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Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls
15 May 2023
Exclusion of ethnic, racial, religious, or linguistic minority groups often lies at the heart of the condition of statelessness and discrimination in acquiring nationality and associated rights, as evidenced in more than 80 countries. Entire populations can also find themselves in a situation of statelessness, often intergenerationally and due to varying reasons, such as historical migration, state succession, state dissolution or fragmentation as well as occupation of a territory, with emerging entities or de facto authorities lacking the capacity or willingness to recognize individuals residing in these territories as nationals and as persons before the law.
Sex- and gender-based discrimination in nationality laws is another major cause of statelessness, along with gaps in nationality laws and administrative obstacles to civil registration, including birth registration. Many States discriminate in the way their laws allow for the acquisition, conferral, change and retention of nationality, including on grounds of sex and gender. Even where the law is not exclusionary, women and girls from minority groups experience discrimination when seeking to access nationality rights in practice, as a result of their identity. For instance, women may be required to change their nationality upon marriage or at its dissolution, restricted or denied in their ability to pass on their nationality to children, prevented to register the birth of their children or to independently access civil documents, including birth and marriage certificates that are required to claim nationality rights. In 24 countries, women cannot confer nationality to their children on an equal basis with men, and in over 45 countries, women cannot confer nationality to a non-citizen spouse on an equal basis with men. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), these discriminatory nationality laws can lead to statelessness “where children cannot acquire nationality from their fathers [which] can occur (i) where the father is stateless; (ii) where the laws of the father’s country do not permit conferral of 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 fulfil administrative steps to confer his nationality or acquire proof of nationality for his children […]; or (v) where a father has been unwilling [to fulfil such administrative steps].”
Women and girls’ statelessness can lead to further discrimination and exclusion, both in law and in practice. Discriminatory nationality laws or limited access to equal nationality rights may subject those affected to wide-ranging human rights violations. Due to the lack of legal status or the difficulties in accessing legal documents, stateless persons and those impacted by discriminatory nationality laws and practices may also be unable to access basis human rights and essential services, such as social protection, healthcare, education, formal employment, financial services, inheritance, and property rights. These disadvantages can expose them to exploitation and abuse, including domestic violence, child marriage, trafficking, detention, family separation, restrictions to freedom of movement, and arbitrary detention – amongst others, as have been addressed in previous work of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.
The precarious conditions persist, despite the continued efforts and the positive obligations of States to ensure that the rights of stateless persons within their jurisdiction are not violated. There is also a high degree of psychological violence experienced by women whose children are denied nationality and may be rendered stateless, which is still not sufficiently explored. Additionally, deep-rooted prejudicial attitudes towards women and girls, such as those of healthcare providers or registry officials, may perpetuate exclusionary frameworks that undermine women’s status in the family and in the society, which contribute to the root causes of violence against women and girls.
Childhood statelessness frequently results from gaps in legislation, including the failure to include critical safeguards in nationality laws that ensure universal birth registration and the provisions for children born stateless to acquire nationality, as required by the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (1961 Convention). Even where States may have safeguards against statelessness at birth in their nationality laws, for example, for children born to a citizen mother in cases where the father’s identity or whereabouts is unknown, these safeguards are often poorly implemented in practice.
Women and girls affected by gender-discriminatory nationality laws and those advocating for nationality rights have actively called for a change in these laws at a great risk. The advocates, together with organizations, have suffered reprisals, intimidation, threats, and imprisonment for demanding their rights. At the same time, women human rights activists have also been threatened with and experienced being stripped of their citizenship as a result of their activism. Stateless women and girls have faced compounded difficulties in gaining equal representation and participation. Women and girls can also find it challenging to access the required legal aid and support due to their ethnicity, migratory status, race, socioeconomic status as well as sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Challenges remain with respect to collecting data on the scope of persons affected by discriminatory nationality laws and statelessness, including disaggregated data on women and girls, which negatively affects the ability to advocate and litigate effectively on these issues.
The thematic report seeks to explore the nexus between violence against women and girls, nationality laws and statelessness, with a view to gather contextual information on the way in which statelessness, discriminatory nationality laws and the inability to enjoy national rights without discrimination in practice function as a form of violence against women and girls, including stateless women and girls, at individual or collective levels.
The Special Rapporteur invites States, National Human Rights Institutions, civil society actors, international organizations, academics, and other stakeholders to provide updated information on:
Whenever possible and available, inputs should provide up-to-date, quantitative, and disaggregated data on the issues presented.
Inputs should be submitted by e-mail by 15 May 2023.
E-mail subject line
Input to the SR VAWG Report on nationality laws and statelessness
English, French, Spanish, Arabic
Submissions may be published on the mandate’s page on the OHCHR website at the time of the report’s publication, unless indicated as confidential.