When the UK ratified CEDAW in 1986, it committed to upholding the rights of women highlighted within the articles in the Convention, aimed at eliminated discrimination against women. Article 9 of the Convention focuses on Nationality and states the following:


1.    Parties shall grant women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality. They shall ensure in particular that neither marriage to an alien nor change of nationality by the husband during marriage shall automatically change the nationality of the wife, render her stateless or force upon her the nationality of the husband.

2.    Parties shall grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children.


What does this mean?

The article states that women have equal rights with men to change or keep their nationality and that of their children. Within marriage, the nationality of her husband will not automatically affect that of the woman.

This article has been instrumental in the liberalisation of nationality laws making dual citizenship commonplace. Historically, women gained their nationality through their fathers first, then their husband. Now, women in the UK are able to gain dual citizenship upon marrying a man of a different nationality and children born of parents of different nationalities also have the right to dual citizenship.

What does the Government say in relation to Nationality?

In their latest report to the CEDAW Committee, the UK Government affirmed their commitment to ensuring the asylum process is gender sensitive, having implemented a gender action plan to allow women to better engage with the asylum process and prevent discrimination. They are also committed to providing specific training on gender-based harm to asylum caseworkers. [1]

What does the CEDAW Committee say?

In their Concluding Observations published earlier this year, the CEDAW Committee nonetheless expressed concerns about the detention of asylum seeking women and the absence of a general time limit on immigration detention. The Committee also expressed concern about the destitution of refugee and asylum-seeking women who are provided with low levels of financial support and poor levels of employment and housing, thus putting them at further risk of exploitation, abuse and trafficking. The Committee thus highlighted the gender-related dimensions of refugee status, asylum, nationality and statelessness of women and recommended the UK Government introduce a time limit on immigration detention and implement alternatives to detention, end detention of pregnant women and enable asylum-seeking and refugee women to gain access to employment and housing.

The situation in the UK

It is clear that the ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy and asylum system is negatively impacting migrant and asylum seeking women in numerous ways.

Despite the government’s policy aimed at preventing immigration detention of vulnerable people[2], survivors of gender-based violence and pregnant women are still detained, with more than 100 pregnant women detained in the UK between 2016 and 2018[3]. Furthermore, the asylum system in the UK is not gender sensitive. There is a general lack of awareness and understanding of gender-related violence and cultural norms in the judicial process, and adequate provisions such as childcare are not provided during asylum screening interviews or appeals, meaning many women do not disclose the full extent of their harm as they do not want to traumatise their children. According to reports by Women for Refugee Women, women held in detention centres during the period of making their claim are vulnerable to abuse, persecution, humiliation and discrimination. As they are already more vulnerable to gender-based violence, they are frequently placed at a further disadvantage in their quest to gain their nationality.

Even outside of the detention system, there is little protection for women with insecure immigration status experiencing domestic violence. Migrant women’s insecure immigration status is used as a means of control to prevent them from reporting domestic violence, with some migrant women with British spouses and children told they did not have custody of their children because they were undocumented[4]. A recent report by the Step Up Migrant Women campaign found that the most commonly cited factors preventing migrant women from reporting VAWG were fear of deportation and losing their children due to their insecure nationality[5].

Women on spousal visas are also facing a dire situation in relation to acquiring and retaining their nationality. Whilst the domestic violence rule is intended to protect the nationality of women on spousal visas so that they are not forced to stay in abusive relationships, the refusal rate for applications from women on spousal visas who experienced domestic violence rose from 12% in 2012 to 30% in 2016[6]. There is evidence that perpetrators or their families withhold vital documents from women so they are forced to stay in abusive relationships, therefore preventing them from exercising their right to their own nationality.

How can this article be used to influence change for women in the UK?

Article 9 underpins the fundamental right of each woman to determine their own nationality and that of their children. The current hostile environment towards immigration is disproportionally impacting already vulnerable asylum-seeking and migrant women and preventing them from accessing this right in a tangible way, due to lack of suitable gender-sensitive measures being implemented, and a fear of the system.

CEDAW is a powerful tool to add real weight behind movements to get substantive equality and eliminate discrimination for migrant women in the UK. Whilst CEDAW has been instrumental in making substantive progress towards realising women’s rights to determine their own nationality in the UK, there is a way to go. Calling on the Government to implement the recommendations laid out in the most recent Shadow Report is key to achieving this right for migrant women in the UK.


Laura Morris is the Development Team Assistant at Women's Resource Centre. Contact Laura.


[1] United Kingdom’s Eight Periodic Report 2011-2017
[2] Home Office 2016 Immigration Act 2016: Guidance on adults in risk in immigration detention
[3] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/pregnant-women-immigration-removal-centres-ban-two-years-home-office-a8530866.html
[4] Right to be Believed Report
[5] Right to be Believed Report
[6] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/aug/16/abuse-victims-increasingly-denied-right-to-stay-in-uk