Did you know that Kuwait is one of the 25 countries around the world that continues to deny women the right to pass on their nationality to their children on an equal basis to men?
When Kuwaiti women marry foreign nationals, they are unable to pass on their nationality to their husbands and their children are not seen as Kuwaiti citizens, even when they are born and grow up in the country. This can leave them unable to access important state services such as health and education, and it also increases the number of people who are statelessness in the region.
In international law, a stateless person is someone who is "not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law." The United Nations explains: "Without any nationality, stateless persons often don’t have the basic rights that citizens enjoy. Statelessness affects socioeconomic rights such as: education, employment, social welfare, housing, healthcare as well as civil and political rights including: freedom of movement, freedom from arbitrary detention and political participation. When thousands of people are stateless, the result is communities that are alienated and marginalised."
Gender discrimination in nationality laws is one of the primary causes for a variety of human rights violations, not only because affected individuals are denied access to services provided by the State, but because they not treated as equal citizens alongside their peers in terms of belonging to the community more generally, with all the rights and protections this entails.
This is discrimination against women and it is tearing families apart.
Home is where you belong, where you feel connected. Imagine then what it is like to be born without a nationality or to be denied the citizenship of your mother because of discrimination in the law. Imagine the daily struggle to get access to education, health, jobs, a driving license and other human rights, benefits and services that most citizens take for granted and denied the right to vote. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many children.
Now imagine being born with your rightful citizenship, secure in the knowledge that it is yours for a lifetime. And that one day, you will be able to pass on your nationality to your children and spouse, so that they too can enjoy their human rights and access the same freedoms, benefits and services to which we should all be entitled.
Kuwaiti Women Without Limits spoke to one woman whose husband and four children left Kuwait for Canada after they were unable to obtain Kuwaiti citizenship:
“My family, who had once felt at home together in Kuwait, had now settled in Canada. This created a lot of tension between me and my husband, as I was traveling between Canada and my home, Kuwait. This ultimately led to our divorce.
"Currently at 56 years of age, I am a divorcee and a cancer patient living alone in Kuwait. I feel so lonely without my children around me and with no one to take care of me.
"If I had been able to pass on my nationality to my children and husband, we may have been together in Kuwait, our homeland, and I would not have been living this miserable life.”
Today is Kuwait’s National Day, marking the day Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah ascended to the throne in 1950.
Please join international women’s rights organization Equality Now in calling on the government and Parliament of Kuwait to ensure that women have equal nationality rights, and families can stay together.
By Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Middle East and North Africa Consultant for international women's rights organisation Equality Now.