have nationality laws that deny women the right to pass their nationality to their own children on an equal basis with men. Approximately 50 countries have some form of gender discrimination in their nationality laws, including the right to pass nationality to a foreign spouse, a right that is reserved for men.
This discrimination has a dramatic, negative impact on women and their families. Children are denied access to education and healthcare, and, upon reaching adulthood, cannot gain employment or inherit family property. Many are rendered stateless, unable to access their father’s nationality, which can occur for a number of reasons. Families can be torn apart when those denied the nationality of their mother or wife cannot obtain residency permits. Women are inhibited from freely choosing a spouse and a place of residence, and are at an increased risk of gender-based violence. Women’s very equality within society and the family is fundamentally undermined wherever this discrimination persists.
The good news is, we are seeing real progress and increasing momentum to eradicate this injustice once and for all — progress that we will be celebrating this week in Geneva. Since the launch of the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights in 2014, two countries have enacted reforms to uphold women’s equal right to pass nationality to their children. At our first national convening in 2015, organized with our national coalition member Focus Development Association, representatives from Madagascar’s government, civil society, and affected persons joined forces to promote reform. A year later, a new law was passed with retroactive effect, giving women the same right as men to pass nationality to their children. That year, Sierra Leone did the same. The progress continued in 2017, when we co-organized the first Arab League meeting on women’s nationality rights, which formed the basis of the Arab Declaration on Belonging and Legal Identity. This groundbreaking declaration calls on all Arab League members to grant women and men equal nationality rights. We are working now to advance the Declaration’s goals in the region, which has the highest concentration of this form of discrimination.
This week, the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights joins our sister civil society coalitions that are leading efforts to combat statelessness in calling for governments to take action in eight key areas, including ending gender discrimination in nationality laws.
The truth is, when the political will is there, ending gender discrimination in nationality laws is relatively simple. In fact, both gender discrimination in nationality laws and statelessness itself can be eradicated through the commitment of States to uphold international human rights and humanitarian law.
During this week in which states and other stakeholders will announce their pledges to support the #IBelong campaign, we commit to continuing to fight for a world where statelessness is a thing of the past and where nationality laws treat women and men as equal citizens.
 The Americas Network on Nationality and Statelessness, the European Network on Statelessness, the Central Asian Network on Statelessness, the World Council of Churches, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, the Southern African Nationality Network, and the Statelessness Network Asia Pacific.