Lillian Frost was an ACOR-CAORC Fellow, Fall 2017. She is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the George Washington University. Her research focuses on citizenship and refugee policies in Jordan. She writes below on gender and Jordan’s nationality law, drawing from extensive interview research over 12 months in Jordan.
Jordanian women cannot pass their citizenship onto their children and spouses, while Jordanian men can pass theirs onto four wives. This policy leaves the children of Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians with limited access to public education, healthcare, and jobs. Although there are currently about 50 countries with some form of gender-based discrimination in their nationality laws, many states, like Egypt and Morocco, have removed this discrimination over the past 20 years.
Jordan has resisted nationality law reform despite the persistent efforts of Jordanian women campaigning for equal citizenship rights. Nimah Habashneh spearheaded these efforts and founded in 2009 the campaign “My Mother Is Jordanian, and Her Nationality Is a Right for Me” (“أمي أردنية وجنسيتها حق لي”). This campaign emerged out of her blog describing the problems she faced in caring for her children, who could not receive Jordanian citizenship because their father was Moroccan. She created a Facebook page for the group in 2009, which has gradually gained traction, starting with 25 likes in 2009 and moving up to 8,644 likes in 2014; currently, 14,705 people like the page.
Habashneh energetically campaigned for nationality law reform, staging protests and sit-ins, regardless of the weather conditions, in front of parliament, the Prime Ministry, Ministry of Interior, and other government offices. She also scheduled meetings to discuss the issue with Jordanian parliamentarians, international organizations, charities, human rights groups, and the media. Her efforts cultivated a group of women married to non-Jordanians (with husbands from Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, Britain, the Netherlands, and Iraq) who were facing the same problems in raising their children—many of whom did not know they could not pass on their citizenship until their first child’s birth. These women learned of the campaign through their friends, television programs, their children, and social media.
In February 2013, Habashneh’s campaign joined other groups to form the coalition “My Nationality is the Right of My Family.” This coalition consists of 12 civil society organizations and 18 individuals, who advocate for constitutional and legislative amendments that affirm gender equality and enable Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians to pass their nationality on to their spouses and children. One of the coalition’s greatest challenges has been overcoming the government’s argument against reforming the nationality law because many of these women are married to Palestinians (62% according to government estimates). Thus, if women could pass on their citizenship, then government figures suggest that this would nationalize about 222,500 Palestinian children. Officials claim that this nationalization would hurt the Palestinian cause and provide support for right-wing Israeli claims that Jordan “is Palestine” and the “alternative homeland” (الوطن البديل).
In 2014, the coalition, with support from Dr. Mustafa Hamarneh and the Mubadara movement in parliament, advocated fiercely for nationality law reform. However, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour could only concede a set of privileges (مزية) for the children of Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians and residing in Jordan for at least 5 years. These privileges included free public education and health services, access to more professions, exemptions from work permit fees, and access to driver’s licenses. Prime Minister Ensour promised to provide special identification cards to facilitate these services by June 2015, though he also noted that these cards did not signify a step toward granting these children Jordanian citizenship.
This reform in late 2014 divided the coalition between those who supported the privileges as a step forward and those who viewed them as a barrier to full reform. The vicious political debates that the policy spawned also encouraged many activists to table this topic and focus on other less sensitive reforms promoting women’s rights. The coalition experienced another devastating blow when Habashneh was diagnosed with late-stage cancer and passed away just two months afterward, in early 2015.
Despite these setbacks, many women quickly sought the new id cards for their children, costing some women 140 JD per child in medical tests, transportation, and other related costs. However, the excitement concerning these changes faded as it became increasingly obvious that these cards did not deliver on the government’s promises. Women reported that bank staff, police officers, and cell phone dealers did not consider these cards as a form of identification. Further, some schools and employers did not recognize them, claiming they had not heard of the new policy. Government officials blamed bureaucratic delays in implementing the policy, but activists viewed these delays as intentional government resistance to expanding their rights and as a means of collecting money. Activists also highlighted the harassment they experienced when trying to claim these rights, with government staff chastising them for marrying a non-Jordanian or telling them to go to their husband’s country.
Following Habashneh’s last wish for the campaign to continue, members have persisted in organizing and protesting about the unenforced privileges as well as advocating for full reform of the nationality law. These efforts remain critical for impacted families. For instance, members have described situations where sons have attempted suicide because of the hopelessness they feel, and some mothers have tried to lose their pregnancies to avoid having another child facing these challenges. The situation is less bleak for daughters who can marry Jordanian men and gain citizenship for themselves and their children. However, daughters only receive citizenship if their husband gives it to them. In some cases, husbands decide not to pass their citizenship in order to prevent their wives from working.
Despite the hardships faced by the children of Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians, most of them feel a deep connection to Jordan. They describe themselves as having citizenship in the sense of belonging and devotion to the country (مواطنة), even though they do not have Jordanian nationality in the form of a passport and national number (جنسية). These children are born and spend their entire lives in Jordan, often knowing very little about their father’s country. They speak with a Jordanian accent and view Jordan as their homeland, which they are ready to serve. Regardless of their legal status, they view themselves as Jordanian and hope for a time when they can align their patriotism with their passport.
Learn more about this topic by investigating the links below, some of which primarily include content in Arabic.
Campaign Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/MomJordanian/
Coalition Page: http://irckhf.org/en/project/coalition-my-nationality-right-my-family
Short Video Featuring Affected Children: http://haqqi.info/en/haqqi/media/who-are-we
Lillian Frost was an ACOR-CAORC Fellow, Fall 2017. Before her ACOR fellowship, she had conducted ten months of dissertation research in Jordan with support from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program as well as George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies. She has been to Jordan nine times since first studying Arabic abroad at Yarmouk University in 2009.
Lillian Frost is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in George Washington University’s (GWU) Political Science Department. She has an M.A. in Political Science from GWU (2016), an M.P.P. in Public Policy from the University of Virginia (2012), and a B.A. in Political and Social Thought as well as Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia. See Lillian Frost’s website for her contact information, CV, and further details on her research.