ICJ hosts consultation on gender and freedom of religion or belief

Bangkok, Thailand – From 1 to 2 November 2019, ICJ in collaboration with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, hosted a consultation on gender and the right to freedom of religion or belief with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed.

The primary objective of the consultation was to provide a forum for human rights defenders, particularly women and human rights defenders belonging to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) minorities to share their perspectives on laws, practices and anti-rights strategies based on religion or belief that discriminate against women and SOGI groups and individuals in Asia. The consultation was attended by at least fifty-two (52) human rights defenders from all over Asia.

Emerlynne Gil, ICJ’s Senior International Legal Adviser, in her opening address, emphasized that gender equality and the right to freedom of religion or belief should not be viewed as inimical to each other. She said, “Women and individuals belonging to sexual orientation and gender identity minorities should also be able to being to a faith or religion of their choice, or religion into which they are born and they should continue to belong to the religion or belief without being discriminated against by the faith or religious community.”

The consultation included discussions on the domestic contexts and legal frameworks in relation to freedom of religion and the rights of women and SOGIESC minorities, including in relation to the right to health.  The participants considered challenges faced by women and SOGIESEC minorities when religious leaders act as justice actors were also discussed. The consultation, while highlighting the good practices in advancing the rights of women and SOGIESC minorities, also explored existing challenges and tensions in respect of achieving gender equality.

At the conclusion of the consultation, Dr. Shaheed noted the diversity of the participants in the room, who came from all over Asia. He emphasized that “in order to engage more effectively and strategically, it is imperative that we improve our literacy in relation to the human rights framework and of religion in order to better understand its intersectionality.” 


Sushmitha Thayanandan, National Legal Advisor, Sri Lanka (ICJ) e: sushmitha.thayanandan(a)icj.org

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