July in Washington is a celebration of Americana. Fireworks, bands performing patriotic songs, and red, white, and blue everywhere. Americans are reminded of what binds us together as a nation. Yet, throughout the world, as many as 12 million people lack citizenship in any country at all. If you haven't heard about these stateless people, it may be because they are mostly poor, powerless -- and female.
Persons may be rendered stateless for a variety of reasons, but poorly conceived and badly written nationality laws are a major cause. More than 30 countries have nationality laws that discriminate against women. These laws bar or limit a woman's ability to acquire and retain nationality and often restrict the ability for her to transmit citizenship to her children or foreign husband.
Without citizenship, stateless individuals are often deprived of fundamental freedoms and human rights. They often lack legal protections and are denied access to education, health care, social services, and lawful employment. When they are born, their births are not registered, and years later the births of their children go unrecorded. This means that they live without birth certificates or other documentation needed to assert their right to citizenship. They commonly lack freedom of movement and are more vulnerable to forced displacement. Stateless women and children are more likely to be subjected to certain forms of abuse and exploitation such as domestic violence, trafficking, and arbitrary arrest and detention.
Last year, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the International Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, Secretary of State Clinton launched the Women's Nationality Initiative, a diplomatic measure to increase awareness of discrimination against women in nationality laws and to work with foreign governments to repeal or amend their discriminatory nationality legislation.
On July 5, we reached a milestone in our quest to focus targeted attention on this issue. The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted a U.S.-led resolution that emphasizes the right to nationality for women and children. With support from 48 other co-sponsor countries, this resolution urges States to protect a child's and a woman's right to nationality and to grant equal nationality rights to women.
In the past, stateless persons -- particularly women and children -- may have largely slipped through the crack of our collective conscience. By calling attention to this important issue, we are hopeful that the United States and others at the Human Rights Council will spur governments with nationality laws that discriminate against women to undertake sorely needed reforms.
Related Content: The Right to Nationality -- Women and Children (Video)