“Agragāmī rāṣhṭra hāmro, jaya jaya Nepāla”, translates to: This progressive nation of ours, all hail Nepal. Nepal Government has truly shown that it is a state striving for progressive growth by allowing for its citizens to make suggestions to the Constitution Draft. What an exciting opportunity for Nepali citizens — to be part of the constitutional draft process!”
These were my thoughts at the time of the drafting process, which asked for citizens’ input. However, to my dismay parts of the 2015 Constitution are less progressive than the 2007 Interim Constitution. While there are three main issues with the constitution regarding secularism, state boundary (political representation) and passing of the citizenship, I am going to address the last point, from a gender perspective.
(2) At the commencement of this Constitution, the following persons who have their permanent domicile in Nepal shall be deemed citizens of Nepal by descent: (b) Any person whose father or mother was a citizen of Nepal at the birth of such person.
However, the later clauses (3), (5) and (7) violate clause (2) by requiring the father to be a Nepali citizen for the child to acquire Nepali citizenship:
(3) A child of a citizen who has acquired the citizenship of Nepal by birth before the commencement of this Constitution, shall acquire the citizenship of Nepal by descent after becoming adult if his/her father and mother are both citizens of Nepal.
(5) A person, born in Nepal to a Nepali citizen mother, who has domicile in Nepal and whose father is not identified, shall be granted citizenship of Nepal by descent. Provided that in case his/her father is proved to be a foreign citizen the citizenship of such a person shall be converted into naturalized citizenship as provided for by the federal law.
(7) Notwithstanding anything contained elsewhere in this Article, in case of a person born to a Nepali woman citizen married to a foreign citizen, who has permanent domicile in Nepal and has not acquired citizenship of a foreign country, he/she may acquire naturalized citizenship of Nepal as provided for by the federal law. Provided that at the time of acquisition of citizenship, both his/her mother and father are citizens of Nepal such person born in Nepal may acquire citizenship of Nepal by descent
Not only are these clauses discriminatory based on gender but they may further disadvantage marginalized communities, especially in rural southern villages, where people may not acquire citizenship unless they have an immediate need. Women in particular may not have citizenship because they are usually involved in household chores and do not need an official document of nationality. This would burden the female-led households further by denying them basic state rights. Furthermore, due to the open border policy with India in the south, there are marital ties among families across the border. The children of such families might be pushed to statelessness.
By not accepting the independent existence of women passing her citizenship to her children, it condenses women as second-class citizens.
These clauses, therefore, further violate Article 18 Right to equality.
Article 38.(6) Both the spouses shall have equal rights in property and family affairs.
While this is commendable, the root of gender discrimination often comes from the fact that daughters are not treated as equals from birth and even though we secure rights for women after marriage, the perception instilled from very young age make it socially acceptable to discriminate daughters, which has serious consequences in her welfare as adult women. Therefore, to ensure equal treatment and change the mindset on value of our daughters, we should add a clause from the 2007 Interim Constitution here:
(7) Sons and daughters have the equal right to ancestral property and family affairs.
These suggested changes will truly make Nepal a progressive state in terms of gender rights and equality.
We cannot treat our 51% of the female population as second class citizens due to our xenophobic and misogynistic practices.
Let us rise above that and embrace our women as equal citizens.