Gendered Citizenship: National Security versus Equality
Membership to a nation-state and how it can be passed on to the subsequent generation of “eligible citizens” have been highly-contested issues throughout history. During the time when Nepal promulgated its constitution in 2015, the citizenship provision generated much dissatisfaction and debates given its discriminatory nature, particularly against women. One of the widely publicized debates was that between lawmaker and former Deputy Prime Minister Bhim Rawal, who is in complete support of the current provisions, and two women’s rights activists, Sapana Pradhan Malla (former lawmaker) and Aruna Upreti who vehemently opposed the discriminatory provisions. This paper aims to further explore this debate through the use of discourse analysis, basing the analysis on the op-eds and television interviews by the two sides, where, while Malla and Upreti stress on equal rights to citizenship while Rawal keeps defending the current provisions stating that it is in the best interest of national security and sovereignty.
The paper places this debate within the wider literature on gender and nation which contends that, historically, laws governing nation-states have largely been masculinist and have often served to marginalize women and delegitimize their agency. The new citizenship provision of the constitution deems that for an individual to be the citizens of Nepal, both the father and mother have to be Nepali citizens. This has been put forth instead of the “or” provision, which would have given independence to both the father and mother to pass on the citizenship. Concurring with Malla and Upreti, this paper argues that this replacement has established that the citizenship provision is gendered, guided by the heteronormative concepts of a family and has reinforced the patriarchal ideal of male domination in all spheres. Additionally, the paper also argues that the effects of the citizenship provision in its current form is widespread, excluding not just women but also single parents and LGBTs too.
In the course of exploring both sides of the debate, this paper will elaborate upon the prime issues that have emerged, namely immigration, the “threats” imposed by the open border that Nepal shares with India, the tradition of cross-border marriages and the consequent marginalization brought about by the implementation of the citizenship clause.