Advocacy statements

Rights of women and influence of religious fundamentalists

  • Date / 2021
  • 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

47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (21 June 2021 to 13 July 2021)

Interactive dialogue with the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls


Thank you madame President,

We thank the Working Group for its truly excellent report (A/HRC/47/38).

As the report observes, religious fundamentalists and their political allies have led an organized and well-funded global backlash against gender equality and the universality of human rights, often by invoking religious freedom and traditional values.

Across international fora we have seen the use of purposefully narrow and conservative interpretations of various religions to impose standards of conduct which result in widespread discrimination on the grounds of gender.[1]

Some present themselves as defending society against the imposition of so-called “gender ideology;” [2]whilst others seek to elevate contrived characterisations of ‘family’ and ‘tradition’ to undermine equality and the sexual and reproductive rights of women.[3]

Some are on record at the UN invoking  so-called “religious specificities” to deny the concepts of ‘marital rape’ and ‘intimate partner violence;’[4] whilst others pursue a project to “rebalance” human rights in accordance with ‘natural rights’, where ‘religious freedom’ is repositioned as an unalienable right to which other so called “new” rights should be ceded.[5]

Finally, we have also witnessed persistent lobbying to expand the use of conscience clauses to justify refusals to provide lawful health-related services to women. We remind the Council that there is no international consensus on the right of conscientious objection beyond military service. This is another example of anti-rights actors’ purposeful misinterpretation of the right to Freedom of Religion or Belief and a means by which they seek to institutionalize their revisionist narrative around women’s reproductive rights.

Again, we thank the Working Group for its important work in this field.


[1] Rights at Risk: The Observatory on the Universality of Rights Trends Report 2021

[2] https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2018/january/documents/papa-francesco_20180108_corpo-diplomatico.html, https://humanists.international/advocacy-statement/the-need-to-balance-democracy-and-equality/

[3] https://humanists.international/blog/families-use-protection/, https://stopgenderconvention.org/en/

[4] https://humanists.international/advocacy-statement/arguments-opposing-the-universality-human-rights-on-the-basis-religious-specificities/

[5] https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Draft-Report-of-the-Commission-on-Unalienable-Rights.pdf

Suggested academic reference

'Rights of women and influence of religious fundamentalists', Humanists International

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