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On International Human Rights Day, UN Agencies and Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights Urge Action to Uphold Gender Equal Nationality Rights across the Middle East-North Africa Region

The Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, which is housed at the Women’s Refugee Commission, issued this statement. Read the statement in Arabic.

Citizens’ equal right to pass their nationality to their children is a fundamental human right, one that is essential to advancing gender equality, children’s rights and wellbeing, and sustainable development, and to preventing statelessness. While women were historically denied the right to confer nationality, over the past several decades most nationality laws have been reformed to enable women and men to confer nationality on an equal basis. Yet today 24 countries globally maintain nationality laws that limit or prevent women from conferring nationality on their children on an equal basis as men, with twelve of these twenty-four countries in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region. Almost fifty countries prevent women from conferring nationality on their spouse on an equal basis as men. As the world marks Human Rights Day 2022 and the final day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) join the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights in calling for urgent, much needed reforms to uphold gender-equal nationality rights without delay in MENA and elsewhere.

While approximately half of the countries that limit women’s ability to pass nationality to their children are in MENA, the region has also seen notable progress. Since 2000, six countries – Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen – enacted reforms to advance women’s right to confer nationality on their children. These reforms yielded notable benefits for women, children, families, and societies as a whole – including by improving affected children’s overall well-being, protection and safety, and ensuring their access to education, healthcare, and other social services. It also allowed them to access opportunities for formal employment as adults, contributing to inclusive, sustainable development. Reforms to uphold gender-equal nationality rights also support efforts to combat gender-based violence, with various forms of gender-based violence exacerbated by gender-discriminatory nationality laws.

More steps and measures in that direction are still needed.

“For many children the absence of gender equal nationality rights often leads to non-registration and statelessness. In such situations we fail them in their best start in life. Where discriminatory nationality laws remain, we urge States to take urgent action to enact reforms to uphold women and men’s equal right to confer nationality on their children. By adopting gender equal nationality rights, States and societies contribute to leaving no child behind and facilitate the fulfillment of a range of rights starting with the right to a birth certificate, to a nationality, and the right to know and be cared for by their parents. It improves their opportunities to access education, healthcare and social protection- all so essential for every child and family.” – UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Adele Khodr

The Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights (GCENR), UNICEF and UNHCR recently drew attention to the many benefits of gender-equal nationality rights at a September 2022 convening of over sixty government officials, civil society representatives and other actors from 17 Arab states convened in Larnaca, Cyprus. Building on a series of past convenings, including those conducted in partnership with the League of Arab States*, the meeting promoted an exchange of lessons learned from past reform processes and the exploration of opportunities for advances in this area.

These efforts also built on global and regional frameworks that establish standards and goals relevant to belonging, legal identity and women’s nationality rights. These include the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which enshrines all persons’ right to a legal identity and a life of dignity without any discrimination between men and women, and the UN Sustainable Development Agenda, through which States agreed to targets including to end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere (Target 5.1) and to provide legal identity for all (Target 16.9). A number of other international conventions also enshrine women and men’s equal right to confer nationality, including the Convention on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Ensuring that women can pass along their nationality on an equal basis as men advances gender equality, enhances children’s well being and can prevent statelessness. Countries in MENA have made significant progress, with six countries enacting reforms since 2000. However, more remains to be done to ensure that the benefits of such progress for individuals, families and societies can be experienced throughout the region.” – Ayman Gharaibeh, Bureau Director, UNHCR Regional Bureau for the Middle East & North Africa

To realize regional and international goals and commitments pertaining to gender equality, children’s rights and wellbeing, legal identity, and sustainable development, it is essential that action be taken to ensure women and men’s equal nationality rights in law and practice. Where legal gaps remain, we urge States to take necessary steps to advance women’s nationality rights without delay. We stand ready to support these efforts, which have been proven to benefit societies as a whole.

“Gender-equal nationality laws are essential to women and men’s equal citizenship and their equality in the family. Eliminating gender discrimination in nationality laws is not only the right thing to do, but it is the smart thing to do – with gender-equal nationality laws benefitting individuals, families, and societies as a whole.” – Catherine Harrington, Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights Manager

*The first meeting of the League of Arab States (LAS) on women’s nationality rights, co-organized by GCENR, UNHCR, UN Women and UNICEF in 2017 resulted in a strong call for action to advance women and men’s equal right to confer nationality; a ministerial meeting convened by LAS and UNHCR in 2018 resulted in the presentation of the Arab Declaration on Belonging and Legal Identity; the publication of the 2018 report “Gender Justice & Equality before the law: Analysis of Progress and Challenges in the Arab States Region,” by UN Women, UNDP, UN ESCWA, and UNFPA; and a regional workshop convened by LAS and UNHCR in 2021 focused on identifying actions that could be taken to, amongst other things, advance women’s nationality rights in MENA.