Today, Jordan faces a question that will change its social fabric for years to come: will Jordanian women ever be allowed to pass on their citizenship to their children by non-Jordanian husbands? In a small kingdom of about 6.5 million people, there are an estimated 65,000 families that are completely integrated into society, but which include family members who are not citizens. This urgent issue threatens the stability of society and needs to be addressed.
Although pressure within civil society has been building for change since 2002, no real progress has occurred. Many families are suffering. Visas and residency permits present a financial burden, and the issue is creating conflicts within families as well. Children do not qualify for health insurance, education or even the right of inheritance from their mothers. On another scale, custody issues often create complex disputes.
The latest constitutional process involving the issue could have provided a solution for these families, but no amendments were approved.
At the end of last year, the UAE amended its nationality law allowing the children of Emirati women to opt for Emirati citizenship when they turn 18. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the President of the UAE, declared: "Children of women citizens married to foreigners should be treated as citizens." This progress in the UAE should act as an example for other Arab countries, but in Jordan it has not.
In a country that has witnessed real progress in terms of female empowerment, Jordan's current laws and regulations show clear evidence of discrimination against women - a step backwards from gender equality. While women are represented in politics and have acquired leadership positions across many disciplines, the contrast is clear when it comes to social equality in this respect.
Countless arguments have been brought to justify such a discriminatory law. The prominent economist Dr Yusuf Mansur notes that many believe that an influx of foreign citizens would create an economic strain on the government, involving the need for more jobs, more children to be educated and more money to be spent on health care. But Dr Mansur argues that the influx would actually increase the government's income because of higher rates of investment and consumption.
Another argument, one particular to Jordan, is the Palestinian dimension. The concern is that extending citizenship could lead to a further rise in the Palestinian population, encouraging the concept of an "alternative homeland" instead of the occupied Palestinian territory.
But men are already allowed to pass on their citizenship to Palestinian wives, which has a similar effect. Most importantly, it should be noted that a high percentage of mixed families do not include a member of Palestinian origin.
This issue is not restricted to Jordan. Shadows of discrimination against women can be seen across the whole Arab world. Having said that, it is important to note that progress in this area has also been seen in many countries.
In 2005, Algeria allowed women to pass on their nationality to spouses and children; Morocco followed in 2007, allowing women to automatically pass on their nationalities to their children, although spouses still need to be married and resident in the country for five years before they qualify for citizenship. Tunisian women were also given this right, even if the identity of the child's father is unknown. Nationality laws have also been amended in Egypt.
Such positive steps should be echoed all over the Arab world, especially in Jordan. Why wouldn't Jordanians, one of the most educated and intellectual of Arab populations, pass these laws that would no longer classify women as second-class citizens, laws that would allow social progress and eliminate so many social problems? These urgent questions need to be addressed.
Noor Gharaibeh is a New York University Abu Dhabi student of Jordanian origin