Advocacy statements

Religious doctrine and the denial of SRHR

  • Date / 2016
  • Location / Vatican City
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights


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.

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.

Suggested academic reference

'Religious doctrine and the denial of SRHR', Humanists International

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