Jacqui Hunt runs the London office of Equality Now. A lawyer who trained and worked with international law firm, Linklaters, she started her professional career with Amnesty International, working in campaigning and research at the United Nations and in press and special projects. She joined the Board of Equality Now in 1992, the year of its founding, and was later asked to start the London office, which she opened in 2004. Jacqui has a masters’ degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics and speaks some French, German and Spanish.
Despite repeated commitments by governments around the world to ensure women’s equality by repealing discriminatory laws in response to United Nations directives, many such laws continue to exist, with a devastating impact on women and their families. Equality Now will soon be releasing a report, which highlights those countries where significant discrimination remains in the law. We are calling on governments to amend, as a matter of urgency, the sex discriminatory provisions in their laws relating to nationality so that women and men may pass on their nationality to their children and their spouses on an equal basis and free from discrimination.
Good laws that put women on an equal footing with men are necessary to protect and promote women's rights and facilitate their full social, economic and political participation. Legal equality gives women a level playing field from which to make their own choices, build their capabilities and live full and productive lives, positively affecting the development of society in general.
Too many discriminatory nationality laws remain founded on stereotypes which, in turn, reinforce stereotypical roles for both women and men:
- A woman, once married, loses her independent identity
- A child “belongs” to a father rather than a mother
- The exception to this is when the couple is not married, when the prevailing view is that mothers will raise their children and fathers have no responsibility unless they take several extra measures to claim it, particularly where the child was born outside the father’s country of nationality.
The inability, largely of women, to pass on their nationality to their spouse or children can have grave consequences including:
- deportation of children and husband
- additional vulnerability of girls to forced and early marriage
- increased vulnerability of women in abusive marriages
- difficulties for women in claiming child custody/access on marriage break-uplack of access to publicly-funded education for their children
- lack of access to publicly-funded medical services and national health insurancelack of access to social benefits
- inability to register personal property
- limited freedom of movement, including to travel abroad
- limited access to jobs and economic opportunities
- trauma and anxiety
While researching global sex discriminatory laws, we spoke with Layla, a Jordanian who is married to a non-Jordanian man. She detailed some of the problems she and her family are undergoing because of her legal inability to pass her nationality on to her children and husband.
Layla’s non-national husband moved from job to job, trying to find a decent living. Work permits cost over 400 Jordanian dollars (about £375) and employers often refuse to give foreign-born men a regular job on the basis they can hire them informally for a lower wage and longer hours. Anxious about his ability to live a decent life, Layla’s husband suffered a heart attack. He moved back to his home country in order to regain some dignity. Layla stayed in Jordan. Three of Layla’s sons are working illegally, in constant fear of being caught by the police. Her 17-year old daughter has just finished school, but cannot afford to go to university where she would be charged higher fees as a “foreigner” despite having been born in Jordan to a Jordanian mother and never lived anywhere else. She is not eligible to apply for government scholarships. If these children had been born to a Jordanian father, they would be considered Jordanian and so not face the same prohibitions, difficulties and strains.