Equal Nationality Laws Are Vital to Realizing Girls’ Rights and Security

At first glance, laws governing nationality rights might seem irrelevant to securing the rights and security of girls across the globe. But, in reality, when countries deny women and men equal nationality rights, it can result in serious violations of girls’ most basic human rights.

Nationality laws dictate one’s ability to acquire, change, retain and confer nationality. Today, 25 countries deny women equal rights to pass their nationality to their own children. Roughly 50 countries maintain some form of gender discrimination in their nationality law, including denying women the right to pass nationality to foreign spouses.

When women are denied equal rights to confer nationality to their children, children with foreign fathers are at risk of being left stateless – a status whereby no state recognizes the child as a citizen. Children may be unable to access their father’s nationality for a variety of reasons. In Nepal, a country where roughly one in four persons lack entity documents, if the mother cannot prove the father’s Nepali nationality, the child is denied citizenship by descent. Similarly, Syrian women who give birth inside the country do not have the right to pass citizenship to children unless the father is stateless or does not legally recognize the child. Syrian women who give birth outside the country do not have the right to pass citizenship to their children under any circumstance.

With countless Syrian refugee women separated from their husbands and giving birth abroad, a new generation of stateless children born to displaced Syrian women emerges. Unsurprisingly, the majority of these discriminatory laws discriminate against women, though a small number of countries deny unmarried fathers equal rights to confer to children due to outdated notions of gender and parenthood.

While discriminatory nationality laws can result in significant hardships for all members of a family – and ultimately hurt society as a whole – the impact on girls is especially damaging because of compounding discrimination faced by girls, their resulting lack of voice and overall inattention to girls’ needs.

  • Children without nationality often lack access to education, are denied entrance to university and are prevented from acquiring professional licenses upon adulthood. If they are allowed to attend school, they may be forced to pay higher fees. Because of persisting gender stereotypes, families with limited resources often prioritize boys’ education over girls’.
  • Children without nationality are often denied access to healthcare systems and social services. This means that adolescent girls who lack citizenship are denied access to essential sexual and reproductive healthcare.
  • Gender discrimination in nationality laws is linked with child marriage. Due to the lack of opportunity and insecurity experienced by stateless girls, some families view early marriage as a route to greater security for their daughters, who can access citizenship through their husbands.
  • Stateless girls are at a higher risk of being trafficked.
  • Already marginalized girls without citizenship know that as adults they will lack a political voice and be banned from running for office.

At a time when the international community is increasingly recognizing the vital role girls play in achieving peaceful, prosperous societies, gender discrimination in nationality laws prevents girls across the globe from realizing their dreams, securing their rights and fully contributing to their society and sustainable development

Gender equal nationality laws are critical to realizing a world where girls’ rights and security are protected. The good news is, with all of the complicated challenges facing the world today, ending gender discrimination in nationality laws is relatively simple with the political will.

In the past decade, over a dozen countries removed gender discrimination from their nationality laws. In some instances the addition of just two words to the law, “man or woman,”* can fix this unnecessary problem. The Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights is part of a growing movement of organizations – including multiple members of the Coalition for Adolescent Girls – activists and political leaders working to ensure that nationality rights are based on citizenship, not gender. We invite you to join us in this important effort. Gender discrimination, like statelessness, has no place in the 21st century. Girls deserve a future where neither exists.

*Countries have amended their laws in the following manner to eliminate gender discrimination in the law: “The child of a [nationality] man or woman is a citizen; the spouse of a [nationality] man or woman may acquire citizenship.”