Citizenship law has been a topic of considerable academic interest. The literature largely emphasizes the public sphere of rights and obligations of a citizen who voluntarily acquired citizenship, and citizenship is connected predominantly to issues of migration and national belonging. Gender is generally mentioned only in passing. On the other ... (Show more)
Citizenship law has been a topic of considerable academic interest. The literature largely emphasizes the public sphere of rights and obligations of a citizen who voluntarily acquired citizenship, and citizenship is connected predominantly to issues of migration and national belonging. Gender is generally mentioned only in passing. On the other hand, studies on the role of gender in citizenship law have demonstrated that citizenship for women was defined through marriage and reproduction. Citizenship included the right to have a family, a spouse, a home, and children, which, for a long time, was a male privilege. Women gave birth to members of the nation-state, but they also reproduced its ideology and the symbolic and legal borders of the collective. Controlling this reproductive function meant controlling women’s sexuality and this meant: loss of citizenship when they married a foreigner. However, the literature that addresses gender in citizenship focuses largely on political debates and tells us little about the practice: how the gendered implications of citizenship were enforced and what its family-level effects were.
This paper aims to fill this gap in the literature. Based on empirical research in government and national archives, media sources and documents from grassroots organizations, this paper focuses on how citizenship law was put into practice and the consequences of those practices, for the women and their families. It provides insights into how the women and their families were affected by the law and how they negotiated the legal landscape and the realities that it wrought. As revocation of citizenship has become a growing state practice, such historical insights are particularly relevant.
This paper is based on a collaborate and comparative project exploring the remarkable similarities in questions of gender and citizenship over the course of the twentieth century in the Netherlands and (West) Germany. Since 1953 in West Germany and 1964 in the Netherlands, women who marry a foreigner no longer automatically lose their citizenship but remain citizens of their respective native countries. However, gender equality in citizenship law was far from complete in either country and often resulted in legal uncertainty that could precipitate the couple’s move abroad. Foreign husbands had no right to establish family life in their wives’ home country and the children of these mixed couples were only eligible for their father’s citizenship as women did not gain the right to pass on their citizenship to their offspring until 1975 in Germany and 1985 in the Netherlands. Hence, the move to the husband’s country of nationality may not always have been voluntary, and once there, it may have been difficult to return. Marriages to foreign husbands continued to be seen as inherently suspicious if not outright untrustworthy and threatening the domestic and ethnic order as well as the natural gender order in which women followed their husbands and not the other way around. (Show less)