The Beijing Declaration and international policy context:
Nepal is not the only nation that has gender-based discrimination in citizenship laws. The Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights reports that globally 25 countries prevent mothers from conferring their nationality on their children on an equal basis with fathers, and over 50 countries deny women equal nationality rights with men, including conferral of nationality on non-Nepali spouses.
Discriminatory laws deny equal rights to women to acquire citizenship or to confer citizenship to children or spouse. Those laws prevent children from being recognised as a citizen in their mother’s country, even when the child is born in that country. The discriminatory laws deny foreign husbands their spouses’ citizenship, while foreign wives of male citizens are eligible for naturalised citizenship, either immediately after marriage or after a waiting period.
The issue of discriminatory nationality laws unfairly impacting women is not new and has been raised at international fora, especially under the United Nations. However, it appears that discriminatory citizenship issue has yet to receive as high a global profile as other issues affecting women, such as health, education, occupation, wage and employment.
The UN, for example, has organised four World Conferences on Women to promote empowerment and gender equality around the globe (the first one in 1975 in Mexico City, in 1980 in Copenhagen, in 1980 in Nairobi, and in Beijing in 1995), but none of them highlighted the discriminatory citizenship issue.
The 1995 Beijing Conference, which was a major turning point for global agenda for gender equality, released a declaration, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which was adopted unanimously by 189 countries, including Nepal. The document emphasised the participating governments’ determination to advance the goals of equality for all women, everywhere.
The Beijing Declaration, which is considered the key global policy document on gender equality, recognised that even though the status of women has advanced in some important respects, the progress has been uneven. Inequalities between men and women continue to persist and major obstacles remain, with serious consequences for the wellbeing of all.
The Beijing Declaration also reaffirmed the participating governments’ commitment to equal rights and inherent human dignity of women and men, to the principle enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
The Beijing conference was followed by a series of five-year reviews of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration commitments, under the leadership of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
Beijing Declaration turned 25 this year. The 25-year review and appraisal scheduled for 9-20 March had to be edited to a single day event due to concerns related to Covid-19. The UN Commission on the Status of Women convened a meeting to adopt the draft political statements and suspended the remainder of the session until further notice.
The UN Division for the Advancement of Women, merged with three other UN entities working around women’s right and empowerment in 2010 to become a new agency. The merger has added a much-needed focus on women, nationality and citizenship in the Women 2000 and Beyond report series. The report has specifically raised the issue of discriminatory citizenship laws, reporting that where parents have different nationalities, laws bestow the nationality of the father upon a child, but deny the child her mother’s nationality.
Although the laws of most countries now entitle a woman to maintain her independent nationality upon marriage, many countries still retain laws that discriminate between women and men in terms of how the nationality is passed on to their children, particularly nationality by descent. Most countries that have provision for nationality by descent confer the nationality of the father on his children, irrespective of the nationality of his spouse.
It is less common for those countries to pass on the nationality of a woman married to a foreigner on her children automatically. In many countries, nationality by descent from the mother is conferred only where she is unmarried or the father is unknown or stateless.