The Places Where Women — & Their Children — Aren't Equal Citizens

Photo: Mohammed Huwais/Getty Images.
Shireen fears for the future of her children.

They were born in Jordan, where she lives. But because her husband is from a different country, they can't be included on her passport — only his. Jobs and legal rights for them are out of reach. She worries her husband will take the children away. Shireen fears that the only hope for a better life for her young daughter is to marry the child off to a Jordanian man.

Her story is just one of the heartbreaking cases documented in a new report highlighting sexism in nationality laws around the world.

In more than 50 countries, women — and their families — are burdened by nationality restrictions that their male counterparts often do not face, according to the report from Equality Now. That number breaks down to roughly a quarter of the world's countries.

In many cases, these laws leave children unable to claim the same citizenship as their mother or father, effectively rendering them stateless and severely lacking in rights.

"Everyone has the right to be born with a nationality — safe, fearless and free — secure in their human right to equally transfer, acquire, change or retain it," Yasmeen Hassan, global executive director of Equality Now, said in the report. "There is no reason why over 50 countries should still have sexist nationality and citizenship laws which discriminate against women, potentially putting them and their families in danger."

The consequences can be grave, the report suggests. An inability for women — or their families — to secure full rights and recognition under a country's laws can lead to various forms of physical and emotional trauma. The lack of rights and recognition can lead to child custody issues, forced child marriage for young girls who need citizenship, and restricted access to medical and educational services, the report found.

The report did point to some bright spots. At least eight countries, including Denmark, Senegal, and the island nation of Vanuatu, have passed or changed laws to empower women to pass their own nationality to their spouses and children. But the updates don't always improve the situation for families living in limbo. In Jordan, for example, pledges to provide some protections to children born to Jordanian women and foreign fathers have made little difference, Equality Now says.
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Read the full report, and find out what you can do to help, here.
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