“Statelessness renders people’s vulnerability to abuse and to denial of their rights invisible to national authorities. In this sense the right to a nationality is a threshold issue for access to protection of all other human rights - almost a 'right to have rights'”, said Peter Prove, director of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), following a regional training workshop on birth registration and gender discriminatory nationality laws in Africa, organized by the WCC in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 11–13 May.
The aim of the workshop was to create a space for African church representatives to take stock of their belief in the God-given dignity of every person as the basis for advocacy and action for universal birth registration and for gender equality in nationality laws, so as to avoid new cases of statelessness. The workshop was also an opportunity to engage churches in exercising the ministry of hospitality towards the ‘stranger’ in their work for the protection of stateless persons and the defense of their basic and fundamental rights.
“The call to eliminate statelessness is a call not only to raise the voices of the most vulnerable, but their very identities as human beings with rights and dignity”, added Prove.
Globally, an estimated 10 million people are denied a nationality. In the African context, statelessness mainly results from factors such as discrimination against women or against a minority group, administrative obstacles and lack of birth registration.
As stated by Segma Asfaw, WCC programme executive, "churches and faith communities have been recording important life events such as baptism, marriage or death for centuries. It is important to create avenues through which governments can resort to these records in cases where civil registry systems are absent or non-functioning.”
Discussions on gender equality in nationality laws focused on how churches and ecumenical partners can challenge and put an end to discriminatory practices that do not allow women to confer nationality to their children on an equal basis with men.
Rev. Gertrude Kapuma, who offered a biblical reflection on gender equality during the workshop, reminded participants of the need to call the church to be in the forefront of restoring women from all the negative experiences they go through. “Women are part of the body of Christ. When they are hurt we should feel it together with them. And when they achieve something it should bring joy to us all", she said.
"At the African level, there are a great number of instruments and processes that can help improve rates of birth registration as well as prevent statelessness", said Ayalew Getachew, from the African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
"By counting every child, you make every child count, and ensure their access to their rights", said Nadya Kassam, child protection specialist at UNICEF.
The workshop brought together participants from more than 20 African countries. Besides WCC staff members Prove and Asfaw, it also included members of the WCC-CCIA, including Evelyn Parker from USA, Lily Zachariah from Malaysia, and Maria Mountraki from Finland. This African regional workshop was part of a larger WCC process focusing on statelessness, in collaboration with UN partners UNHCR and UNICEF.