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The State We’re In: Ending Sexism in Nationality Laws

Our 2016 report, which was sent to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, documents a wide range of harmful consequences and calls on governments to remove all discrimination against women in passing on their nationality to their husbands and children. It highlights those countries where women do not have the same rights as men to convey their nationality, engendering much hardship for the families concerned.

In 2022, we released an updated report, The State We’re In: Ending Sexism in Nationality Laws 2022 Edition – Update for a Disrupted World.

Explore our most recent report on Nationality Law, The State We’re In: Ending Sexism in Nationality Laws 2022 Edition – Update for a Disrupted World

Progress since 2013

Since 2013, there has been significant progress, both in terms of the amendment of discriminatory laws at the national level and the growing global movement for an end to discrimination within nationality laws.

A number of countries have either removed, or taken steps to address, discriminatory provisions within their nationality laws:

Removal of all discriminatory provisions since 2013

  • Guinea: In 2019, Guinea passed a new Family Code, which removed discriminatory provisions on nationality laws and now allows Guinean men and women to pass on nationality to their spouses equally. 
  • Lesotho: In December 2018, Lesotho enacted constitutional reforms which now uphold citizen’s equal ability to confer nationality on spouses
  • Nauru: In 2017, Nauru passed the Citizenship Act 2017 which allowed Nauruan women to pass nationality to their spouses on an equal basis with men.  Though the Nauruan Constitution still has a specific provision only relating to transfer of nationality from a Nauruan man to a foreign spouse, the Constitution permits Parliament to make provisions for acquisition of Nauruan citizenship by persons who are not otherwise eligible to become Nauruan citizens under the provisions of the Constitution. Accordingly, with the passage of the Citizenship Act 2017, the process to pass nationality to a spouse has become equal for both men and women
  • Solomon Islands: In 2018, Solomon Islands passed the Citizenship Act 2018 which allows women to pass nationality to their spouses on an equal basis with men. The provisions of the Citizenship Act 2018 read with the Adoption Act 2004 also remove the earlier provisions which discriminated against women regarding passage of nationality to an adopted child, in case of a joint adoption.
  • Niger: On 8 December 2014, Law No. 2014-60 of 5 November 2014 modifying the Nationality Code came into effect so that married women can now pass their nationality to their foreign spouse on an equal basis with men.
  • Suriname: On 10 July 2014 Suriname’s National Assembly passed legislation granting Surinamese women the same rights as men to pass their nationality to their children and spouses.
  • Denmark: On 25 June 2014, the Government granted unmarried fathers the same rights as unmarried mothers to transfer their nationality to their children born abroad after 1 July 2014.
  • Vanuatu: On 16 January 2014, Parliament granted married women the right to pass their nationality to their foreign spouse on the same terms as married men.
  • Austria: On 1 August 2013, changes to the nationality law came into effect so that the unmarried father of a child born to a non-Austrian national can now transmit his Austrian nationality without fulfilling additional requirements beyond proof of paternity. The requirement now is for paternity to be recognized by the father or a court within eight weeks of the birth of the child, but if this is not done there is also a provision for easier acquisition by the child of Austrian citizenship.
  • Senegal: On 25 June 2013, Parliament amended the law to grant Senegalese women the same rights as men to transfer their nationality to their husband and children.

Improvement or Steps taken towards removal of discriminatory provisions since 2013

  • The Bahamas: The Supreme Court of The Bahamas, in a decision issued in 2020, positively interpreted Article 14 of the Constitution to uphold the right of Bahamian men to pass nationality to their children, regardless of whether they are married to the biological mother or not. This decision could positively benefit children of Bahamian men born outside the marriage of the biological parents or outside marriage altogether. Unfortunately, as of March 2022, the Government continues to appeal this decision.
  • Iraq: In 2017, Iraq passed an amendment to the Nationality Law which reduced the residency requirement from a five-year period to two years for the approval of the naturalisation of a non-Iraqi man married to an Iraqi woman. This makes it easier for Iraqi women to pass nationality to their spouses, though the law still remains unequal, as Iraqi men have the right to pass nationality to their foreign spouses after two years, while in the case of Iraqi women, their spouses may be granted nationality based on discretion of the authorities, and subject to the fulfillment of a number of conditions. Iraqi women also still do not have the same right as men to pass citizenship to their children born abroad.
  • Iran: In 2019, Iran passed an amendment to the Law on Determining the Nationality of Children Born from a Marriage of Iranian Women and Foreign Men. The amendments allow children born of Iranian mothers and non-Iranian fathers to submit applications to acquire Iranian nationality, whether they are born within or outside Iran. Though this is an extremely welcome step, the law still remains unequal as it does not allow Iranian women to pass nationality to their children on the same conditions as Iranian men. Children born to Iranian fathers are eligible to obtain nationality automatically, while Iranian mothers are required to apply for nationality for their children (or their children can apply on their own behalf after turning 18); and they must pass a security check by the Intelligence Ministry and the Intelligence Organisation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. On 13 May 2021, the National Organization for Civil Registration of Iran announced that over 88,000 applications were submitted following the legal amendment in June 2020 making it possible for children of Iranian mothers and foreign fathers to apply for citizenship. Of these, 1,401 applicants had so far received their nationality documents. 
  • Madagascar: With the 25 January 2017 amendment to Madagascar’s 1960 Nationality Code, women now have the right to transfer their nationality to their biological children on an equal basis with men. 
  • Malawi:  The Malawi Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, permitted Malawi citizens to hold dual citizenship and repealed an earlier discriminatory provision in the law whereby a Malawian woman was stripped of her nationality if she took her husband’s foreign nationality. 
  • Malaysia: In September 2021, the Kuala Lumpur High Court, following a case filed by six Malaysian mothers and the non-governmental organisation Family Frontiers, held that Article 14(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution together with the Second Schedule, Part II, Section 1(b) must be read in harmony with Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender.  Accordingly, the term “father” in these provisions must be read to include mothers, giving Malaysian women an equal right to pass on their nationality to children born outside the country by “operation of law”. However, the government has appealed this decision to the Court of Appeal which is expected to pronounce its decision on 22 June 2022. 
  • Sierra Leone: On 5 July 2017, Sierra Leone’s Parliament announced that the Citizenship Amendment Act 2017 passed into law, giving mothers equal rights with fathers to transmit their nationality to their children.
  • United States: On 12 June 2017, the US Supreme Court handed down a ruling in Sessions v. Morales-Santana (formerly Lynch v. Morales-Santana) to address the sex discrimination in the Immigration and Nationality Act. Going forward, unmarried American fathers and mothers will have the same residency requirements in order to pass on citizenship to their children born abroad, although the new length of the residency is still to be determined by Congress. Previously, fathers had to satisfy a longer residency time period than mothers, which the court found unconstitutional. Written by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this decision is consistent with international law and jurisprudence, which Equality Now and our global partners highlighted in our ‘friend of the court (amici curiae) brief’. While it is unfortunate that the sex discriminatory financial support requirement for a father remains as a condition for him giving his citizenship to a child born abroad and out of wedlock (not an issue in Session v. Morales-Santana), overall, the ruling represents real progress for both women and men in the movement for gender equality.
  • Jordan: On 12 January 2014, the Government of Jordan approved regulations to grant the foreign spouses of Jordanian women and their children certain  rights or “privileged services” (Mazaya), including residence permits and improved access to state medical care facilities, education and work in the private sector. However, the regulations are not being properly implemented. The discriminatory nationality law is yet to be amended.

Explore our most recent report on Nationality Law, The State We’re In: Ending Sexism in Nationality Laws 2022 Edition – Update for a Disrupted World