|14 January, 2018

Top UN official calls for change in Bahrain citizenship law

Children of Bahraini women are currently denied citizenship if their fathers are foreign

A top United Nations (UN) official has backed a campaign calling for a change in the law so Bahraini women can pass on their nationality to their children.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka described current legislation denying women that right as “discrimination”.

She also told the GDN in an exclusive interview that as a member of the UN Bahrain should not allow such laws to exist.

“Bahrain, being a UN member nation, should not have any laws that are discriminatory in nature,” said Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka, who is the UN’s top authority on women-related issues.

“The nationality law that denies a Bahraini woman the right to pass on her nationality to her children is discrimination.

“Some laws that follow cultural practices also fall squarely into this category and we need commitment to change such laws.

“We at UN Women are concerned about this.”

Children of Bahraini women are currently denied citizenship if their fathers are foreign, but children of Bahraini men are automatically granted a passport – even if their mothers are from overseas.

An amendment to the law, which would grant equal citizenship rights, is currently under review in parliament.

However, campaigners fear it could be shot down after the foreign affairs, defence and national security committee – which is reviewing the proposed change – last July expressed concerns that it could encourage more Bahraini women to marry foreigners.

The GDN launched a petition in October supporting a change in the law, which has been signed by more than 5,600 people and is available online at

Called #MakeADifference, the initiative is supported by the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, Bahrain Women’s Union, Bahrain Young Ladies Association, Women’s Crisis Care International and Citizens for Bahrain.

However, in addition to granting equal citizenship rights to Bahraini women Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka said more also needed to be done to protect the foreign female workforce.

“We have to do much more in the case of domestic workers and the expatriate women workforce in the region,” said Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka, who was in Bahrain last month to open a UN Women office here.

“They are prone to anything from workplace harassment to violence, often exploited as they are desperate for earnings.”

Another issue facing the broader region is the treatment of refugee women, who she said were vulnerable to abuse and even trafficking.

Meanwhile, she described tackling sexual harassment in this region as “critical” and called for improved measures to further empower women.

“There should be positive support extended to women, who are victims or potential victims of violence,” she said.


“This calls for access to mentoring, training and finance – and thus economic empowerment of women.

“It is important as it giver her better opportunities and capability to take decisions, both for herself and her children.”

The UN estimates that one in every three women globally faces some form of violence in their lives.

While there are limited figures available Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka said issues specific to the region included child marriage, trafficking of women and children, cyber bullying and domestic violence against female domestic workers.

“The focus should be on right legislation, public education, advocacy and leaders – religious, cultural and political – to ensure we have only one voice, which says no to violence against women,” she added.

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