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Statelessness: Why Nationality Rights Are Crucial For African Women

Nationality rights encompass the legal acknowledgement of an individual’s connection to a specific nation. It confers upon them the status of a citizen or a national. These rights are especially significant for women, granting them the vital ability to pass their nationality to their children and husbands. 

When women lack nationality rights, they face an increased risk of gender-based violence, revealing a disturbing link between statelessness and increased exposure to various forms of violence and injustice, including:

  • Trafficking
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Domestic violence
  • Potential loss of custody of their children
  • Both mothers and their children may become stateless

Voices Unveiled Event

Equality Now hosted the Voices Unveiled: Women’s Lived Realities in the Struggle for Equal Nationality Rights in Africa during the 77th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Arusha, Tanzania. During this session, held on October 20, 2023, in partnership with UNHCR, Amnesty International, and CREAW, we raised awareness about the vital importance of equal nationality rights and unearthed some beneficial insights on the importance of Nationality Rights for women.

Statelessness limits access to essential services.

The event provided an essential platform for affected women to openly share their real-life experiences and narratives to highlight the intersection between gender equality and the right to nationality. In Kenya, Nosizi Dube, a survivor of statelessness, called upon member state leaders to unite to eliminate statelessness. She highlighted the intricate challenges faced during national exam registrations and the struggles pregnant women endure in accessing healthcare, leading to adverse effects on mental health. The experiences shared underscored the significance of implementing gender-sensitive policies and practices.

It fostered meaningful conversations among various stakeholders, including NGO representatives, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights officials, national human rights institutions, activists, and civil society organizations. Moreover, the event strongly advocated for the reform of gender-discriminatory nationality laws and urged the adoption of the Nationality Protocol by the African Union Member States General Assembly. 

The essence of human rights begins with nationality rights

The vision of an ideal society revolves around integrating the African Charter on Human Rights into daily life. Dr. Buti Kale, a UNHCR RAUECA representative, pointed out, “The Africa we want domesticates, implements, and disseminates the African Charter on human rights. The aspirations will not be fulfilled as long as gender equality is not our daily reality.”

The essence of human rights, especially for women, begins with nationality. Isabella Mwangi, from CREAW, emphasized that “nationality forms the cornerstone of human rights, acting as a catalyst that can significantly reduce instances of violence against women and human trafficking.” Yet, according to Ibrahima Kane of OSF advocates, a pressing need exists to redefine our perception of nationality: “Nationality is not merely a legal status; it’s the essence of one’s identity and dignity.”

The urgency to address statelessness and uphold human rights has never been more critical. Ikram Abdiaziz Jama, a Women’s Rights Activist in Somalia, emphasized this urgency, particularly in Somalia, where advocating for legal reforms in Nationality Rights is paramount. These reforms are not just legal adjustments; they are the basis upon which the well-being of families, especially women and children, stands. The hashtag #equalnationalityrights thus echoes a collective call for comprehensive legal reforms, emphasizing the need to secure equal nationality rights for all in Africa.

Why is gender-based discrimination considered unjust?

 According to the Equality Now 2022 report on the state we’re in, Ending Sexism in Nationality Laws

  • Gender-based discrimination denies women and girls their fundamental human rights solely based on gender, violating human rights.
  • It also undermines equality by mistreating women, creating a society where opportunities and privileges are unequally distributed.
  • It reinforces harmful stereotypes and reinforces outdated gender roles that hinder progress towards a more inclusive and equal society.

Equality Now’s Commitment to Change:

Equality Now is dedicated to collaborating with partners to eliminate gender discrimination in nationality laws. We aim to ensure that every girl and woman can lead a life unhindered by restrictive nationality regulations and pass on their nationality to their families, fostering a future of freedom and equality. 

Our multifaceted approach encompasses raising awareness about the challenges faced by women due to unequal nationality laws and the pressing issue of statelessness in Africa. We tirelessly advocate for the reform of gender-discriminatory nationality laws, urging Member States to adopt the vital Nationality Protocol. 

We recognize the crucial role that legal reforms play in shaping a society where everyone, regardless of gender, can fully exercise their rights. As we move forward, united in our commitment, we forge ahead with determination, advocating for change and amplifying the voices of those affected. Together, we can create a future where equal nationality rights are an aspiration and a reality, empowering future generations.

Explore further insights in our latest report: The State We’re in Ending Sexism in Nationality Laws and the 2023 Update: Progress On Ending Sexism In Nationality Laws Since July 2022.