Women Rally For Equal Rights In The Face Of Nepalese Citizenship Bill

Protests are taking place in Kathmandu over a Nepali Citizenship Bill being debated in Parliament. Over 70 legislators have so far registered amendment proposals in Parliament, the core of which relate to constitutional provisions over citizenship and in particular the requirement for women to prove that the father of their child is a Nepali citizen if the child is to be granted Nepali citizenship themselves.

Female activists are calling for equality, which became difficult since the Nepali constitution itself, adopted in 2015, is inherently discriminatory. Although it says a child of a Nepali mother or father is a citizen, there are clauses that do not allow Nepali women married to foreigners to pass on their citizenship, drawing widespread criticism. The bill made it increasingly difficult for mothers to secure their children’s citizenship, with protesters saying the current law is deeply unsettling in that it regards women as lesser members of the community.

Despite constitutional provisions such as Article 38, which provides that ‘every woman shall have equal lineage rights without gender-based discrimination’, the Bill requires an applicant, seeking citizenship on the basis of their mother’s nationality, to lodge an affidavit that she/he does not know who their father is. “The other option,” said lawmaker Parvati Kumari Bisungkhe, “is for the mother to submit an affidavit saying that she does not know the identity of her child’s father,” a deeply humiliating and unnecessary trial for women in a highly patriarchal society such as Nepal.

One of the protesters, Deepti Gurung, recounted having to seek Supreme Court direction in order to gain citizenship for her children. Her husband holds no citizenship, despite appeals to the courts and his mother being a Nepali national, because his father died when he was young, launching a cycle of obstacles for the family. Despite court orders to provide the necessary documentation for her husband’s citizenship, Deepti said, the local authorities refused and he remains stateless.

The provisions in the debate clearly go against the word and spirit of Article 38 and place an unfair onus on women to explain and justify their position as mothers in the community. That same requirement, to prove the suitability of one’s spouse, simply does not exist for men in Nepal. Other victims in this debate are all the children whose identity has come into question. Children of Nepali women, regardless of who fathered them or who their mother is married to, are surely warranted citizenship by descent, and any rights associated with that citizenship.

In Nepal, where women have historically faced many indignities and citizenship has been a divisive issue for decades, the proposed Bill is seen by protesters as yet another level of discrimination against women. Any proposal which requires women to have a Nepalese husband to pass on their citizenship to their children is inhumane on many levels.

This bill represents a form of inequity which will ultimately deprive people of their identity, imposing innumerable consequences and distresses for these individuals on the way. Protesters say that they will not cease until women are treated as equal citizens and hopefully the Government will take these demonstrations seriously in considering any possible amendments. Ultimately, the focus should be to provide accessible citizenship to all genuine applicants – men and women, adults and children, alike.