Kota at HLPF 2018: Unequal Nationality Rights Lead to Statelessness

By Suvi Helko

Can you imagine a situation where you are denied the right to pass your nationality to your children? There are 25 countries worldwide, where this is the reality for the female citizens of the nation. In addition, roughly 50 countries still have laws, which deny women’s equal rights to acquire, change and retain their nationality and to confer nationality to a foreign spouse.

These themes were discussed on Tuesday July 17th, 2018 July when The Kota Alliance participated in a side event of UN Women at the High-Level Political Forum 2018: ‘Realizing Gender-Equal Nationality Rights: Regional Developments and Good Practices’. The panelists were:

  • Moez Laouani – Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Tunisia to the United Nations

  • Maria-Noel Vaeza-Ogilvie, Director of Programme Support Division, UN Women

  • Ninette Kelley, Director of the New York Office, UNHCR

  • Catherine Harrington, Campaign Manager, Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights



Gender discrimination in conjunction with national laws is the leading cause of statelessness. Being stateless has major effects in an individual’s life. For example, access to education can be denied. Also, many stateless people end up working illegally with low salary and poor work conditions, because in order to be paid legally, the employer wants to see proof of identification. Furthermore, the ability to travel, open a bank account, get a driver’s license, own or inherit property and get hospital services is at risk. Children of the stateless usually end up stateless too, and a vicious circle is created.

Stateless girls and women are affected in particular. Due to lack of education and poverty, the risk of human trafficking increases for the girls without nationality. Young stateless girls can be forced into child marriage in the hope of obtaining the benefits of a husband with a citizenship.

“These laws are ripping families apart”, states Catherine Herrington during the panel. If the foreign father cannot obtain a citizenship in the country of his wife and children, he is unable to work, and can be forced to leave.

According to Global Campaign for Equal National Rights, the 25 countries that discriminate against mothers in their ability to confer nationality on their children are the following:

The Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Brunei, Burundi, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kiribati, Kuwait, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nepal, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Togo and United Arab Emirates.

In the following 52 countries women do not have the ability to confer nationality to spouses and/or acquire, change and retain her nationality:

Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin, Brunei, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo (Republic of), Egypt, Guatemala, Guinea, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kiribati, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mauritius, Monaco, Morocco, Nauru, Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Syrian Arab Republic, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

During the panel discussion, Lebanon was put forward as an example. In Lebanon, men are allowed to pass their nationality automatically to their foreign wives, while Lebanese women are not allowed to pass their nationality to their foreign spouses. Catherine Harrington showed us a heartbreaking video of a Lebanese girl who had dreams about educating herself for a good occupation, but she was denied access to school due to her statelessness. Multiple similar videos can be found on YouTube from different countries where gender-equal nationality laws are not a norm.

However, some progress has been made throughout the past years. Ninette Kelley raises Thailand as an example of a country that has successfully campaigned against statelessness. According to UNHCR, the Thai government seeks to end statelessness by 2024. Also, Tunisia has shown increasing interest towards gender-equal nationality rights and policies, according to Moez Laouani.

In the past 14 years, 15 states have changed their nationality laws to gender-equal. Let’s hope that the trend keeps rising and that by the end of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development we will see many new countries updating their nationality laws to be gender-equal for all.