“Countless women are exposed to complex forms of human rights violations based on both religion or belief and their sex,” United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt, told the UN General Assembly today, October 29, 2013.
“Harmful practices inflicted on women or girls can never be justified in the name of freedom of religion or belief, he said in his latest report to the world body.
The report identified that “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” stressing that forced conversion in combination with forced marriage is one particularly grave abuse when freedom of religion or belief clashes with gender equality.
“In virtually all traditions one can find persons or groups who make use of their freedom of religion or belief as a positive resource for the promotion of equality between men and women, often in conjunction with innovative interpretations of religious sources and traditions”, the human rights expert stated.
Therefore, Mr. Bielefeldt called on member 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 Special Rapporteur called for an all-inclusive human rights approach “in order to do justice to such complex forms of human rights problems in the intersection of freedom of religion or belief and equality of men and women.”
All human rights are “universal, indivisible and interrelated and interdependent,” he stressed, recalling consensus arrived at the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights and urged Governments and civil society to “look for synergies between freedom of religion or belief and equality between men and women.”
To this end, Mr. Bielefeldt impressed on Governments to ensure the full and effective implementation of all fundamental principles and norms related to equality between men and women. “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,” the Special Rapporteur pointed out.
The report recommended the upholding of the universal spirit of human rights by integrating a gender perspective into programmes designed to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief. Likewise, it encouraged integrating sensitivity on issues of freedom of religion or belief into gender-related anti-discrimination programmes. On November 25, 1981, the General Assembly adopted resolution36/55 on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Under that resolution all Member States pledged themselves to take joint and separate action in co-operation with the Organization to promote and encourage universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.