Get to the root cause of unequal citizenship rights for women by recognising equality in law

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 1 – 7 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.

Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship
Endorsed by the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG)
1) Foreign Spouses Support Group
2) Women’s Aid Organisation
3) All Women Society of Malaysia
4) Tenaganita
5) Justice for Sisters
6) Perak Women for Women Society
7) Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor
8) KRYSS Network
9) Association of Women’s Lawyers
10) Sisters In Islam

Ivy Josiah: 0123717070
Bina Ramanand: 0122163597

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