Gender Inequality in Nationality Laws


One-in-seven countries currently have laws or policies prohibiting or limiting the rights of women to pass citizenship to a child or non-citizenship spouse. In the last ten years, multiple countries have taken steps to change these laws – including Kenya, Monaco, Yemen and Senegal. The laws vary, but in the most restrictive countries like Syria and Lebanon, children may be in especially dire situations because so many fathers are dead or missing.
Gender inequality in nationality laws can create statelessness where children cannot acquire nationality from either parent. This can occur in a country that limits a woman’s ability to pass citizenship (i) where the father is stateless; (ii) where the laws of the father’s country do not permit him to confer nationality in certain circumstances, such as when the child is born abroad; (iii) where a father is unknown or not married to the mother at the time of birth; (iv) where a father has been unable to fulfill administrative steps to confer his nationality or acquire proof of nationality for his children because, for example, he has died, has been forcibly separated from his family, or cannot fulfill onerous documents or other requirements; or (v) where a father has been unwilling to fulfill administrative steps to confer his nationality or acquire proof of nationality for his children, for example if he has abandoned the family.
As a result of these laws, children may become stateless if they cannot acquire nationality from either parent. In such cases, these children and their stateless parent may be left without identity documents or access to education, health care, or employment.
Today there are twenty-seven countries in which men and women do not have an equal right to pass citizenship to their children or non-citizen spouse. These restrictions are most prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa, where 12 out of 20 countries have such laws. Currently, at least 10 million people around the world are denied a nationality.