Invisible citizenIt is imperative that the state guarantee women’s entitlements as citizens
Nepali women have historically faced injustice and discrimination under the law and in practice. They are also well aware that they very much live in a man’s world. Now, as if that wasn’t enough, a group of senior leaders—all of them men—registered a bill in Parliament seeking to amend the Citizenship Act.
Reforms to nationality legislation have enabled Nepali women to transfer their nationality to their children, but as is always the case, the devil lies in the details. The draft citizenship act makes it mandatory for a Nepali mother to either identify her husband or prove that the father of the child is unknown before the child is granted a citizenship. This is for an applicant who wants to seek citizenship based on mother’s nationality. However, applicants seeking for citizenship based on their father’s nationality need not produce any evidence of the mother.
With such regressive laws in place, women unfortunately continue to get the short end of the stick. Not to mention the humiliation they feel when they are treated as second-class citizens in their own country.
Citizenship should not be about a mere status and formed rights. It should be inclusive, and as a concept, it should promote participation and agency. But the existing Citizenship Act seems to be doing none. Instead, it makes it difficult for children of mothers who have suffered rape, were trafficked, abandoned by their boyfriends or husbands, and are divorced or have become widows to pass on citizenship to their children without providing details about their husbands or a male figure. According to the 2011 census report, 893,800 children stay with single mothers.
The Nepali society is no stranger to gender discrimination, but instead of being complicit, here’s what we should be asking: Why, as women, our identity is still ascribed in relation to a man? Why do men mistrust women so much that the women cannot give citizenship to her children? Why is a woman just a weak substitute for a man?
The issue here is of the deeply entrenched patriarchal mindset of our male-dominated political and bureaucratic class. For a society to prosper, its laws must serve and treat its members equally. Stability and prosperity cannot be achieved if a society carries within it the seeds of exclusion where one half of the society is protected while the other half’s offended. The current legal provision suffers from serious shortcoming. It is imperative that the state guarantee women’s entitlements as citizens—not as someone’s wife, daughter, or sister, but as a citizen in her own right.