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Time for all nationality laws to uphold women and men's equality, says UN and civil society leaders.

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Time for all nationality laws to uphold women and men's equality, says UN and civil society leaders.

23 September 2020
Sudan. UNHCR helps family win eight-year battle against statelessness
Thousands of people of mixed Sudanese-South Sudanese origin are at risk of statelessness in Sudan, because of gender discriminatory nationality laws that deny mothers the right to confer nationality on their children. Sudanese mother of five Hanan Jaber Abdallah only gained nationality for her five children after an eight-year struggle.

NEW YORK, NY – Today, at a high level event during the 75th Annual UN General Assembly, UN Women, the UN Development Programme, UNHCR, and the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights called for reform of nationality laws that discriminate on the basis of gender. Currently, 25 countries retain nationality laws that deny women the right to confer citizenship on their children on an equal basis with men. More than fifty countries have nationality laws with gender-discriminatory provisions, with most denying women the same right as men to pass nationality to a noncitizen spouse.

“Gender discrimination in nationality laws undermines women’s equal citizenship and results in wide-ranging rights violations and hardships for affected families, including obstacles to accessing education, healthcare, employment, family unity, freedom of movement, inheritance and property rights,” said Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights Manager Catherine Harrington.

Research shows that gender discrimination in nationality laws is also a primary cause of statelessness, which affects millions of people globally, and is also linked with gender-based violence. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, gender discrimination in nationality laws is exacerbating the vulnerability of affected families.

Today’s event was timed with both 75th anniversary of the U.N. and the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – a groundbreaking agreement by all members of the UN to eliminate discrimination against women. During today’s event, panelists underscored that gender-equal nationality laws are essential to achieving gender equality, sustainable development, and security.

“Eliminating gender discrimination in nationality laws is a peace and security imperative, as well as a human rights and development issue. Putting an end to gender discrimination in nationality laws would have profound impacts on hundreds of thousands of lives through, for example, improved access to education, health care, identity documents, employment and inheritance, as well as the reduction of statelessness, conflict, and forced displacement globally,” said UN Women Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia.

Minsters of Justice Pholile Shakantu and Kokouvi Agbetomy, representing Eswatini and Togo respectively, discussed their countries’ current efforts to advance nationality law reforms to uphold gender equality. The Government of Eswatini and a number of others pledged reform at a High-Level Segment on Statelessness that UNHCR hosted last year to help advance the #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness.

A young Nepali activist, Neha Gurung, shared the impact of statelessness on her life, as a result of her mother’s inability to confer nationality on her child at birth, and called for all countries to enshrine equal nationality rights for women and men in law.

Historically common in many countries, the number of States with gender discriminatory nationality laws continues to decrease and momentum for gender-equal nationality rights is building in countries where such legislation persists.

“Gender-equal nationality laws are not only fundamental to women’s equal citizenship, but support children’s rights, families’ wellbeing, and sustainable development, thereby benefitting society as a whole,” said Harrington, “Now is the time to end gender discrimination in nationality laws – a harmful, man-made problem – once and for all.”