Stefanus Alliance International, with support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in cooperation with the Danish Institute for Human Rights and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has been implementing a three-year project to explore regional issues in the intersection of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.
As part of this project, Stefanus organized several two-day regional workshops, grouped into four regions: Caucasus/Central Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa, and South/South-East Asia. On 12 and 13 July 2023, a workshop held in Bali, Indonesia focused on the nexus between FoRB and gender equality in the region of South and Southeast Asia. This workshop included expert presentations, group work, and plenary discussions. Participants including grassroots advocates, civil society representatives, and FoRB leaders analyzed challenges related to FORB and gender equality in this region, anchored within the SDG agenda, and pointed to indicative examples of possible future initiatives on FoRB and gender equality in relation to these.
During the workshop, Elisa Chavez (Human Rights Adviser at Stefanus Alliance International) presented on intersectionality in human rights and its connection to FoRB & gender equality:
Rozana Iza (Executive Director of Sisters in Islam) presented on FoRB & gender equality in Southeast Asia:
There was also a presentation on FoRB & gender equality in South Asia:
These presentations are available for download in the sidebar.
Below are some of the key challenges of the intersectionality of gender and FORB in the South and Southeast Asia that were discussed during the workshop:
Discriminatory family laws. Discriminatory family legislation affects women more negatively than men, in particular when it comes to the right to divorce or to acquire custody of children after divorce.
Female genital mutilation (FGM). Despite evidence of FGM occurring in countries across South and Southeast Asia, not a single country has enacted a specific legal prohibition against female genital mutilation.
Forced conversion and marriages of young women from minority groups. In such cases, women are afraid to report to law enforcement agencies due to strong social pressure. The concept of “Honor” works equally in the religious majority and minority groups. Because the family refuses to take back women and girls who have been forcibly converted, many go into prostitution and become involved in criminal groups.
The legal identity of minority groups, including indigenous groups, on IDs, family cards, and birth certificates. This affects public services and social assistance programs. Indigenous groups are challenged to get birth certificates due to the absence of recognition from the states.
Influence of social patriarchal norms. Social patriarchal norms in South and Southeast Asia contribute to women’s limited access to education, employment opportunities, and inheritance rights, perpetuating gender inequality and disempowerment.
Participants discussed the main ideas for action and approaches to address challenges related to FORB and gender equality in the region. The main focus was on international mechanisms of access to justice, such as shadow reports, UPR reports, appeals to the CEDAW committee, making public statements, etc. To achieve this, local actors should be trained on monitoring and documentation of FORB violations and be able to refer to national mechanisms of justice.
Different aspects of the programming were mentioned as well. Participants emphasized the role of religion in promoting FORB and gender equality, as religion and religious language have significant roles in society. In South and Southeast Asia, religion is perceived as a public phenomenon, making it challenging to strike a balance between personal beliefs (forum internum) and external practices. Religious lenses must be used to justify gender equality in Muslim-majority countries so that it is accepted. For example, Indonesia has practiced reinterpretation of Sacred books (White Book, Yellow Book) and has established Women Ulemah to create a safe space for women.
Another important approach related to the localization of the language used. As ‘secularism’. ‘gender equality’, and ‘religious freedoms’ are seen as alien and ‘Western’ concepts, they might be understood differently and may provoke bias. The programs should understand communities’ perspectives of these concepts and find alternative ways of addressing the Gender and FORB challenges. For instance, it could be initiatives to empower girls to be more financially independent. Instead of ‘secularism’ and FORB use concepts of ‘diversity’, ‘co-existence’, ‘pluralism’, and ‘peace’.
Additional Key Takeaways
These takeaways are summarized from reflection documents by Safira Rizky Mayla Aziz & Pervez Siddiqui.
- The workshop provided a nuanced understanding of the intersection of FoRB and gender equality, debunking misconceptions that these are conflicting human rights. Promoting awareness of this interplay can foster dialogue and joint advocacy.
- By bringing together diverse participants from across South & Southeast Asia, the workshop facilitated peer-to-peer learning, challenging narratives, and cooperation between actors working on FoRB and gender equality.
- The participants gained valuable new knowledge about the interdependence between FoRB and gender equality, along with practical approaches to promote tolerance and address violence against women.
- Participants identified several areas for applying the knowledge from the workshop including community empowerment programs, grassroots collaboration, capacity building, national advocacy, partnerships, monitoring violations, and reporting.
- The FoRB Learning Platform (subscribe to their newsletter)
- UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
- OHCHR and the “Faith for Rights” framework
- Toward a Gender-Attentive Religious Freedom Advocacy: An Interview with Elisa Chavez and Vija Herefoss – Religion & Diplomacy
Do you have any reports on the intersectionality of FoRB and gender? Please share them with on ConnexUs.
This resource is made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of Search for Common Ground and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.