Jordan: Mixed Marriages, Geopolitics And A Gender Double Standard
The husband and children of a Jordanian woman can never become a citizen, and enjoys no basic rights in the country. Many of those shut out are Palestinian, which makes the law even more difficult to undo.
AMMAN - "Everyone has the right to a nationality," says the 15th article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Nima Habashney, who lives in Jordan, does not believe in this right anymore. In Jordan's Hashemite Kingdom, women married to foreigners cannot pass on Jordanian nationality to their husbands and children.
Legally speaking, their children and husbands do not exist – even if they've been living in Jordan all their life. They are tolerated, but they don't have any papers or social rights, making them more vulnerable than the nearly one million Palestinian refugees who live in Jordan with the United Nation's help.
It works differently for Jordanian men. The foreign wives and children of Jordanian men automatically receive citizenship. The law also stipulates that the children of a male Jordanian inherit their father's nationality no matter where they were born, even if they've never set foot in Jordan.
Habashney is a small but fearless woman. Born in Jordan, she began an uncertain struggle in 2004 against male domination in a very tribal society. She launched a campaign for human rights under the motto "We can live in the same society even if we don't share the same ideas."
Having married a Moroccan man (who has since died), Habashney has six children who are today denied Jordanian citizenship and the basic benefits that come along with it.
They don't have the right to work, to rent an apartment, or to access the public education and health systems. They cannot have a driver's license and do not enjoy basic civil rights.
For Habashney, her children's missing citizenship status has meant a lifetime of hurdles: in police stations, schools, health centers, public service bureaus. Everywhere, she wrestles with unsympathetic and sometimes aggressive civil servants. "Why did you marry a foreigner? You've made a big mistake, now you have to pay for it," they respond to her queries.
But Habashney understood that she was not the only Jordanian woman living with the same mix of ostracism, sexual discrimination and xenophobia. Indeed, it turns out there are nearly 66,000 women in the same situation, according to Jordan's Interior Ministry. Jordanian families have an average of 5.4 children, meaning overall the country's discriminatory citizenship laws could be affecting more than 350,000 people.
The scope of the situation may be exactly why the government has the laws it does. Jordan, a small country of 6.4 million people who are mostly of Palestinian descent, cannot afford to welcome so many new citizens. Habashney agrees that while Jordan's feudal and chauvinist structure are largely to blame for her family's stateless condition, demographic considerations influence government policy as well.
Others, however, accuse the government of exaggerating statistics in order to justify its arbitrary citizen laws. Interestingly enough, there were only 16,000 women officially in Habashney's situation in 2004.
"It's a human rights and discrimination issue, not a political issue," says Nermeen Murad, who heads the information center of Jordan's King Hussein Foundation, a humanitarian organization.
And the Queen?
The government claims that most women in Habashney's situation are married to Palestinians, who – if they were allowed Jordanian citizenship – would be all the more encouraged to flee Gaza or the West Bank of the Jordan River. In many cases, says Habashney, Palestinians actually defend the law. "They tell me: ‘By emptying Palestine, you play Israel's game," she says. Never mind that most foreign husbands of Jordanian women are actually Egyptian.
In 2002, Jordan's Queen Rania announced that the government was considering giving Jordan women the right to pass their nationality to their children. But the move provoked an outcry among tribes who are the backbone of the Jordan monarchy. An amendment was published to make people forget the incident, but it was too late, and since then, the Transjordanians (those born in Jordan of Jordan extraction) grew more suspicious of the Queen, who is of Palestinian descent.
Jordan's complicated relationship vis-à-vis Palestine, it seems, is the real stumbling block. Since 2003, several ministers have stated that the issue of Jordanian women married to foreigners will evaporate once the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. Habashney isn't willing to wait.
"The Palestinian issue is not my problem. I worry about our kids who have no present and no future in this country," says Habashney. "We won't remain silent. We're going to speak and to demonstrate, we'll keep fighting."
Read the original article in French
Photo - Mr. Littlehand