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In Time of COVID-19, Those Affected by Gender-Discriminatory Nationality Laws Face Family Separation and Denied Access to National COVID-Related Benefits

The Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights released a statement today calling on governments with gender-discriminatory nationality laws to address growing concern about family separation and inaccessible social services in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. With 25 countries denying women the right to confer nationality on their children on equal basis with men and approximately 50 countries denying women equal rights to confer nationality on spouses, COVID-related travel bans in many of these countries are causing family separation and/or the inability of women to return to their home countries with their families.

The Global Campaign is housed at the Women’s Refugee Commission.

“In Lebanon, a mother fears for her son who was studying abroad and is now unable to return home to his family because her son is considered a foreigner by the government,” read the statement.

In Malaysia women lack the same right as men to pass nationality to children born abroad, so many female citizens working overseas – if they are aware of the law’s discrimination – travel home to give birth in the country thereby securing citizenship for their child.

According to the statement, “Pregnant Malaysians who were outside the country when the government’s Movement Control Order went into effect have to decide whether to return home and give birth without their foreign spouses in order to secure Malaysian nationality for their child at birth, or give birth abroad and face being unable to secure citizenship for their child for years, if at all.”

Families affected by gender-discriminatory nationality laws face other hardships that are now exacerbated by the pandemic:

Non-citizen spouses and children of female citizens are often denied access to a range of social services, including healthcare. Though most countries have committed to offer healthcare to COVID-affected persons regardless of status, the economic relief funds being distributed to households in many countries will not be made available to the non-citizen members of women’s families.

With increases in gender-based violence reported during lockdowns, gender-discriminatory nationality laws have only added to the hurdles faced by women trying to extract themselves from abusive relationships, due to travel bans and services denied to their non-citizen children.

“The COVID-19 virus is a natural disaster. But these additional hardships facing families affected by gender-discriminatory nationality laws are man-made, unjust, and unnecessary.”
– Catherine Harrington, Campaign Manager

The Campaign calls on governments where gender-discriminatory nationality laws persist to:

  • Ensure the spouses and children of women citizens are permitted to enter the country;
  • Provide access to healthcare and COVID-related services and economic relief to the families of female citizens on an equal basis with families of male citizens;
  • Enact reforms to uphold citizens’ right to confer nationality on spouses and children and to acquire, change, and retain nationality on an equal basis regardless of gender, and with retroactive effect.”