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Statelessness: UNHCR calls for global commitment on women’s nationality rights

US Assistant Secretary of State Anne C. Richard addresses the event on equal nationality rights in New York today.

US Assistant Secretary of State Anne C. Richard addresses the event on equal nationality rights in New York today. © UNHCR

NEW YORK, United States, March 10 (UNHCR) – As part of its #IBelong campaign to end statelessness, the UN refugee agency on Tuesday called for a global commitment to ensure all women can pass on their nationality to their children.

UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk, addressing a meeting in New York on equal nationality rights, said a “true global commitment” was needed “to ensure that all constitutions and nationality laws are reformed, to achieve gender parity in nationality matters.”

He added, at the high-level side event of the Beijing+20 conference on Women’s Rights, that such reform “must involve not only removing discriminatory provisions from existing laws but also effective implementation.”

There are currently 27 countries where women cannot give nationality to their children in the same way as men. Without a nationality, children can be deprived of the most basic rights, such as education and health care, and are unable to participate fully in their communities. Stateless children are also more vulnerable to exploitation, early marriage, violence or even human trafficking.

Türk cited the case of a 60-year-old Middle Eastern woman called Nahmeh who feared for her children’s future after she dies because they are stateless. Her husband died before he could complete the complex paperwork required to pass on his nationality to the children. Their situation means they cannot legally work and rely on her for financial support.

But the top UNHCR official said there were success stories and he praised the governments of Algeria, Indonesia and Senegal for recently reforming their laws.

“Universal gender equality in nationality laws is well within our grasp, and its achievement will immeasurably improve the lives and futures of women and their families, and the quality of the societies in which we all live,” he concluded.

His optimism was echoed by Anne C. Richard, who heads the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. She told delegates that the goal of ending discrimination against women in nationality laws was achievable and that the campaign was showing signs of success.

UNHCR’s #IBelong campaign was launched last November. The refugee agency announced on Sunday that more high-level supporters had signed the campaign’s Open Letter, which encourages world leaders to end statelessness by 2024. The new signatories include two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Tawakkol Karman and Mairead Maguire; former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali; former Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity Salim Ahmed Salim; African musicians Rokia Traoré and Angelique Kidjo; Scottish actor Peter Capaldi and writers Zainab Salbi and Neil Gaiman.

The Bahamas, meanwhile, reaffirmed at the gathering its commitment to holding a referendum to change its constitution to ensure parity in nationality matters.