Hello, my name is Uzra Zeya, and I am the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. Thank you for the opportunity to speak at this important event. I am honored to represent the United States, which has long championed women’s right to nationality as a basic issue of gender equality and respect for human rights.
Women’s equal right to nationality is a critical aspect of democracy and of preventing and reducing statelessness. Over the past decade, the United States has highlighted women’s equal right to nationality in UN Human Rights Council Resolutions, at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and in other multilateral and bilateral diplomatic efforts.
Additionally, the United States is the largest single donor to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and strongly supports the agency’s mandate to prevent and reduce statelessness and protect stateless persons. We continue to support civil society efforts to mobilize and advocate for reforms to eliminate arbitrary discrimination against women in nationality laws.
When we set out to champion this issue over a decade ago, there were 30 countries around the world that did not allow women to confer citizenship to their children on an equal basis with men. Today that number is 25. We applaud this progress — but we want that number to be zero.
Today’s event examines how the impacts of discrimination against women in nationality laws reverberate, holding back progress for whole societies, impeding full and equal democratic participation in line with our Summit for Democracy goals, slowing economic development, and undermining efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda.
The brave testimony of affected mothers like Dr. Josil Murray and the energy of youth activists are tremendously inspiring and powerful. Their voices speak out on behalf of those who too often are not recognized – children who are undocumented and stateless in their own mother’s country because of a discriminatory nationality law.
Children like these may be denied the right to acquire a nationality, and they often are not registered at birth. This lack of documentation directly impacts their ability to acquire a legal identity as outlined in Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 as well as their ability to participate fully and equally in political and economic life as adults. From there, the ramifications of nationality laws that arbitrarily discriminate against women can be quite severe, extending far beyond Sustainable Development Goal #5 on gender equality.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought home the importance of access to health care for those without legal documentation, yet also illustrated the barriers stateless and undocumented persons face because of fear of detention, deportation, discrimination, and violence. If a mother who cannot pass citizenship to her children fears bringing those children to a vaccine clinic because they do not have legal documentation, how can we hope to truly achieve Sustainable Development Goal #3 on health and well-being?
Stateless persons cannot vote, work legally or participate equally in decision-making – all key elements of democracy. Through our leadership on the Summit for Democracy, the United States seeks to address drivers of inequality and inequity such as statelessness and disenfranchisement rooted in gender discrimination.
Children without birth registration often face obstacles in attending school, impeding the achievement of our Sustainable Development Goal #4 in support of education for all.
In Nepal, where it is estimated that millions of people lack citizenship documentation in part as a result of discrimination against women in Nepal’s nationality law, many families affected by COVID-19 lockdowns could not access emergency food distributions, undermining our efforts to advance the Sustainable Development Goal #2 to end hunger and ensure access to food for the most vulnerable.
Finally, we all know that stateless persons usually cannot be legally employed. For mothers and youth affected by arbitrary discriminatory nationality laws, this can dash hopes for future careers and create serious risks of exploitation and abuse. For the broader society and country, it hinders the attainment of our Sustainable Development Goal #8 on decent work and economic growth.
The take-away for this High-Level Political Forum side event is that discrimination against women in nationality laws is not just an issue of gender equality, or just an issue of child protection. It is a human rights issue and an impediment to human and economic development and democracy.
For our part, the United States will continue to prioritize working with Member States, international organizations, and civil society to end statelessness, so we can empower women, help children and youth to realize their full potential, drive social and economic development, and ensure full and fair political representation for all.
If we are truly committed to leaving no one behind, we must end statelessness and discrimination. Accelerating our efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda depends on progress, and I thank the many panelists and participants here today for your efforts toward that end.