Harmful practices inflicted on women or girls can never be justified in the name of freedom of religion or belief

NEW YORK / GENEVA (31 October 2013) – United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, told the UN General Assembly that “harmful practices inflicted on women or girls can never be justified in the name of freedom of religion or belief.”

“Countless women are exposed to complex forms of human rights violations based on both religion or belief and their sex,” the human rights expert noted with concern during the presentation of his latest report*, while urging Governments to ensure the full and effective implementation of all fundamental principles and norms related to equality between men and women.

Forced conversion in combination with forced marriage is one particularly grave abuse when freedom of religion or belief clashes with gender equality, Mr. Bielefeldt noted. “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,” he said.
In his report, the expert calls 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.
The Special Rapporteur urged Governments and civil society to “look for synergies between freedom of religion or belief and equality between men and women.”

“In virtually all traditions,” he said, “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.”

Mr. Bielefeldt 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,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Mr. Bielefeldt’s report offers a number of recommendations to uphold 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 also encourages integrating sensitivity on issues of freedom of religion or belief into gender-related anti-discrimination programmes.

Heiner Bielefeldt assumed his mandate on 1 August 2010. As Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, he is independent from any government, and acts in his individual capacity. Mr. Bielefeldt is Professor of Human Rights and Human Rights Politics at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. From 2003 to 2009, he was Director of Germany’s National Human Rights Institution. The Special Rapporteur’s research interests include various interdisciplinary facets of human rights theory and practice, with a focus on freedom of religion or belief. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomReligion/Pages/FreedomReligionIndex.aspx

(*) Read the Special Rapporteur’s interim report on freedom of religion or belief and equality between men and women: http://www.un.org/Docs/journal/asp/ws.asp?m=A/68/290 

Download the “Rapporteur's Digest on Freedom of Religion or Belief”: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Religion/RapporteursDigestFreedomReligionBelief.pdf

Check the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/ReligionOrBelief.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact:
In New York: Nenad Vasic (+1 212 963 5998 / vasic@un.org)
In Geenva: Sharof Azizov (+41 22 917 9748 / sazizov@ohchr.org) or write to freedomofreligion@ohchr.org

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Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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