Ongoing battle to reclaim maternal birth-right: group challenges ‘discriminatory’ citizenship laws for Arab wives

Published January 28th, 2013 - 02:06 GMT
Arab women rights
Arab women rights

An international human rights group has called on the government to amend the Citizenship Law, which prohibits Jordanian women married to foreigners from passing on citizenship to their spouses and children.

In a report published earlier this month, the London-based group Equality Now listed Jordan among 58countries with nationality and citizenship laws “which discriminate on the basis of sex [and] should be urgently revised in line with international legal obligations”.

“This is a global issue that leads to the suffering of millions of people in several countries worldwide. The fact that some women are unable to pass on citizenship to their children and husbands has serious consequences on their rights as it puts them at risk of statelessness, vulnerability to abuse, and limited access to education and job opportunities,” Equality Now Director Jacqui Hunt told The Jordan Times in a recent interview.

The report, which is based on case studies examining the individual impact of citizenship laws on families, stated that discrimination in these laws increases women’s and girls’ vulnerability to forced and early marriages.

“In one of the case studies provided by our local partners, some women who could not pass on citizenship to their children said they would marry off their girls at a young age to a Jordanian man to ensure they did not suffer the same as their mothers,” Suad Abu Dayyeh, Equality Now’s programme consultant for the Middle East and North Africa, told The Jordan Times. 

According to Laila Naffa, director of programmes at the Arab Women’s Organisation, about a quarter of a million people are “suffering” because of the Citizenship Law in Jordan.

“There are approximately 60,000 Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians. Half of them are in Jordan, so if we count that their children and husbands are affected, it is nearly 250,000,” said Naffa, whose organisation is a leading participant in the campaign “My mother is Jordanian and her citizenship is my right,” which lobbies for amending the law.

According to the Chief Islamic Justice Department, 3,528 marriages between Jordanian women and foreigners were registered in the year 2011 alone. The total number of marriages registered was 65,054.

Jordan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1992, but still holds reservations on two articles related to citizenship and marriage and its dissolution. 

Last November, at the opening of an international conference on human rights in Amman, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said that Jordan “will review the issue of the reservations” to CEDAW “very soon”.

According to Naffa, such promises are only “lip service” until “real changes take place”.

Naffa, however, said members of the “My mother is Jordanian” campaign were positive that the new parliament could help end discrimination against women married to non-Jordanians with the help of “growing support” from civil society groups.”This year, we noticed that several female candidates listed changing the Citizenship Law on their agendas. Also, around 90 per cent of them showed support for ending such discrimination and changing the law when we met with them,” she noted.

“We are also looking to form a coalition of all civil society groups that show support for the campaign as we have seen increasing support from several local groups and individuals. Hopefully, this will create more pressure to amend the law.”

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