Unequal citizenship rights for women and equality in law — Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship

AUGUST 18 — The Campaign for Equal Citizenship led by the Foreign Spouses Support Group welcomes the recent announcement by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and the Ministry of Home Affairs to draw up a new standard operating procedure (SOP) for citizenship applications. This would presumably ensure that citizenship applications are considered more fairly and promptly.

However, this is inadequate for the thousands of Malaysian mothers who wish to confer citizenship to their children born overseas. The government must fix the law, so that Malaysian women enjoy equal citizenship rights compared to Malaysian men.

Of course, a Malaysian mother married to a foreign man who gives birth in Malaysia can confer citizenship to their children but the discrimination is stark when these mothers for various valid reasons give birth overseas. 

Reasons for giving birth overseas range from holding overseas jobs, unable to afford flights, premature births or risking medical complications. There are also many reasons such as aging parents, why women choose to return to Malaysia with their families and have their children grow up here as citizens.

Whilst a Malaysian father can simply notify and register at the nearest embassy of the country where his foreign wife has given birth, whereupon Malaysian citizenship papers will be issued within a time period from 3 days two months, however the Malaysian mother has to apply for citizenship for her children 

Based on experiences of these Malaysian mothers, they are often misinformed by authorities abroad and at home, given inconsistent information and experience inconsistent practices. While there have been success stories, we are looking at an average waiting time of one to seven years or more to get an approval, often after multiple rejections and re-applications. Allegedly rejections are part of the SOPS to test to see if these Malaysian mothers are truly sincere and loyal to Malaysia a test not accorded to Malaysian fathers.

So, while developing a new SOP may be a temporary solution, there is a dire need for a permanent solution.

To do so, we must address first the root of the discrimination. In principle, Malaysia does not recognise mothers as equal parents by law, as the Federal Constitution expressly provides that children born overseas to married Malaysian fathers are entitled to citizenship by operation of law (Article 14(1)(b) but is silent on children born overseas to Malaysian mothers.  Consequently, the process for registering children born overseas as Malaysian citizens is far more arduous for Malaysian women making them feel like second-class citizens.

This law is deeply rooted in patriarchy which allows for sexist attitudes that influence the applications processes. These women are expected to follow the husband’s citizenship, live overseas and not enjoy the option for their children to choose their nationality. Not to be labour a point, the children born overseas to Malaysian fathers enjoy this choice.

Malaysia is currently one of only twenty-five countries globally, and one of four countries in the Asia Pacific region, which has discriminatory citizenship laws.

Amend Schedule II of Federal Constitution to explicitly allow both men and women to confer citizenship on their children born outside of Malaysia through the same process. and make it equal and right for Malaysian women, we make up half of Malaysia and we count.

* The Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship is endorsed by the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG).

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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