Religious Freedom and Gender Equality: Reflections on the Recent UN Special Rapporteur’s Report

On February 27, 2020, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief released a new report dedicated to the interplay between religious freedom and gender equality. In this report the Rapporteur addressed gender-based violence and discrimination in the name of religion or belief.

Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief
© UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

Talk About: Law and Religion asked scholars and lawyers representing academic and human rights institutions from the United States, Spain, Turkey, and Germany to reflect on this report by analyzing its achievements and its most controversial points. While each contributor welcomes and appreciates efforts from the UN Special Rapporteur to combat harmful practices (e.g., FGM, gender violence, forced marriages, or depriving women and girls from education etc.), most also criticize some of the approaches reflected in the report, such as the report’s conception of the nature of religious freedom and religious autonomy. They also call for more nuanced discussions, both theoretical and policy-oriented, as a precondition for advancing both the freedom of religion or belief and non-discrimination as mutually reinforcing rights rather than mutually exclusive rights.

Participants in this Conversation: Continue reading “Religious Freedom and Gender Equality: Reflections on the Recent UN Special Rapporteur’s Report”

Can We Reconcile the Freedom of Religion with the Right to Be Free from Gender Discrimination?


Dr. Eugenia Relaño Pastor
is a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Law and Anthropology at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle (Germany)

 

Introduction

On the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief took the opportunity to release his 2020 Annual Report, which shows his deep concern for worldwide gender-based violence against women, girls, and LGBT+ persons in the name of religion and belief. In the report he reinforces his predecessors’ endeavors to reject any legitimate religious “justification” for violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

As a result, he produced an excellent preliminary report for a future UN general comment on the intersection between the right to freedom of religion or belief and the right to equality and non-discrimination on the basis of gender, but he failed to identify the core issues at stake for dealing with rights grounded on two moral truths: freedom and equality. That omission is the proverbial elephant in the room. In my experience as an activist (I have worked as a legal adviser for migration and equality with the Spanish Ombudsman, and I deal with daily legal complaints against the administration) and legal scholar committed to liberty and equality rights for women and the LGBT+ community, as well as to religious freedom for all, the only choice is to balance both rights carefully through a context-sensitive approach and to try to find negotiated compromises when tension arises. Continue reading “Can We Reconcile the Freedom of Religion with the Right to Be Free from Gender Discrimination?”

Synergy and Conflict—Competing and Overlapping Interests of Freedom of Religion or Belief and Equality

Dr. Mine Yıldırım is Head of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s Freedom of Belief Initiative in TurkeyIssues relating to freedom of religion or belief and non-discrimination continue to provide a source for vigorous debate within parts of the human rights community.

The Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief published on 27 February 2020, which addresses gender-based violence and discrimination in the name of religion or belief, provides analyses and recommendations that drive further reflection on the various components of the right to freedom of religion or belief, including its scope, the subjects of the rights involved, and the obligations of states and other parties. While the Report claims to see “freedom of religion or belief and non-discrimination as mutually reinforcing rights,” this is not consistently the case. The Report rightly emphasizes that the right to freedom of religion or belief belongs to everyone, including men, women, and LGBT+ individuals, and that certain acts cannot be protected as manifestations of religion or belief and therefore must be restricted. However, as I indicate below, a more nuanced conception of autonomy and “collectivities” exists that the Report could have adopted to capitalize on the synergies between the freedom of religion or belief and equality. Continue reading “Synergy and Conflict—Competing and Overlapping Interests of Freedom of Religion or Belief and Equality”