Harmful practices against women and girls can never be justified by religion – UN expert
29 October 2013 – Harmful practices inflicted on women and girls can never be justified in the name of freedom of religion or belief, an independent United Nations human rights expert told a General Assembly committee dealing with social, humanitarian and cultural issues today.
“Countless women are exposed to complex forms of human rights violations based on both religion or belief and their sex,” said Heiner Bielefeldt, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
The expert’s latest report, which he presented to the Third Committee, focused on two human rights, namely freedom of religion or belief and gender equality. “My main message is that there is much more room for synergies between those two rights than people generally assume,” he told reporters after his presentation.
“Often you find the assumption that, you go either for religion or for gender emancipation and you can’t really combine the two, which I would find not only wrong but dangerous.”
The expert urged Governments and civil society to look for these synergies, noting that in virtually all traditions, there are persons or groups who use their freedom of religion or belief to promote equality between men and women, often in conjunction with innovative interpretations of religious sources and traditions.
In his presentation, Mr. Bielefeldt also called on States to identify and close human rights protection gaps in personal status laws, including denominational family laws, which disproportionately affect women from religious or belief minorities.
“The purpose must be to create family law systems that fully respect equality between men and women while at the same time doing justice to the broad reality of religious or belief diversity, including persuasions that go beyond the realm of traditionally recognized religions,” he stated.
One particularly grave abuse when freedom of religion or belief clashes with gender equality is forced conversion in combination with forced marriage, said Mr. Bielefeldt.
“In a number of countries, women or girls from religious minorities run the risk of being abducted with the purpose of forcing them to convert to mainstream religion – often in connection with an unwanted marriage.”
The expert’s report offers recommendations to, among other things, integrate a gender perspective into programmes designed to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief.
Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes. They also make annual presentations to the General Assembly’s Third Committee.
- UN report says Eritrea committed widespread abuses
- South Sudan: UNICEF warns women and children being victimized ‘with frightening regularity’
- Human rights: Paraguay has failed to protect a 10-year old girl child who became pregnant after being raped, say UN experts
- Widows’ eviction highlights need to abolish or amend Tanzania’s discriminatory laws, UN experts say
- Challenging Iran's women's rights narrative
- Equality, Development and Peace: 2015 and Beyond
- Call for Action: Include women in the Syrian peace-building process now!
- URGENT ACTION: Call on States to Support UN Resolution on WHRDs
- Universality Of Human Rights At Stake! Act Now To Oppose Russian Resolution On Traditional Values!
- International: Statement of Feminist and Women's Organisations on the very Limited and Concerning Results of the 56th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women
- Special Rapporteur on violence against women, mission statement for Sudan
- Report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, Human Rights Council 28th Session
- Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Rashida Manjoo*
- How to follow up on UN Human Rights Recommendations: A practical guide for civil society
- Pathways to, conditions and consequences of incarceration for women