Parliamentarians Commit to Advocate Gender Equal Nationality Laws & Combat Statelessness

In November 2015 parliamentarians from around the globe convened in Cape Town, South Africa to discuss the root causes of statelessness and consider interventions for its eradication. Organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, UNHCR and the Parliament of South Africa, the conference ” included over one hundred parliamentarians from forty countries as well as a small number of NGO representatives, including the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights.

The Global Campaign opened up the session on gender discrimination in nationality laws, with the Campaign Manager providing an overview of the wide-ranging human rights violations resulting from these discriminatory laws and recent efforts to achieve reform, such as the Global Campaign’s recent activities in Madagascar in collaboration with national coalition member Focus Development. The presentation closed with an appeal to parliamentarians to use their positions to champion gender equal nationality laws in partnership with the Global Campaign.

This presentation was followed by an overview of Morocco’s reform process by the Vice President of the country’s parliament, Rachida Benmessaoud, who discussed the path to the 2007 reforms granting women equal rights to confer nationality to their children. Though a significant, positive step towards equality, Benmessaoud acknowledged that the 2007 reforms did not address discrimination against women’s ability to confer nationality to spouses, a right still reserved exclusively for men. However, Benmessaoud noted that Morocco’s 2011 ratification of CEDAW’s Optional Protocol and removal of reservations to the Convention, paved the way for further, albeit yet to be realized, reforms to eliminate gender discrimination in the country’s nationality law.

Madagascar MP Lydia Toto followed Benmessaoud’s presentation, discussing the current push for nationality reforms in that country, which is one of the 27 worldwide that denies women equal rights to pass nationality to children and also counts a large stateless population. Toto discussed a recent workshop with parliamentarians organized by Focus Development, the Global Campaign and UNHCR, which resulted in thirty parliamentarians committing to support reforms in the next parliamentary session and the President of the National Assembly personally committing to sponsor a bill to achieve gender equal nationality rights.

Following these presentations, the discussion turned to the importance of MPs taking action to resolve persisting gender discrimination in nationality laws. Pakistani Senator Farhatullah Babar, Spokesperson and Co-Chair of the PPP, notably called on parliamentarians to not only appreciate their power to resolve this injustice, but rather recognize their “responsibility” to take action to achieve gender equal nationality rights.

At the close of the conference, parliamentarians committed through a Plan of Action to advocate for legislative reform that addresses any identified gaps or challenges, including any discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, or gender, thereby helping to prevent statelessness. MPs also committed to advocate for a review of national legislation to ensure its consistency with international standards on the prevention and resolution of statelessness, as well as several other actions to combat statelessness, listed in the conference outcome document.