FY 14: Ending Gender Discrimination in Nationality Laws (Equal Rights Trust)

Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
October 15, 2014

Final Report



The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that at least 3.5 million people are currently stateless, meaning that they are not recognized as citizens of any country. Because few governments identify or register stateless persons, UNHCR estimates the global stateless population may be as high as 10 million. Gender discrimination in nationality laws can cause statelessness by preventing women from passing on their nationality to their children on an equal basis with men. With PRM support, The Equal Rights Trust (ERT) researched the impact of gender discrimination in nationality laws and statelessness on women and their families, focusing on cases in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. ERT developed advocacy tools to promote women’s equal right to nationality and recommend ways that affected countries can amend their laws to conform with international standards relating to women’s rights and statelessness.


  • Document the impact of gender discrimination in nationality laws on women and their families in Madagascar and Nepal; and the impact of legal reform in Kenya and Indonesia;
  • Analyze the role of national, regional and international advocacy in the success of reforming nationality laws to remove gender discrimination in Kenya and Indonesia and of advocacy efforts to date in Madagascar and Nepal;
  • Contribute print and video media to the Global Campaign to End Gender Discrimination in Nationality Laws;
  • Contribute to the development of effective advocacy strategies for the reform of gender discriminatory nationality laws by sharing best practices uncovered through research with the International Coalition for the Global Campaign to End Gender Discrimination in Nationality Laws and other international and national stakeholders; and
  • Review the nationality laws of Nepal and Madagascar in comparison to international human rights, equality and non-discrimination standards, and propose ways in which the laws can be brought into conformity with international standards.


  • The simple lack of legal identification papers or a birth certificate has major repercussions on families. Women, particularly migrant workers, are among the most marginalized by these discriminating laws due to their physical distance from their country’s reform and likelihood to have children born of foreign fathers—children who cannot acquire their mother’s citizenship. Stateless children are disadvantaged from birth due to their hindered access to education, livelihood, and lack of social equality and integrity;
  • With the emergence of Nepal’s democracy and reformed constitution, nationality rights have regressed due to the “and-clause”, which states that both “mother and father” must be Nepalese to pass on citizenship to their child;
  • Public opinion in Madagascar does not consider nationality laws as an issue of gender discrimination but rather the question of naturalizing the Karana ethnic minority. There is a fear of allowing foreigners citizenship and therefore, political influence. Reform of discriminatory Madagascan laws remains uncertain, so individuals are left with a challenging and biased application process;
  • In 2006, Indonesia reformed its longstanding restrictive citizenship law to include female transfer of citizenship to children. The new law also removed legal ethnic discrimination and put forth provisions against statelessness;
  • Kenya most recently reformed its nationality laws, adhering more closely to international law in its reformed 2010 constitution. It ensures citizenship to a child born to either a Kenyan mother or father whether in-country or abroad. Furthermore, female Kenyans can confer citizenship to their foreign spouse as equally as their male Kenyan counterparts;
  • According to ERT, several factors perpetuate gender discrimination in nationality laws, in both reformed and unreformed countries: 1) civilians’ lack awareness of laws; 2) physical and financial inability to access or carry out legal processes; 3) bribery, corruption, and fear within the system; and 4) limited judicial oversight.


For Pre-Reform Countries:

  • Equality and non-discrimination should be the primary goals of reform. Grant citizenship to stateless persons and victims of the gender-discriminating laws;
  • Comply with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW);
  • Ensure that legal reformation entails retroactive citizenship to all individuals born before the law’s introduction;
  • Provide basic rights and services to all those affected by discriminating citizenship laws;
  • Civil society should raise awareness on the need for reform via public events, traditional and social media, etc.;
  • UN agencies should guide the country with legal advice and point to good practice examples from other nations’ reforms.
  • For Post-Reform Countries:
  • Ensure that newly reformed laws are fully implemented by training officials in all remote areas and monitoring their practice to avoid further discrimination;
  • Disseminate information to the general population about the reforms, including those living abroad who are still affected by the change;
  • UN agencies and civil society must monitor officials’ implementation of the laws and report any mistreatment or discrimination.