On March 21, Mother’s Day in much of the Middle East, an initiative of Karama and the Arab Women Organization enabled nine Jordanian women to petition parliament about the effects the country’s discriminatory nationality laws have had on their families.
This was the first time that Jordan’s parliament has been confronted directly by the victims of their discriminatory laws.
Zahra Hattab, 68, who has been married to an Egyptian for 40 years and has four children who have been denied Jordanian citizenship, said at the hearing, “I have not seen my eldest son for eight years because they did not allow him to re-enter the country when he went to Egypt to visit his father. I want to see my child before I die.”
These effects were quantified in a groundbreaking survey released at the session by Karama and the Arab Women Organization (AWO), studying the impact of the nationality law on Jordanian women married to foreigners. The study, entitled What About My Children?, surveyed 191 Jordanian women whose children and spouses are denied Jordanian citizenship under the nationality law because of the mother’s marriage to a non-Jordanian man.
The study will be distributed to global partners and activists in order to build awareness and pressure for reform of the prevailing nationality laws in the Kingdom of Jordan.
Lacking Jordanian citizenship, foreign-born husbands and Jordanian-born children of the 65,000 Jordanian women affected by this law must pay high fees to obtain annual residence permits, and are prohibited from employment and healthcare in government institutions. They are not allowed to inherit the property of their Jordanian mothers, and they encounter difficulty enrolling in school or university, obtaining a driver’s license, receiving a travel permit, opening a bank account, and registering for food assistance.
Over 77 percent of the women in the study sample struggle to meet basic daily needs, and 45 percent live on a monthly income below 150 JD. The economic strain on the family and the precarious legal situation contribute to increased stress, domestic violence, abandonment, unemployment, compromised health, vulnerability from migration and daily indignity.
Families of these women have to shuttle between police stations and health centers every year to obtain security clearances, residency permits and medical reports for their foreign children. One of the women surveyed commented, “My children were always under the threat of being expelled from schools for not obtaining the necessary documents.” Another among the sample group shared, “I am not treated as a human being when I go through official procedures at the Ministry of the Interior.”
These obstacles create economic instability and despair in the family, and often necessitate women to assume the breadwinner role in the household or act as a single parent if her husband seeks work in other countries. These Jordanian mothers also risk losing their families altogether. In the survey, over 62 percent of women expressed fear that their husband’s would suddenly leave due to the obstacles of living in Jordan, and 72 percent expressed worry that their children would be taken by their husband back to his country of origin, regardless of her wishes. Jordanian law has no authority over children who are foreign citizens, except to treat them as such.
Laila Naffa of the AWO said that the groundbreaking session was held to allow the deputies in parliament to “hear for themselves the amount of suffering and agony these families have to live through. Our aim is to call for equality for women and to eliminate all the laws that discriminate against women,” she said.
Deputy Abla Abu Olbeh, who helped organize the event, said the Lower House will take this issue “very seriously because we realize the impact it has on the social stability of these families. In the study, 65.96 percent of the respondents expressed their belief that depriving their children of obtaining the Jordanian nationality is a form of discrimination and violence against women and children altogether.
Speaking in front of the parliamentarians and 100 women representing NGOs in every governorate, Amneh Halweh of Karama reminded the Parliament of the constitutional and moral right women have to grant citizenship to their children:
“Dignity is indivisible; women’s dignity is the dignity of the homeland. Isn’t it true that women are the earth? They are the elements… the cells of our bodies were conceived in their wombs. These are the questions we place before you, Members of Parliament, who have the ability to legislate in the name of the society that elected you, women and men alike. Isn’t the mother the first school that teaches us love of homeland? So how, then, can she be our school without being a part of the homeland? So let us add our voice to the voices of all Jordanian women when they ask : “What about my children?” This is the question we put before you. Will anyone respond?”
A most serious issue revealed by the study was the unexpectedly high percentage of stateless husbands and children in Mafraq Governorate, amounting to 27.5 percent of the Mafraq study sample. These are families that often belong to nomadic shepherd tribes on both sides of the border between Syria and Jordan. Without nationality papers, they cannot leave Jordan and Syria at all, yet receive no benefits or protection as citizens of either country.
AWO and Karama recommended that the Nationality Law be amended giving Jordanian women the equal right to confer citizenship to her husband and children as is provided to a Jordanian man who is married to a foreign wife. This calls for removal of the reservation on Article 9 (on nationality) in Jordan’s ratification of the international Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and requires that five-year residence permits be issued to the children and non-Jordanian spouses of Jordanian women, on equal preferential basis as applied to the foreign wives of Jordanian men.
Deputy Reem Badran said, “I believe granting Jordanian citizenship to their children is a constitutional right, and the violation of this right affects women and men because both parties are affected and therefore the family as a whole.”
Salma Rabadi, MP, said the problem is not solely about women getting their rights, but demanding it for the son and husband: “In this women’s rights are not purely personal, but affect citizens and their claims broadly—it’s an issue of society and families. The political reality should not be a barrier for granting women their rights.”
These promising words suggest some movement away from the long-entrenched position the Jordanian government has held for many years. In the past, instead of addressing the concerns regarding services, security, and legal protection of spouses and children, the government cited underlying political issues as challenges to reform. A Jordanian study in 2003 on the ‘right of woman to transfer her nationality’ stated that the official Government stand on the issue was “a reflection of the Government policy of rejecting the evacuation of the Palestinian territories, and that of creating a substitute homeland, based on the fact that Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians were mostly married to Palestinian men.”
However, a key finding in What About My Children? was that the highest percentage of women in the study sample were married to Egyptian men, amounting to 46.59 percent, followed by marriage to Syrians (14.4%), Palestinians (10.99%), Iraqis (9.94%) and 13 other nationalities that made up the rest, reflecting the labor market constitution and the demographic nature of population in Jordan.
Lower House Speaker Faisal Fayez pledged to open dialogue with deputies and the government “to try to find a solution that would be satisfactory to all and I will also convey our findings to His Majesty King Abdullah.”
“We will also try to urge the government to adopt urgent measures to help certain cases,” the former prime minister added.
The study will be distributed to global partners and activists in order to build awareness and pressure for these reforms of the prevailing nationality laws in the Kingdom of Jordan.