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Passing citizenship is a right, but some countries treat it as a male-only privilege through the implementation of sexist and outdated nationality laws. A number of countries in the MENA region still don't allow women who marry foreign men to pass on citizenship to their children. They can't pass it to their spouse either.  

This week, after years of activism, Iran's Guardian Council approved an amendment to a law that previously denied women the right to pass on citizenship. Women in the country can now grant their children citizenship without any obstacles. Children born in Iran to Iranian women and foreign fathers previously had to live in the country until they reach 19 years of age before applying for citizenship. 

According to Human Rights Watch, the approval from the council was the last step needed to make the reform a reality. The law was approved by parliament earlier this year and was awaiting approval from the constitutional panel. 

Iranian men's citizenship is automatically given to their offspring — despite who they are married to. Applying for citizenship wasn't even an option for women and their children up until recently. 

According to HRW, the newly-amended law "does not equalize access to citizenship completely" as Iranian women would still need to apply for nationality. It is not an automatic process as it is for men  

The law, which is pretty common in the Middle East, is a "legacy of the 19th century Franco-Belgian constitutional principles that influenced the region’s legal systems," according to The Independent. 

"Such great news"

Iran now joins Egypt, Tunisia، Morocco, Iraq, and Yemen in reversing the outdated nationality law that discriminates against women. Countries like Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait have yet to follow suit. The UAE is caught in the middle as the Gulf nation has been making reforms to laws governing women's right to pass on nationality. However, children born to Emirati women and non-Emirati fathers are still not "automatically" entitled to citizenship. 

Research by HRW revealed that such laws - despite the country where they are applied - can affect children's access to healthcare, education, housing, and employment opportunities. 

"Congratulations to all Iranian women rights activists who for decades fought for this right & eventually won"

"Hello Lebanon, Jordan ... can you follow the lead of your neighbor?"

A brief look at other countries in Middle East

Saudi Arabia: 

The kingdom has been making strides when it comes to empowering women but has yet to grant them their right to pass on nationality. This has made the situation pretty complex for thousands of children born to Saudi mothers and non-Saudi fathers. Many of these children reside in the kingdom but have to apply for residency just as any other expat would. Given that the country implements the kafala system, these kids cannot obtain residency permits in the country unless they are sponsored by a Saudi national. Usually, they're sponsored by their mothers, but if she passes away, another Saudi sponsor must take that role. 

United Arab Emirates:

Though the UAE has been making reforms to laws governing women's rights to pass on nationality, children born to Emirati women and non-national fathers are still not automatically entitled to the country's citizenship. So what can UAE women married to foreign men do to get their children nationalized? Changes in the UAE's nationality legislation have given Emirati mothers the right to apply for citizenship on behalf of their children if they've lived in the UAE for at least six years. Since 2011, children born to mixed-nationality couples have also been allowed to apply for an Emirati passport when they turn 18. Over the years, hundreds have been granted citizenship after applying for it.


Women's rights activists in Lebanon have repeatedly called for the amendment of Lebanon's 1925 nationality law which denies women married to foreign men the right to pass on their citizenship to their children and spouses. Lebanese politicians have long argued against amending the nationality law, claiming that granting Lebanese citizenship to Palestinian men married to Lebanese women would disturb Lebanon's sectarian balance. However, a 2016 census of Palestinians in Lebanon found only 3,707 cases "of a Palestinian head of household married to a spouse of a different nationality," according to the HRW. Therefore, the arguments against amendments to the law are baseless, racist and sexist. 


An estimated 84,711 Jordanian women are married to non-citizens and statistics reveal that these families include about 338,000 children. These hundreds of thousands of children live in the country on residency visas though most of them were born and raised in Jordan. 


The country's nationality law stipulates that "A Kuwaiti is any person born to a Kuwaiti father in or outside Kuwait." Under it, Kuwaiti women married to non-Kuwaitis are not allowed to pass on their citizenship to their children. The only situations that allow for the offspring of Kuwaiti women married to foreigners to get the nationality are when the father passes away or when the mother gets a divorce. Given that the children of women who marry foreigners aren't automatically granted citizenship, rights organizations have continued to call on the Gulf state to reform its nationality laws.