Who knew passing on citizenship would still be a problem for Arab women in 2020? Well, regressive laws are still applied in a number of Arab countries including one that doesn't allow women who marry foreign men to pass on citizenship.
In contrast, Arab men who marry non-nationals don't have the same problem. Such sexist regulations can make life unbearable for children born into international families as they are forced to live like foreigners in their own countries.
We spoke to a few young men and women who have been affected by these unjust laws. Their experiences paint a stark image of how such laws destruct lives. They also highlight just how unacceptable it is to keep denying Arab women the right to pass on their nationality while destroying their families in the process.
1. Applying for residencies in their own countries
In Lebanon, Jordan, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, foreigners must apply for residency permits to be deemed legal in the aforementioned countries. Sadly, these laws also apply to the children of Arab women married to foreigners.
Imagine being born in a country, living there your whole life, calling it your home but then having to annually stand in line to secure residency approval. This happens across our region every single day, according to Abdullah, the son of a Jordanian mother and a father of a different nationality.
The 24-year-old, who has lived in Jordan since birth, told us how harrowing it is to have to worry about whether you're going to be allowed to stay in your country or not one year after the other.
"I am Jordanian but I am considered an expat in my own country because my mom wasn't allowed to give me citizenship. Every couple of years, me and my siblings have to renew our residency permits. It's unjust and humiliating to be treated like this in the only place we've ever lived," he said in a statement to StepFeed.
Abdullah's frustrations are amplified by the fact that the law banning him from getting citizenship discriminates between the sexes.
2. Struggling to get into public schools and universities
In Kuwait - as is the case in the majority of Arab countries - public education is often reserved for nationals. This means expats must resort to private schooling, which costs a fortune.
In many countries, this rule also applies to the children of local mothers and foreign fathers including Anfal, a young Kuwaiti woman who has experienced the effect of this legislation first hand. The 21-year-old had to enroll in a private school for the first two years of education. Her mom later had to commit a form of bribery (aka wasta) to get her into a public school.
"She had to actually beg to get me and my brothers into a public school when it's our right because we're no less Kuwaiti than anyone else," she told us.
"This also happened when we tried to apply to Kuwait University. It's a public institution so it was a struggle to get in."
Anfal believes the law is a form of sexist punishment for women who choose to defy norms and isn't so much related to socio-political narratives.
"Just grasp the fact that the sons and daughters of Kuwaiti men married to foreigners are granted citizenship when we're not and you'll get what I mean," she exclaimed.
3. Resorting to private healthcare
In Arab countries where the children of women married to non-nationals are legally treated as expats, many of them don't get proper public medical care coverage.
They often end up applying for private insurance or paying expensive private medical care fees to get something others barely pay for. There is the exception of those who are offered an exemption from such expenses in some cases.
4. Living with constant feelings of instability
"I don't remember a day when I haven't felt angry, frustrated and depressed because of the situation I am in," Sarah, a woman born to a Lebanese mother and Brazilian father, told StepFeed.
Now based in Dubai, the 29-year-old's father passed away when she was five, prompting her mom to move back to Lebanon in order to be closer to family. Sarah tells us this is when her nightmare began.
"Every day was a struggle for my mom who was a young widow having to sort out our papers and documents. Rather than support, her country turned its back on her. That's how I see it," she said.
The business manager added that it was isolating and traumatizing to have been treated as an outsider in her own country. The laws affected the woman's ability to focus on her education at times because she felt her future was so bleak.
"Before I went into college I told my mom I was moving to a different country the moment I graduated and I did. I feel for every person stuck in a situation similar to mine. We live such unstable lives, it's just not fair," she added.
5. Depending on their mothers to sponsor them
In Arab countries where the sponsorship (kafala) system is applied, a foreigner can only live in the country if sponsored by a national. Under this system, Arab mothers married to foreigners end up sponsoring their own children. Things get complicated when they pass away, though, because this effectively renders their children illegal in their own countries.
This is exactly what happened to Salem, a young Saudi man who found himself scrambling to find a sponsor when he was supposed to be mourning his mother's loss.
"I consider it a violation of our rights as humans to have to be forced to look for someone to sponsor us. My mom sponsored me throughout my life but but when she passed away I had to transfer my residency permit to someone else," he told StepFeed.
Salem considers himself lucky because his mom was on good terms with her brothers — one of whom ended up sponsoring him. But that doesn't mean he isn't angered by the situation.
"It's not my fault that I was born into this family but I feel like I am being punished for it. I live with the fear that my sponsor might get upset with me or just not want to keep me under his name when I am a Saudi man. I know no other place," he said.
6. Working in a very limited set of fields
The fact that several Arab countries are nationalizing their workforce has negatively impacted children born to local mothers and foreign fathers.
Because they're legally treated as expats, the job opportunities available to them automatically diminish in size. Aside from that, they also don't receive the same work benefits nationals do.
7. Struggling to find jobs
Even in the fields open to them, these individuals struggle more than ever to find job vacancies as local employers are often given orders to hire nationals.
Saudi Arabia is a case in point. The kingdom has recently moved to Saudize tens of industries and has made it mandatory for companies to hire a specific number of local employees.
8. Missing out on life opportunities
"My story is that of hundreds of others and several of my friends," Nadeem, a Lebanese university student told StepFeed.
The 20-year-old was born to a Lebanese mother and Palestinian father and feels deprived of his most basic of rights.
At age 16, Nadeem was selected to enter a football tournament held in Europe but couldn't attend it due to his paperwork and the fact that he doesn't hold a Lebanese passport.
"I lost out on making a dream come true because of a piece of paper. I love Lebanon but I am made to feel like I don't belong here. It's as if I don't have a right to exist. I am trying to emigrate and I hope that one day I'll get to live somewhere where I am given a better chance at life," he said.