Statelessness & Stopping Gender Discrimination

Globally, it's estimated that 12 million people have no country to call home- meaning that they're stateless. And for many in that population, this statelessness is born from the fact that they're female. Specifically, it's gender bias in nationality laws that prevent women from acquiring, changing, retaining, or passing on their nationality to their children and/or spouses on an equal basis with men. Further, stateless individuals face obstacles like inabilities to access public health services, being barred from owning or renting property, and not allowed formal workers' rights. Of the 29 nations with gender discrimination in their nationality laws, 14 are in the Middle East and North Africa.

This sort of statelessness is often silent in the mainstream media- but a recent report by the Women's Refugee Commission and the Statelessness Program at the University of Tilberg seeks to bring voice to women affected by this in the Middle East and North Africa.

The report, Our Motherland, Our Country: Gender Discrimination and Statelessness in the Middle East and North Africa, covers reasons why a woman might end up without citizenship, permanent residency, or the right to pass on her property to her children because of nationality laws. The report researched Jordan and Kuwait’s discriminatory laws, as well as Egypt and Morocco’s recent changes to their nationality laws that improve rights for women.


In this photo from last year's International Women's Day festivities at TYO, a woman finds her voice to share about her value- a right that many women are still being denied due to statelessness.

Much of the research on Jordan brings forth findings related to the Palestinian community- specifically, the issues faced by Jordanian women who’ve married men with Palestinian refugee status, and the challenges that result when their children can’t claim citizenship in either country. We encourage you to check out the entirety of the report to read more, in-depth analyses about statelessness. Below, find a few of the leading points and recommendations relevant to TYO's work and belief in women's empowerment in the Middle East.

  • Property Rights: The report details challenges faced when a woman can't pass down her land, property, or belongings to her husband and children when she dies because her family is "stateless". In these situations, the land will be returned to the woman's extended family- without regard for the woman's wishes about where her property or belongings should go. As the report finds, this impacts many Palestinian refugee families- and reaffirms the fact that societies can't embrace women's empowerment until women are allowed to equally own, inherit, and pass down property. 
  • Psychological Implications: The daily struggles of statelessness often leaves generations of families impoverished, especially in places like Palestinian refugee camps. This reaps major emotional effects on individuals- with depression & guilt being the primary psychosocial symptoms expressed by women impacted by statelessness. Whether it's guilt over being unable to pass on their citizenship to their children or being unable to access basic services, their lack of legal status and benefits is "clearly linked" to psychological consequences.
  • Marital Troubles: As statelessness shifts family dynamics, women can face unique troubles in their marriage- in the report, some couples report divorcing to improve their children's situation or chances for nationality. Other women reported extreme guilt for giving birth to children with a spouse who can't have any legal status.

While this report covers countries outside of Palestine, it's findings remain highly relevant for women's empowerment in the region- and resound with the same message all nations adhere to the women's rights standards as outlined in Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and Universal Declaration of Human Rights to ensure no family becomes stateless because of laws biased against women.

-Cayce Pack is the Women's Empowerment  Program Coordinator at Tomorrow's Youth Organization. Above, she writes about a recent report from the Women's Refugee Commission.