Equal but Unequal

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Malaysia’s Court of Appeal on Friday overturned a landmark decision that would allow women to automatically pass their citizenship to children born overseas, a case that has sparked criticism over the government’s inability to ensure gender equality, Al Jazeera reported.

The case centers on a constitutional provision, which gives Malaysian fathers the automatic right to pass their citizenship onto their offspring born abroad. However, the constitution is silent on Malaysian women married to foreign spouses whose children were born outside Malaysia.

The advocacy group Family Frontiers and six mothers initially challenged the constitutionality of omitting women in the law, saying that judges should interpret the provision in line with the principle of gender equality.

Last year, Malaysia’s High Court ruled that women had the same right as men to confer citizenship to their children. But the government appealed the decision, saying it needed time to amend the constitution in favor of mothers.

After the High Court’s verdict, the six women were able to acquire citizenship for their overseas-born children. But the appeals court ordered any new applications be frozen until the Federal Court – the country’s highest court – had considered the matter.

The government said in the past year, there have been more than 590 submissions from Malaysian mothers seeking to pass their citizenship to their children. Only a few of these cases were resolved.

Women’s rights advocates and opposition politicians have been calling on the government to move forward with the amendment and ensure equality for women.

But the government says that the gender equality amendment does not apply to nationality and that matters of citizenship are beyond the jurisdiction of the courts.

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