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  • Groundbreaking Arab League declaration heightens global momentum to end gender discrimination in nationality laws

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    This blog was cross-posted from the European Network on Statelessness.

    Amid the tragedy and uncertainty of today’s global challenges, there have been several important developments in the fight for gender equality in the past year. Importantly, these wins do more than advance gender justice; they help to address the root causes of some of the greatest challenges we face today. From the reform of rape laws in Jordan and Lebanon, to the banning of child marriage in Malawi, women’s long-awaited right to drive in Saudi Arabia, the increasingly international #MeToo movement to combat gender-based harassment and violence, Iceland’s new pay equality law, and women’s marches around the world, demanding equality and rejecting misogynist political leaders; women and men are demanding an end to discriminatory laws and practices, and creating a more just, secure, and peaceful world as they do it. This is especially true of the fight to end gender discrimination in nationality laws, which has seen momentum for reform building in multiple regions, and notable progress achieved in the past year.

    For decades, activists have strived to heighten awareness of the significant harm caused by gender discrimination in nationality laws, while underscoring the injustice of the second-class citizenship such discriminatory laws assign to women. Testimonies by affected persons have made the suffering caused by these laws bitterly clear. One of the leading causes of statelessness globally, gender discrimination in nationality laws results in affected persons facing obstacles to accessing education, healthcare, employment, property, inheritance and even freedom of movement. These laws can tear families apart, with residency permits denied to the children and spouses of citizens in some instances. However, as respect for women’s equality and awareness of the costs of these discriminatory nationality laws grew, most countries rightfully enacted reforms to uphold gender-equal nationality rights.

    Yet, 25 countries still deny women the right to confer nationality on their children on an equal basis with men. Over 50 countries maintain some gender-discriminatory provisions in their nationality laws, such as denying women the equal ability to acquire or retain their nationality, or denying women the equal ability to confer nationality on foreign spouses.

    Today, due to the concerted advocacy by civil society, UN agencies, and champion governments, there is now the possibility for a dramatic reduction in gender-discriminatory nationality laws in the near-term – and ultimately an end to this injustice globally.

    In the past fourteen years, 15 countries[1] have enacted nationality law reforms to uphold women’s equal ability to confer nationality on their children – with three countries having enacted reforms in just the past year. Momentum is building at the regional level, especially in Africa and the Middle East. In 2015, all members of the West African regional body ECOWAS committed to uphold equal nationality rights for women and men in the Abidjan Declaration of Ministers of ECOWAS Member States on the Eradication of Statelessness. Following that commitment, Sierra Leone enacted reforms to enshrine women’s equal right to confer nationality on children in 2017, and Liberia and Togo have committed to remove all gender-discriminatory provisions in their nationality laws. This year, the African Union is expected to endorse a new Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Right to Nationality, with the present draft enshrining equal nationality rights for women and men.

    Following decades of tireless advocacy by women’s rights organizations in the Middle East-North Africa region, the League of Arab States is now joining the call for gender-equal nationality rights. In partnership with the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, the UN Refugee Agency, UN Women, and UNICEF, the Arab League convened government and civil society representatives in October 2017 to discuss the benefits of gender-equal nationality laws and lessons learned from recent reforms in the region. This convening, and its ambitious outcome document, served as the foundation for last week’s Ministerial Conference on Belonging and Identity, organized by the League of Arab States, UNHCR, and the government of Tunisia. By the close of this historic event, the Arab League endorsed a groundbreaking Declaration[2], which urges all Member States to enact reforms to achieve equal nationality rights for women and men. In the region with the highest concentration of countries that deny women the equal right to pass their nationality to their children and spouses, this is an especially promising development.

    Next week, during the 62nd United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights will celebrate this progress and highlight lessons learned from recent reforms at a High Level Event, being held in partnership with the governments of Australia, Madagascar, Morocco, and Sierra Leone, the League of Arab States, UN Women, UNHCR, UNICEF, and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The event’s many and diverse cosponsors underscore the widespread attention to and political support for ending gender discrimination in nationality laws. 

    The road to legal reform is rarely a short one. Countless laws must change for women and men to be respected as equal citizens. But, the end of gender discrimination in nationality laws is coming. And it looks like, on this International Women’s Day, we can count on more countries ending this unjustifiable injustice in the year ahead.

    [1] Algeria*, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia*, Kenya*, Madagascar, Monaco*, Morocco, Senegal*, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka*, Suriname*, Tunisia*, Yemen (*countries enacted reforms to uphold women’s right to confer nationality on foreign spouses)  

    [2] Click here for the Arabic Declaration on Belonging and Identity.