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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The Dangers Of Ideology And The Importance Of Free Speech & Debate

Universities are currently policing thought, indoctrinating students into a radical egalitarian ideology, and crushing dissenting opinion.

It’s truly amazing to consider how quickly the culture on college campuses has changed over the last several years. Once staunch defenders of speech and academic freedom, modern universities are quickly turning into ideological echo chambers, indoctrinating students into a radical left-wing egalitarian worldview, while crushing dissenting opinion.

The disturbingly Orwellian trend to quell free expression on campuses can best be illustrated by an event that unfolded last year at James Madison University’s freshman orientation, when “student leaders” distributed a list of 35 things that incoming students should avoid saying, including phrases such as “you have a pretty face,” “love the sinner, hate the sin,” “we’re all part of the human race,” “I treat all people the same,” “people just need to pick themselves up by their bootstraps,” among other expressions.

You might find yourself laughing this off as nonsense, an isolated set of events perpetuated by a select group of fringe radicals. Unfortunately, I can assure you that this is not an isolated incident. In addition to the slew of protests that erupted at universities last year in response to conservative speakers being invited to campus, these kinds of events are indicative of a larger, and more pernicious attempt by the radical left to control the linguistic territory.

At universities across America, the campus left now demands that people accept certain preconditions for discussion. Not the kind of reasonable preconditions such as “treat people with respect,” or “don’t resort to personal attacks.” Rather, It is demanded that you accept a neo-Marxian worldview, rooted in the notion that the world is nothing more than a power struggle between two groups of people: those who oppress and those who are oppressed. They demand that people accept notions like white-male privilege as axiomatic – not to be debated – and force people to acknowledge how they've been privileged by the current socio-economic structure.

Refusing to accept these presuppositions not only bars someone from participating in the discussion. To challenge an idea, such as white privilege, is to reject the fact that racism and bigotry exist in our society. To challenge the notion that being white necessarily means you must be more privileged than a person of color is akin to blasphemy. To push against the idea that certain classes of people in America are ‘victims of systemic oppression’ is to deny the humanity and individual experiences of people of color, women, and other minority groups.

The campus left emphatically espouse the notion that “the personal is political.” Thus they believe, unequivocally, that the primary responsibility of the University should be to ensure students from “diverse cultural backgrounds” feel safe – and by safe they mean “not having their identities challenged;” and by identities they are referring to their belief systems – the lens by which they perceive the word.

From the perspective of a radical leftist, to participate in debate is not seen as merely engaging in criticism of some abstract idea. To challenge an idea is to challenge someone’s identity, and to challenge someone’s identity is to debate their humanity.

And that is one of the axiomatic rules of the campus Left – you cannot debate someone’s humanity.

Indeed, with more than a fifth of college undergrads now believing its okay to use physical force to silence a speaker who makes “offensive or hurtful statement,” the future of the First Amendment itself is currently uncertain.

What exactly is so dangerous about this movement?

For starters, the freedom of speech has wrongly been construed as just another value that we in the West hold in high regard. But it is more than a Right that we share as citizens of this nation. It is, ultimately, the mechanism by which keep our psyches and societies functioning.

See, most people just aren’t that good at thinking. I don't mean this as a sleight against anyone, but we’re all insufficient and we have limited awareness of most things because we just can’t know everything. We rely on communication with one another to facilitate the process of learning about things outside our realm of knowledge. Often we have to, first, stumble around like the blithering idiots we are, espousing our biased beliefs in a public forum, and subjecting our ideas to criticism before we can properly orient our thoughts.

When the open exchange of ideas is allowed, you get the opportunity for multiple people to put forward their biased oversimplifications and engage in debate that raises the resolution of the particular question and answer at hand. Ideas are hit with hammers, combed for contradictions, inadequacies and even falsehoods. On an individual level, this kind of scrutiny sharpens the schema you use to navigate the world because other people can tell you things you can’t know by yourself.

Maybe it’s an opinion espoused, or a behavior that manifests itself, or a misconception you hold- in any event, subjecting your beliefs to criticism is, in the short term sometimes painful because we often learn things about the world and ourselves that are uncomfortable; but, in the long term, it is the only way method we have for moving closer towards something that more closely resembles truth – and if not anything true, at least something less wrong. As a result, the lens by which you look at the world becomes clearer.

Further, it is also through a collective process of dialectic that we identify problems in our societies, formulate solutions, and come to some sort of consensus.

Thus the right to say what you believe should not just considered as "just another value." It's a conical value, without which all the other values we hold dear, that people have fought so hard, in such an unlikely manner, to preserve and produce all disappear.

Without it, there can be no progress. Without it, individuals abdicate their responsibility to engage in the sacred process of discovery and renewal. Without it, we can’t think. Without it, there can be no truth. Without it, there can be nothing but nihilistic psychopathology. The end result is a populist that is not only afraid to say what they think, but that doesn't even know what they think because they haven’t been allowed to stumble around in the dark to find some tiny fragment of light.

Therefore, when we consider placing restrictions on the freedom of speech we must do so with the most extreme caution. By setting ridiculous preconditions for discussion, the campus left not only makes the process by which we solve the problems with our society more difficult, but also, if taken to its extreme, it can lead to totalitarianism.

In the wake of dozens of campus protests last year, universities are now in a position where they have to choose between two incompatible values: truth or social justice. The former will lead us to a greater understanding, while the latter can only divide.

Cover Image Credit: Teen Vogue

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Being An English Speaker Is A Privileged Status

Multi-lingual is the way to go

English is not the official language of the United States of America. But even if it was, a country apparently founded on the idea of valuing every citizen as a free individual could do a much better job welcoming people who do not speak English.

While it is natural that one language became the most common, and that this has simplified many processes, this same simplification is not afforded to those who do not speak the language.

Language barriers can reduce one’s job opportunities, meaning that even if one has degrees and plenty of experience, many jobs are simply not available. Many employers are unfortunately unaccepting of those who do not speak English fluently, and some even discriminate against those who do not natively speak English.

Education becomes extremely complex for non-English-speakers. On the student side, while many schools offer English as a Second Language programs, which is wonderful, it should be acknowledged that these students face more work and less support than students who are native English speakers. To add to this, if parents do not speak English, communication from the school or with teachers becomes harder to access.

One of the greatest privileges of English speakers lies in healthcare. They can be sure that they will find a doctor who speaks their language and can clearly explain their medical situation in that language. The same goes for psychologists, social workers, and others in the health professions.

This becomes especially complicated for those who speak languages that are not commonly studied.

A friend of mine who teaches was mentioning recently that while there are many students and families in her district who speak Arabic, there are so few people working in psychology, social work, or other support services who speak the language that for the district to access them is not only difficult but expensive.

This too often means that schools fail to offer students and parents speaking these less-commonly studied languages sufficient aid.

So what is the answer? To adopt English as an official language would be so wrong in our country full of diverse and wonderful languages, backgrounds, and cultures. Instead of attempting to make English more and more widespread, we should focus our efforts on ensuring that people in this country who do not speak English can receive all of the same support as those who do speak English.

Some of this lies in ensuring that systems and institutions offer resources in several languages and that employers will not discriminate against those who are not native English speakers.

Much of the solution, however, is on us, especially if we are students entering a people-oriented profession. In fact, in all professions, becoming multi-lingual does not merely open doors for us but creates a society where more people have access to the services they need.

Cover Image Credit: Maialisa

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