Although more and more countries are investing in technology to ID their citizens and to link these different forms of ID to state benefits, according to the United Nations, the number of people struggling with Identity Management issues around the world is far from decreasing and a high percentage of those struggling are women.
As in many other countries, in Nepal an official ID document can make life easier or far more complicated, you need to prove who you are for almost everything: to open a bank account, enrol in higher education, get a driving licence, do legal transactions or get state benefits. The Nepali Citizenship Act of 2006 gives the right to apply for citizenship at the age of 16 as long as one of the parents can probe their own Nepali nationality and sign the official document. In theory it seems to be very easy but in practice, women in a society that is still strongly patriarchal face a lot of discrimination when trying to pass down citizenship to their children; especially when there is no father or he is not a national from Nepal.
According to an article posted by the BBC last June there are a lot of Nepali women living in rural areas of the country who are “Non-Persons” for their own government. “Bhagwati Chettri, 55, a Nepali, was abandoned by her husband several years ago. She does not have her own citizenship document because she failed to acquire one from either her parents or her husband before he left her. This means that her two children, who are just coming of age, have no legal identity either.”
When we think that 83% of the population in Nepal live in rural areas (census 2011), the number of women who may be facing a similar situation increases alarmingly; it makes me wonder how many more women in how many more countries are facing the same or similar injustices and discriminations; having to wait for a male family member to vouch for them, to give them an Identity, to demonstrate who they are to their own government and prove their value as citizens.
The Nepali government is now considering a proposed law making obligatory for both parents to be Nepali citizens in order to hand it down to their children. If this law is accepted, all the children product of inter-marriages between Nepalese and foreigners will remain “Non-Persons” in Nepal.