AMMAN, Jordan (WOMENSENEWS)–For Jordanian women married to foreign-born men the onerous forms of legal and political exclusion placed upon their children is a pressing concern.
They are blocked from free treatment in public hospitals, for instance, and blocked from enrolling in public schools. They have no chance at legal employment, no ability to legally own property. They can’t run for office or vote.
Children of Jordanian fathers married to foreign-born women, by contrast, have no citizenship restrictions. They also pass citizenship to their wives.
Some form of this problem affects women in 27 countries, according to recent research by the Pew Research Center.
But in Jordan, women had reason to hope over the past year that things would change as the government hinted at remedies. But in late December the government dealt a blow by declining a set of reforms recommended by a group of members of parliament.
Instead of bolstering civil rights, the government issued instructions about "service-oriented privileges." These instructions have been criticized as flimsy because unlike a law that can easily be changed.
The privileges–having to do with schooling and hospitals–are available to some offspring, not all. And so far, the government has kept the eligibility criteria to itself. Offspring who began applying for this status in late December are required to pull together a checklist of documents to be considered.
"I feel that I am a citizen with a quarantined identity. I cannot pass it on to anyone," Omneia Asaad told Women’s eNews in a recent interview in her home in Amman. She spoke with a note of desperation as she described the things she can’t do for her son Yazan because his father is not Jordanian.
"I can’t take him to any public hospital and public schools are prohibited for him. And I haven’t even thought yet about him having property, job opportunity or a driver’s license."
Asaad, who is in her 20s, belongs to a campaign with the long name My Mother Is Jordanian and Her Citizenship Is My Right. It amplifies the affected women’s demands and claims 800 followers.
Nema Habashneh, the campaign’s 56-year-old founder, told Women’s eNews in a recent phone interview that she’d struggled to raise her children in a society that didn’t grant them full citizenship and that she started the campaign to help other Jordanian women.
This type of compromised citizenship affects more than 300,000 offspring and 89,000 Jordanian women.
Among the foreign-born fathers, Palestinians number over 50,000. The nationalities of the other fathers fall steeply and dwindle away: 7,080 Egyptians, 7,094 Syrians, 4,215 Saudis, 2,710 Iraqis, 2,411 Americans, 1,926 Lebanese, 771 Israelis, 730 Germans, 557 Kuwaitis, 546 Canadians, 532 Yemenis, 457 British and 446 Emiratis.
The preponderance of Palestinian men has led campaigners to say the law’s intent is doubly discriminatory; against women as well as Palestinians. Some also see a strategy to prevent Palestinians from dominating the citizenry.
Habashneh says the citizenship law is unconstitutional since it abridges an equality clause that reads: "Jordanians shall be equal before the law. There shall be no discrimination between them as regards to their rights and duties on grounds of race, language or religion."
General Reform Initiative
About 30 Jordanian parliament members started lobbying for a range of reforms a year ago, which led them to this issue. The group’s name, Mubadara, means "initiative" in Arabic.
Mustafa Hamarneh, the initiative’s founder, considers the treatment of children with non-Jordanian fathers "disgraceful and embarrassing." In seeking a "fair" solution his initiative suggested civil rights for such offspring that nonetheless fell short of full citizenship. By the standards of Jordan‘s conservative society, however, it was still widely hailed as progressive.
Under the proposal, offspring of non-Jordanian fathers would still be barred from voting and running for office. But they would have gained access to public education, treatment at hospitals and employment, property ownership and drivers’ licenses.
Hamarneh says the reform would benefit Jordan because the group in question is dominated by young people of working age. As they gain access to broader employment, that would boost the country’s tax-paying base.
But the leaked minutes of a cabinet meeting last May suggested that the executive branch was not inclined to liberalizing the law. Ministers refrained from using the term "civil rights" advocated by the initiative and instead began talking of "service-oriented privileges."
After the leaked minutes came out, protesters with My Mother is Jordanian began assembling on Mondays outside the Ministers’ Council building in the capital to press their cause.
The minutes also stated clearly, possibly for the first time, ministers’ concerns about preserving the Jordanian tribes. Oroub Suboh, a media activist, considered this statement "degrading" to Jordanian women by suggesting they don’t belong to their Jordanian tribes.
In a June interview with the Arabic sector of Monte Carlo International Radio Suboh also brushed aside official concerns about demographics, calling it a smokescreen to "conserve the current gender based discrimination against Jordanian women."
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