Removing the vulnerability and second-class status of women and their families living without the security of a nationality.

Why we care: Women should have the same rights as men to pass their nationality on to their spouse and children; the severe consequences of the inability to do so causes great hardships for families.

How we are solving this: By petitioning governments to remove all discrimination against women that prevents them from passing on their nationality to their husbands and children.

Nationality, sometimes called citizenship, is essential to attaining a safe and secure life and being able to access societal rights to education, healthcare, employment, marriage choices and much more.  Most people take their nationality for granted, not realizing that without it, going about our daily lives and having access to basic choices would be far more difficult, if not impossible.

Too often the laws governing citizenship are based on–and so reinforce–stereotypical roles for women and men.  This not only denies equality to women and men, it also causes unnecessary suffering, vulnerability and harm to all affected by the discrimination.

To illustrate the negative effects of sex discriminatory nationality laws, here are some real-life examples from our work in Jordan and Lebanon:

  • Shireen is not allowed to register her Jordanian-born children on her Jordanian passport because their father is from another country.  She has a troubled marriage and is terrified that her husband will take the children back to his country, leaving her with few and arduous options to get them back or have access to them.  She is thinking of marrying off her daughter early in order to give her the sense of security that she herself lacks.
  • Bahamian-born Annie-Lavel is married to Haitian-born Maxime, who has lived in the Bahamas for more than 14 years. They’re expecting their third child. Purely because she is a woman (rather than a man) married to a foreigner, Annie-Lavel was not able to automatically pass her nationality on to Maxime. He managed to get a permit to work in the country, but lost it after a disagreement with his employer. The family lost their home in a fire and Maxime has been forced to work odd jobs, illegally, to support his family and to afford the costs associated with the lengthy process of getting a resident spouse permit. Some of his employers exploit his situation by not paying him and he has been picked up and detained several times by immigration control, forcing a pregnant Annie-Lavel to beg for his release. This has severely strained the family emotionally and financially.  
  • Born and raised in Lebanon to a Lebanese mother, Nour was married off at age 15 to a relative of her father in Egypt.  Her parents were scared that since she is not entitled to claim Lebanese citizenship through her mother, she would not be able to stay in Lebanon as an adult or have access to higher education or work, leaving her vulnerable.  

In these examples, had the situation been reversed, i.e. father married to a non-national, their spouses and children would have had an automatic right to citizenship.

Equality Now has been campaigning to end laws that discriminate against women for more than 13 years in order to improve their safety and security. Nationality laws are very complex, but removing any discrimination between men and women is straightforward and can be achieved through immediate legal reform.  

To that end, we have collected information on the nearly 60 countries around the world that still discriminate against women on citizenship. In those same countries, men are permitted to pass their nationality to their wives and their children. Rooted in sex inequality on multiple levels, this is gender discrimination. We will, therefore, develop and continue national campaigns to push for changes that will alleviate the suffering and instability of those involved.  At the same time, we will push for global change so that countries can use others’ example to make swift and effective changes to the law. 

The success of these campaigns has the potential to enormously improve the situation for women and their families around the world.  Please help us to take advantage of momentum on this issue which is already showing real change.