Enhancing access to justice for women in the context of religious and customary Law

The ICJ today spoke at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, highlighting issues of access to justice for women in the context of religious and customary law.

 The statement, delivered during a High Level Panel discussion commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women, read as follows:

“The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) welcomes this opportunity to celebrate the progress made in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 25 years after its adoption and to address the remaining challenges to gender equality and women’s empowerment.

We have indeed seen an expansion in many countries of women’s legal entitlements and protection of their rights. However, there is also a growing trend to push these advances back and violate women’s human rights, invoking as justification religion, tradition, culture, and custom. This came out clearly when ICJ, UN Women and the OHCHR hosted a consultation for the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief last year, where women human rights defenders from all over Asia raised concerns about the resurgence of intersecting forms of discrimination by religion and culture based on patriarchal attitudes. They specifically narrated how women and girls were denied their sexual and reproductive rights.

Recalling the vision of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, we reiterate the obligation of States not to invoke, “any custom, tradition or religious consideration”, to avoid their obligations to combat gender-based violence and discrimination against women. The Human Rights Committee also provides that “State parties should ensure that traditional, historical, religious or cultural attitudes are not used to justify violations of women’s right to equality before the law and to equal enjoyment of [ICCPR] rights[1].”

We therefore urge the Council to foster an open and inclusive discourse with Member States on the regressive interpretations of religious and customary laws that discriminate against women, and to acknowledge the voices and the diversity of women in that process. We urge States to ensure the full implementation of the human rights of women as an inalienable part of all fundamental freedoms.”

[1] Para 5, CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.10

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