Our Motherland, Our Country: Gender Discrimination and Statelessness in the Middle East and North Africa

Publication Author: 
Women's Refugee Comission
June 2013
Our_Motherland,_Our_Country_final_for_web.pdf1.13 MB
Except of Executive Summary
Gender discrimination in nationality laws occurs when women cannot acquire, change, retain or pass on their nationality to their children and/or non-national spouses on an equal basis as men. Gender discrimination in nationality laws can result in statelessness where children are born to a mother who is a national, reside in their mother’s country and cannot obtain any other nationality for many reasons which include: 
• The father died before the birth of the child
• The father is unknown
• The father is stateless and has no nationality himself
• The father is unable to confer his nationality
• The father is unwilling or unable to take the necessarynecessary steps to acquire a nationality for his child

The report draws heavily on testimonials collected during the field research, demonstrating the human impact of gender discrimination in nationality laws. The findings show that being left stateless has grave humanitarian consequences, often leading to violations of fundamental human rights. The report documents the many barriers and obstacles faced by those who are stateless—from problems with owning and renting property to problems securing formal employment, applying for identity documents, and accessing services such as public health care and education. Ironically, although originally intended to preserve family unity by ensuring that all family members enjoy the same nationality, gender discrimination actually poses a serious threat to family unity. The research found, in particular, that the impact of statelessness puts huge strains on the structure of the family. Difficulties are encountered right from the outset. There are obstacles to starting a family—marrying and having children become severely challenging; as one person testified: “I cannot get married. The court will refuse to allow me to sign a marriage certificate. Because I do not exist.” The enjoyment of family life and the healthy development of the family are also compromised—where threats of deportation and detention are constant. There can then be pressure on families to divorce, including in the hope of securing a better future for children by using legal provisions that allow them to apply for their mother’s nationality if their parents irrevocably divorce. These and many other pressures on the psychological, material and legal bonds of a family are evident as a consequence of gender discrimination in nationality laws.
To read the full report, please download the pdf.