MENA has the highest number of nationality laws denying women equal rights

Women's rights and nationality laws [Getty Images]
4 min read
08 September, 2022
Findings from a report published by women's rights organisation Equality Now have found that women in MENA remain exposed to human rights violations due to archaic nationality laws, which continue to preserve women's precarious status in society.

A new report released by the international women’s rights organisation Equality Now is calling on governments around the world to do more to help women in need, after findings showed that many countries around the world still hold sexist and discriminatory nationality laws.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have the highest number of discriminatory nationality laws with 17 countries denying women equal nationality and citizenship rights, the report revealed.   

Findings from the report included how discriminatory nationality laws remain in 49 countries accounting for 25% of United Nations member states.

"Women are denied the right to confer their nationalities to their children and spouses, which leaves them at grave risk of violations of human rights"

"As an Arab mother originally from Lebanon, I am not surprised by these findings. My sister really struggled when she married my brother-in-law. You just don’t get treated equally especially if you have Lebanese citizenship and your spouse doesn’t. In the end, it’s not only you who suffer but the children too," Shaykha* (name changed for confidentiality) told The New Arab.

The findings from the report The State We’re in – Ending Sexism in Nationality Laws revealed that a quarter of countries – including Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, and Lebanon – still have laws that discriminate against women by denying them the same nationality rights as men.

"Some women in the Arab world who are stripped from having the same nationality rights as men, feel worried about the future and some women who have felt like moving away from their home countries, are still in pain and suffering to get back their rights," Shaykha told The New Arab.

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Nationality laws which discriminate against women have had a significant impact in affecting a woman’s basic rights to have healthcare, education, employment, and non-discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, and religion.

"Four years after the Arab League's endorsement of the Arab Declaration on Belonging and Identity, the region still records the highest ratio of sex discriminatory nationality laws," Dima Dabbous, Equality Now's MENA representative told The New Arab. "Women are denied the right to confer their nationalities to their children and spouses, which leaves them at grave risk of violations of human rights."

Dima explained how denying women the right to pass nationality to children and spouses would expose families to the risk of statelessness, fear of deportation of children, spouses,  family separation, and lack of access to publicly funded education, medical services, and social benefits.

"Children and spouses who are denied the right to hold the citizenship of their parents in their country of residence have limited access to jobs, economic opportunities, and financial opportunities. Their freedom of movement is limited and they face hardships traveling abroad," Dima told The New Arab.

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Discriminatory nationality laws have been found to lead to detrimental consequences such as forced marriage.

"Sometimes families are left with no option but to force their children, especially girls, into marriage to obtain legal status that protects them from deportation, statelessness, and further social and economic vulnerabilities," Dima explained.

The women’s human rights organisation is calling on MENA governments to eliminate all forms of gender discrimination in nationality law and remove their reservation to Article 9 of CEDAW that grants women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality, and their full right to pass their nationality to their children.

We call on the governments to revise the sex discriminatory legal provisions to achieve gender equality where women and men are able to confer citizenship on their children wherever they are born, whether born in or out of marriage, and whether adopted or not. Women and men should have the right to pass their nationality to their spouses on an equal basis and to keep their nationality as they wish.

The situation for women in some countries in the Middle East and around the world has become worse over the years due to the effects of the global pandemic which exacerbated pre-existing problems in the MENA regions.

Currently, many countries within MENA and many United Nations states prohibit women from passing their citizenship onto their children or a foreign spouse, and these women face restrictions which leave them extremely vulnerable to undergoing human rights violations.

The Arab world and countries identified such as Bahrain, Lebanon, Egypt; Iran; Iraq; Jordan; Kuwait; Libya; Morocco; Oman; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; Sudan; Syrian Arab Republic; Tunisia; United Arab Emirates and Yemen are being called to address the issues and implement suggested changes for a better future.

Tasnim Nazeer is an award-winning journalist, author, and Universal Peace Federation Ambassador. She has written for Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Middle East Eye, CNN, BBC, and others. She was awarded the FIPP the global network of media Rising Stars in Media Award 2018.

Follow her on Twitter: @tasnimnazeer1