Is There An Inherent Tension Between Women's Rights And Freedom Of Religion?

Is There An Inherent Tension Between Women's Rights And Freedom Of Religion?

FORB is a human right, a right granted to the individual who in no way protects or provides immunity to religious institutions, laws or even states.

Even in the initial stages of addressing this issue the most prominent concern seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the rights afforded by Freedom of Religion or Belief (FORB). This misconception is prevalent in religiously based reservations that member states at the UN make in response to conventions and treaties. FORB “does not protect religions per se (e.g., traditions, values, identities, and truth claims) but aims at the empowerment of human beings, as individuals and in community with others.” Like any other right, FORB is a human right, a right granted to the individual who in no way protects or provides immunity to religious institutions, laws or even states.

In essence, the religious reservations of member states are in fact a misuse of the right, and the states must be called out on this use of cultural or religious relativism to evade their responsibilities to protect the human rights of its citizens, including those of women. As the Special Rapporteur on FORB states:

“Prima facie, it seems plausible to assume that freedom of religion or belief protects religious or belief-related traditions, practices, and identities, since this is what the title of the right appears to suggest. This assumption, however, is misleading, because in line with the human rights approach in general, and article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in particular; freedom of religion or belief always protect human beings in their freedom and equality in dignity and rights. To cite the frequently used short formula, freedom of religion or belief protects the ‘believer rather than belief.’”

The vessel of the right is the individual that holds, professes and develops religion freely. In this context, FORB does not recognize doctrines, truth claims, practices and value systems independently, but only about the individual holder. Thus, member states must be discouraged from misusing the essence of the right. FORB, in theory, does not grant them the capability to make these reservations.

The inherent antagonism derives in part from the fact that the sources which grant the two rights were formed from distinct lobbying and constituencies, and disregard one another. Human rights doctrines, conventions, and treaties that hold up the right to FORB generally do not mention women’s rights.

“The normative standards upholding FORB are article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), article 18 of the ICCPR, and the 1981 Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. These provisions make no mention of women’s equality or even of non-discrimination by sex.”

It is also vice versa for those recognizing women’s rights:

“The main legal source dedicated to the advancement of women’s equality is CEDAW- an extensive 30 article binding treaty. It makes no mention at all of the FORB or indeed of religion. It does not even contain a standard non-discrimination provision calling for no discrimination based on religion or another status.”

Generally speaking, the two seem to take insufficient account of one another, which can lead to the perception of them as contesting rights. Another aspect of this is the misuse of religion in general: “religion is among the asserted grounds for women’s rights violations, though the invocation of religion may well be covering a range of socioeconomic, traditional, political, and other objectives for states and have a tenuous relationship with ‘religion’ as such.” This becomes a difficult distinction to make, as it requires the spate analysis of religion and culture, which are often deeply embedded within one another, but it is a crucial element in defining what can and cannot be justified using religion.

Distinguishing between religion and culture has become a crucial methodological instrument for reformers, including feminists within various groups who are attempting to redefine the boundaries of religion and culture. Women's rights can be promoted through distinguishing the elements of religion from those of traditional norms.

For any analysis of conflicts between religious traditions and human rights principle of equality between men and women it remains utterly important to bear in mind that religion and culture, albeit interwoven in manifold ways, are not identical and that their relationship can be exposed to critical questions and reform agendas, often based on the initiatives that originate from the midst of religious communities themselves.”

Not all assertions of FORB can be accepted as a manifestation of religion or belief. "It has to be established that the religion or belief itself is a certain 'cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.'" This does not alter the gravity of these violations, but it does provide insight into often harmful practices including genital mutilation, forced marriage and honor killings. While these destructive practices are carried out in the name of religion, they are usually points of considerable controversy even in the religious traditions that are used to justify them.

Cover Image Credit: Vladimir Šoić / Unsplash

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Sept 2013 I found myself writing to an evangelist Jennifer Beckham looking for more, looking for answers cause at the time I was in a dark place, and stuck no matter what I did. She wrote back! I cried as I read her respond. She sent me scriptures of who god is and what he wants for us. God says we are more than conquers and endurance develops strength and character. She encouraged me that I was on the right track. Not to give up and she would be praying for me. I saw Jennifer Beckham at a conference that year. I don't remember what she specifically talked about but I remember the feeling. The feeling of wanting to burst out crying, I could feel my eyes being filled with tears, and my heart racing but I wouldn't let out the tears. My pride was too big. I wanted to be strong so I did my best to hold it all in, and I did. At this conference they offered the audience who wanted to go up for prayer and dedicate their life to Jesus Christ. Surprisingly I went up, but I went up with other people that were seeking out salvation. I wasn’t sure if I was going up to support the other people or if it was truly for me. I was confused, even though I said the prayer. I became more confused as the days went on and I wasn't feeling a difference in my life. Nothing was changing. I started reading the bible and many books, listening to sermons, and surrounding myself with positive people. I gave my life to Jesus, but I didn't feel like I was set FREE! I continued feeling empty, lost, broken, guilty, and hurt from the past. There were so many days where I just wanted to give up. Almost felt pointless to fight for my life. At this point in my life I didn't know God very much, but I had just a little bit of faith. My faith was a big as a mustard seed and God took care of the rest. Day by day, year by year I started noticing my life changing. I noticed I was changing. I started feeling happy with who I was and where I was in life. I no longer questioned God about the things that happened to me. In my heart I was ok with the wounds, the hardships, and trials from the past because I now understood those wounds and trials. I realized I was SET FREE! not perfect but set free. I started understanding who I was as a child of our heavenly father. Now it’s Jan 2018 and I’m in awe of who I am and where I am in life, all because of Jesus. His so faithful! I think of the favor, the grace, his mercy, his love, his joy and blessing that he gives me even when I’m undeserving of it, it’s overwhelming. He has never left me nor forsake me. I can say Jesus you changed everything and my heart so forever thankful. 

Today, I encourage you like Jennifer Beckham encouraged me. Keep going and don't give up. No matter what your past looks like believe in your heart that you were created for greatness. Don't let your past determine your future, be the change you want in your life. You have it in you. There is so much more to life, don't miss out on it. It's time to take back your happiness, love, joy, freedom and so much more. It's time to take back EVERYTHING the enemy has taken from you. God has made you an overcomer. I speak it right now, that you will be victorious in 2018 and the years to come. Remember, God loves you! 

Psalm 136:26 (AMP) O give thanks to the God of heaven, for his mercy and loving-kindness endures forever!

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