Freedom of religion or belief and gender equality

The impression that freedom of religion or belief and gender equality allegedly constitute two essentially contradictory human rights norms seems to be widely shared. This can cause serious protection gaps. Moreover, the abstractly antagonistic misconstruction of the relationship between freedom of religion or belief and gender equality fails to do justice to the life situation of many millions of individuals whose specific needs, wishes, claims, experiences and vulnerabilities fall into the intersection of both human rights, a problem disproportionately affecting women or girls from religious minorities as well as LGBT+ persons. The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief therefore emphasizes the significance of upholding a holistic perspective that all human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. States should create a safe and enabling environment in which women, girls, LGBT+ persons are able to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief.

Read the Special Rapporteur’s reports on freedom of religion or belief and gender equality (A/HRC/43/48) and freedom of religion or belief and the equality of men and women (A/68/290).

Recent activities

14 May 2020
The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief participated in a webinar on “Confronting COVID-19 from the Prism of Faith, Gender and Human Rights” that examined on the impact of COVID-19 on gender equality and rights of women and girls in the context of faith and religion as well as their leadership role in response to the current crisis. This was a joint online event by the Religions for Peace (RfP) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

16 February 2018
The UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development, Musawah and OHCHR organized a seminar on “Religion & Rights: Strengthening Common Ground”. The seminar introduced international initiatives that promote a rights-based understanding of religion to build common ground between faith and rights. It also explored how to reconcile the “conflict” between religious traditions and women’s rights; and possible approaches towards reform of discriminatory laws and practices in the name of religion. Moreover, it discussed ways to enhance collaboration and more effective engagement with the international system to promote human rights for all.

September 2017
The mandate of freedom of religion or belief published a compilation of articles that illustrates different perspectives of the intersection of freedom of religion or belief and sexuality by various authors who participated in the 2016 Conference. Most of the articles testify to their authors’ personal commitment in an area, which currently seems to be the main test field for sticking to holistic human rights approach.

8-10 June 2016
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief in collaboration with Muslim for Progressive Values organised a conference on “Freedom of Religion or Belief and Sexuality” to provide an opportunity for the participants to share their experiences in various contexts in relation to the chosen theme of focus. It aimed to understand the resistance, obstacles and conflicts that exist in allegedly contradictory human rights issues such as the right to freedom of religion or belief and rights of LGBTI persons. The conference also identified the patterns of inter-sectional discrimination that people have been facing due to their expressions of religious identities or sexuality. Furthermore, it sought to explore the range of initiatives that have been taken to address discrimination or violence in the name of religion committed against those who express their religious identities or sexuality openly. Finally, the conference explored new synergies for better future cooperation among the participants in their work.

See Conference Summary (low resolution version | high resolution version)

7 April 2011
Feature story: Religion, belief and women’s rights
UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, warned against the reassertion of discriminatory practices against women amid political transition in the Middle East and North Africa.