Dozens of nations discriminate against women in citizenship laws, study finds

Thomson Reuters Foundation, Staff Report

More than a quarter of the world’s nations have sexist laws on nationality, such as stripping women of citizenship if they marry a foreigner, that can deprive women of access to jobs, education and other benefits available to men, a new study says.

The discriminatory laws range from forcing women to give up their acquired citizenship if they are divorced or widowed or denying children the citizenship of their mother, said the report released Monday by Equality Now, an international human rights organization.

“Sex discrimination persists in nationality and citizenship laws in over 50 countries around the world, continuing to trap women and their families in a web of sexist nationality laws,” the report said.

“Too many discriminatory nationality laws remain founded on stereotypes, which in turn reinforce stereotypical roles for both women and men.”

The report found 53 countries with discriminatory nationality laws, including the Philippines and Malaysia. The bulk of the nations cited are in Africa and the Middle East.

In Southeast Asia, the report cited Brunei as imposing multiple inequalities on women, such as mothers who give birth overseas being unable to transfer their citizenship to their children.

It faulted the Philippines for preventing married men from passing their nationality to a foreign spouse equally with married women, and it cited Malaysia’s prevention of married women from doing the same.

“While some gains have been made in improving the circumstances of Malaysian wives of foreigners and foreign wives of Malaysians, these two groups of women still face discrimination,” the report said.

Not having legal citizenship can mean being unable to obtain a passport or work permit, being unable to attend public schools or living under threat of deportation, the report said. It also can leave women stuck in abusive marriages or unable to win custody of their children.

For example, women cannot pass their citizenship to adopted children the way men can in the Bahamas, Barbados and Mauritius, it said. Foreign women who take on their spouse’s nationality lose it if their marriage ends in Bahrain, Togo, Tunisia and Yemen, it said.

The report cited recent progress in several countries, including Senegal and Suriname, where laws were changed to give women the same rights as men to transfer their nationality to their husband and children, and Vanuatu, where married women won the right to pass their nationality to a foreign spouse on the same terms as married men.

But it added, many nations maintain laws that discriminate on the basis of ethnicity or racial origin, which “causes misery to millions and compounds the discrimination based on sex,” it said. “This should be addressed immediately.”

Equality Now, which has offices in Nairobi, Amman, London and New York, conducted the research with the assistance of TrustLaw, a division of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.