The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief [official website], Heiner Bielefeldt, said [press release] Tuesday that "harmful practices inflicted on women or girls can never be justified in the name of freedom of religion or belief." Bielefeldt urged governments to ensure that gender equality is adequately implemented. He particularly highlighted the harm of forced conversion to a religion and forced marriage as a particular abuse inflicted upon women. He stressed that almost all traditions can find ways to make freedom of religion or belief as a positive resource for the promotion of equality between men and women in conjunction with innovative religious source interpretations. Bielefeldt encouraged groups to create family law systems that fully respect gender equality and being accepting of religious belief or diversity.
The UN and others have been working around the world to promote women's rights in the realm of gender equality, freedom of religion and reproductive health [JURIST backgrounder] and other areas. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) [official website] last week recommended [JURIST report] a rule surrounding the obligations states owe to women during and after conflict. Last month the World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC) [advocacy websites] released a report [JURIST report] that most countries still have legal disparities that prevent women from engaging in economic activity. The week before that, UN rights expert urged [JURIST report] Italy to increase efforts to fight human trafficking. Also in September, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [official website] urged [JURIST report] Yemen to protect women's rights in new constitution.