US Champions Nationality Reforms: Fighting patriarchal laws that create stateless and paperless women and children refugees
Many women and children live in border refugee camps or urban ghettos stuck in the limbo of total statelessness.
The United States is working for reform of nationality laws that hurt women, says Maria Otero, the State Department’s under secretary for democracy and global affairs.
Nationality laws discriminate against women in at least 30 countries, Otero said at a Refugees International event October 25 at the U.S. Institute of Peace. These laws, she said, limit women’s ability to acquire, retain and transmit citizenship to their children.
“In many cases, nationality laws permit only the father to transmit citizenship to his child,” Otero said. “And in still other cases, nationality laws strip women of their citizenship upon marriage to a foreign spouse, or prohibit women’s foreign spouses from naturalization.”
The result is that hundreds of thousands of women are left without legal protection or a social safety net, she said.
“Stateless persons typically lack identity documentation and cannot register births, marriages or deaths. They often cannot work legally or travel freely. They cannot vote, open a bank account, or own property and they often lack access to health care and other public services,” Otero said.
Lack of citizenship contributes to cycles of poverty and vulnerability, Otero said. Without a birth registration or a citizenship document, children are barred from attending school. They may fall victim to abuse and exploitation, including gender-based violence, trafficking in persons and arbitrary arrest and detention.