Reconciling the right to non-discrimination and freedom of religion
The rights to religious freedom and equality are increasingly under challenge globally. In a number of countries, religious precepts are promoted by laws, policies and state sanctioned practices in ways that constitute de facto violations of other freedoms, particularly those of women and girls, and the human rights of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) minorities. In other countries, persons of faith are increasingly relying on claims of religious freedom in a manner that conflicts with others’ right to equal treatment. In this regard, ‘anti-rights’ counter lobbies claim that religious freedom can exempt individuals, organisations, and states from respecting gender equality where non-discrimination laws conflict with dominant religious beliefs. Violations of sexual and reproductive rights, the right to be free
from gender-based violence, the right to non-discrimination in education, marriage, health and division of property, are common abuses justified by reference to religious or cultural norms. Sometimes states endorse this discrimination or neglect to act effectively on it. Civil society actors working on women’s rights and the rights of SOGI minorities increasingly describe religious fundamentalist groups as a significant challenge to their work, and even a threat to their safety and security.
It is governments that are responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights but religious beliefs colour the policy stances of many governments in complex ways. In 2015, the international Network of Civil Liberties Organisations (INCLO) published Drawing the Line:Tackling Tensions Between Religious Freedom and Equality, examining three interrelated aspects
of these rights: religious freedom and equality for LGBT individuals, religious freedom and reproductive rights, and religious freedom as expressed through attire, hair, or other forms of religious appearance. UN Special Procedures have also been prompted to address the impact of religious fundamentalist discourses on human rights. The Working Group on Discrimination
Against Women in law and practice has observed how the concept of “gender” itself is being challenged, misunderstood and misused to further undermine the struggle towards the elimination of discrimination on the basis of gender.3
The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, is convening this workshop to discuss strategies to advance the human rights of women and SOGI minorities while also protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief. Building on the work of our INCLO partners and other civil society groups in documenting the challenges faced by human rights defenders and policy makers, the Rapporteur wishes to engage with stakeholders at the national and regional level to better understand how the challenges play out in different contexts. For example, conflict with gender equality rights may arise with regard to a majority religion in a constitutional framework or a religious subgroup within a society. Discriminatory claims by religious subgroups may range from negative demands for privacy and non-intervention to positive demands for autonomous control of their own social institutions and active support by the state. Deference to either can infringe the right to equality.
Recognising that human rights policy and practice should be grounded in the participation of rights-holders, this workshop is designed for civil society to share their experiences and strategies in dealing with the difficult encounters between religious norms and discrimination in Tunisia.Other consultations are taking place in Latin America, South Africa, Poland, Nepal and SriLanka, engaging different world religions, widely different cultural traditions. The perspectives shared will be be central to the FoRB mandate holder’s report to the UN Human Rights Council on‘Freedom of religion or belief and the right to non-discrimination’ in March 2020.
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