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United Nations Human Rights Council: 26th Session (10th – 27th June 2014)
Interactive Dialogue with WG on Discrimination against Women, Tuesday 17th June 2014
Speaker: CfI Representative, Raheel Raza
Freedom of Religion and Discrimination against Women
We thank the working group for its report, and the work it has done in highlighting the various and numerous manifestations of discrimination against women.
We note that the report observes that some states maintain discriminatory legislation, “including through the delegation of authority to religious personal law systems, obstructing women’s participation in the labour market” .
While we wholeheartedly agree with this observation, we would extend the ramifications of religious personal law systems to instituting a much wider system of discrimination. Equality for women and girls is consistently and glaringly being undermined in the name of religion. We see it globally; in Saudi Arabia for example, where a religious medieval male guardianship system limits the movement of women , and where state support continues for religious groups who reinforce obscurantist views that undermine the participation of women in public life . Or in areas of Pakistan, where religious extremists are threatening girls and women, preventing their right to education from being fulfilled .
There are many discriminatory practices committed against women, all defended in the name of religion and/or culture; for example, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, son preference, Islamic law, and more generally, honor-based discrimination.
CEDAW says that every girl and woman has the right to own her life with dignity as a human being, to be equal to men and to participate in economic, social, cultural, civil and political action . The right to manifest one’s religion or belief is, a central and fundamental right. However, like most rights, it is not unlimited; it cannot be abused to excuse discriminatory activities that undermine other fundamental rights, such as the right of women to be treated equally under law, their right to autonomy, health and education.
We urge the Council to do more to investigate and highlight instances where the right to freely manifest one’s religion or belief is being fallaciously manipulated so as to discriminate against women and girls, control their bodies, and restrict their right to live their life as they choose.
We call on all states to better observe their obligations under CEDAW in the face of discriminatory frameworks often forced on people by state actors intent on promoting an archaic and artificially homogenous version of religious doctrine and tradition.