“Religious doctrine and the right to freedom of religion or belief should never be put before the rights of women and girls and can never be used to legitimise the denial of those rights,” said the International Humanist and Ethical Union today when speaking at the United Nations Human Rights Council, in Geneva.
In response to a report by the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women presented at the 32nd session of the Council, IHEU director of advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey, highlighted the problem of “religious and cultural factors” being used to undermine the rights and equality of women.
She noted the role of the Catholic Church in this phenomenon, a Church represented with a seat at the UN by the Holy See, as well as the situation for many girls and women in self-described Muslim countries.
O’Casey finished with a plea to Council members to cease using the notions of “cultural particularities and religious specificities” to justify abusing the human rights of women.
Her full statement follows below:
International Humanist and Ethical Union
UN Human Rights Council, 32nd Session (13th June – 1st July 2016)
General Debate on Item 3
We thank the working group for its excellent report on discrimination against women. Given time limitations, we shall highlight just one aspect of it particularly. That is, the problem of “religious and cultural factors” being used to “disregard the dignity of girls and women,” in opposition to their “right to equality in health.”
As the report notes, in the area of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), women are often subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment because of their gender, “sometimes expressly in the name of morality or religion, as a way of punishing what is considered ‘immoral behaviour.’”
The Catholic Church, represented here by the delegation from the Holy See, has a particularly shameful record in this area. Run exclusively by men, it has wielded its significant power and global influence to control women’s reproductive rights and sexual freedom, campaigning to deny women abortion and the use of contraception
In many self-described Muslim countries, religion, tradition and culture is used to control and castrate the woman in her sexuality and reproductive rights. The control often starts with young girls; in some countries, girls are married off, in others, they are mutilated, their genitals cut and sewn together. For women, the situation is no better; in countries using restrictive Sharia law, women’s entitlement to divorce and custody of children is limited, and rape is often impossible to prove under the conditions demanded by the law. In the most extreme and nauseating of circumstances women can find themselves punished for being raped.
One recent example is of a Dutch woman who reported being raped while on holiday in Qatar having been in jail since mid-March and possibly facing charges of adultery.
As the working group states, religious doctrine and the right to freedom of religion or belief should never be put before the rights of women and girls and can never be used to legitimise the denial of those rights.
We call on the Council to recognise this through explicit language in resolutions and as part of its rhetoric more generally. To be clear: “Cultural particularities and religious specificities” cannot be, as have been previously and numerously in this forum, accepted as an argument by Members seeking to excuse discrimination against women.