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COVID-19 Conversations: Discriminatory Nationality Law Harms Families

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The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing and exacerbating gender inequalities around the world. To help make sense of things, we are sharing insights from Equality Now experts about how women’s and girls’ lives are being affected by the pandemic and what can be done to address the challenges.

This week, we talk to Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Equality Now’s Middle East and North Africa Consultant, about how gender-discriminatory nationality laws in Jordan are preventing families in dire financial straits from accessing government aid.

Please can you tell us about how Jordan’s nationality law discriminates against women?

In Jordan, gender discrimination in nationality law decrees that a woman who marries a non-Jordanian man does not have the right to pass her citizenship onto her husband or their children. Accompanying this is a range of legal, economic, and social restrictions that causes much suffering for those who are affected.

When the wife is a Jordanian national and her husband is a foreigner, their entire family is treated as foreign. The offspring of such marriages are treated as foreign nationals throughout their lives, with no permanent right to live or work in Jordan. These children struggle to get basic rights and services, including government aid. The state limits their access to healthcare, higher public education, and employment. Their right to own property or get a driving license is restricted, as is their freedom to travel in and out of the country.

In contrast, the law permits a Jordanian man to marry up to four women – whether Jordanian or foreign – and he can transfer his nationality onto his wives and children.

Denying women the same nationality rights enjoyed by male citizens is a violation of international human rights law, which obliges Jordan not to discriminate against women. Furthermore, the discrimination endured by women is transferred to the children of these marriages.

How are families affected by Jordan’s gender-discriminatory nationality law being further disadvantaged during the coronavirus pandemic?

To stop the spread of COVID-19 in Jordan, the government moved swiftly in March to introduce a state of emergency and strict lockdown measures. People had very little time to prepare, they were ordered to stay home, movement was prohibited, and shops closed. Strict enforcement has meant that those caught breaking the rules risked imprisonment and being fined.

Successful containment measures have helped limit the number of confirmed cases to just over 1070. Restrictions have now been relaxed somewhat but there are fears an upturn in infections could lead to partial quarantining being reintroduced. Meanwhile, the economic impact of the pandemic has plunged many poor families into financial turmoil.

To address this hardship, the Jordanian government has set up a fund through the Ministry of Social Development to financially support poor families and daily workers. In cases in which a Jordanian woman is married to a foreigner, only she is eligible to apply for family assistance. This means in instances where the mother has died, her children are unable to access state funding.

Moreover, the introduction of Order No 6 of the State Emergency Act means that grown children of Jordanian women have also been excluded from the right to file a complaint if their employer requests they leave their job – a right that they previously held and which Jordanian nationals still do. This means those who are affected are more vulnerable to unfair treatment within the workplace and face greater risk of unemployment and economic hardship.

The Jordanian government urgently needs to provide pandemic support to all families of Jordanian women, regardless of their husbands’ nationality. The state must also amend its nationality law to give women equal citizenship rights with men in accordance with Jordan’s international legal obligations.

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