Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero today stressed that lack of citizenship contributes to cycles of poverty and vulnerability.
In her remarks on “Statelessness and Gender Discrimination,” she stated that as many as 12 million people around the world are not recognized as citizens by any state. She said they live in every region of the world, at the margins of the formal economy and political system, largely hidden without government recognition.
“There are many factors that contribute to statelessness. Foremost among those factors is an issue that we’re all here to discuss today; and it’s an issue that is particularly important to both President Obama and Secretary Clinton. And that is discrimination against women.” -Ms. Otero
Ms. Otero reported that nationality laws discriminate against women in at least 30 countries, limiting their ability to acquire, retain, and transmit citizenship to their children. She cited that in many cases, nationality laws permit only the father to transmit citizenship to his child. She added that in still other cases, nationality laws strip women of their citizenship upon marriage to a foreign spouse, or prohibit women’s foreign spouses from naturalization.
“The result is that hundreds of thousands, even millions are relegated to the shadows of society, without legal protection or a social safety net. Stateless persons typically lack identity documentation, and cannot register births, marriages, or deaths. They often cannot work legally or travel freely. They cannot vote, open a bank account, or own property, and they often lack access to health care and other public services.” -Ms. Otero
She highlighted that stateless people are unable to locate a birth registration or citizenship document, children are barred from attending school. She said they may fall victim to abuse and exploitation, including gender-based violence, trafficking in persons, and arbitrary arrest and detention.
According to Ms. Otero, there is little research on the issue of statelessness, and even less on gender discrimination in nationality laws. She said to try to understand the impact of statelessness better, the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration recently funded a study by Kingston University to examine the costs of statelessness.
“This study used quantitative and qualitative methods to compare the livelihoods of stateless persons with those of citizens in four countries. Among its most striking findings, the study proved that statelessness reduces household income by a third, and reduces the odds of owning one’s home by nearly 60 percent.” -Ms. Otero
She reported that the average education of stateless households is lower than that of citizens by at least one year and in some cases as many as six years. She stated that the study also demonstrated disadvantages for stateless persons in terms of health status, and access to justice and law enforcement.
“Recognizing this cycle of defeat, Secretary Clinton has identified women’s nationality rights as an important area of work for the State Department.” -Ms. Otero