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For Many of World's Women, Needed Rights Often Involve More Than Faith
Religious liberty congress hears of emerging issues (Posted April 26, 2012)
BY LIBNA STEVENS, Inter-American Division
IIn a world where over half the population is female, issues concerning women's rights were a prevalent matter which concern religious liberty leaders. How to treat those issues, including whether or not secularism could advance the cause of women’s religious liberty around the world was the main topic of discussion among a group of leaders and delegates at the 7th IRLA World Congress in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, Apr. 24, 2012.

Everyone deserves basic human rights, which is at the core of religious liberty, said Amireh Al-Haddad, IRLA regional director for the Southern region in the United States and the discussion leader. She emphasized that awareness of issues affecting human rights is key to making small strides in any culture.

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY'S CORE: Everyone deserves basic human rights, which is at the core of religious liberty, said Amireh Al-Haddad, IRLA regional director for the Southern region in the United States during a discussion of religious freedom and women at the Seventh World Congress of the International Religious Liberty Association in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, on April 25, 2012. [Photo: Libna Stevens].
“The things we take for granted, like driving or going to the store, aren’t allowed [for women] in some societies,” said Al-Haddad. In some countries such as some nations of Africa, she added, it's much worse for women. In addition to restrictions on basic freedoms, mutilation, persecution, and domestic violence are also prevalent -- although these abuses are often regarded in these societies as protection for women.

Al-Haddad noted that secularism further complicates these conditions, stressing the separation of church and state, and how it may go against religious liberty and freedom of consciousness. Secularism could help when it comes to women’s rights but it does not always lend itself to freedom of consciousness, she said.

“It’s harder to make inroads when it comes to equality between men and women in some cultures,” said Al-Haddad. "It’s not about trying to impose religious liberty on anyone, it’s about being concerned with the basic rights of human beings."

John Graz, secretary general of IRLA, joined the discussion. He cited
cases that threaten religious liberty, such as a mother who accepted Jesus while watching a Christian television show only to lose her job, her family, and her home soon after because of her new beliefs. He also talked about a young mother in Pakistan who was jailed because she spoke to other women about certain topics which were misinterpreted.

“These [cases] are the ones that need to be clear about when there is a violation of individual rights," said Graz. “Every individual is created equal and should be respected, as the Bible states. And, that freedom of expression allows for respectful differences without violating individual rights.”

The participants talked about ways in which individuals could bring awareness to promoting religious liberty by organizing letter or email campaigns, and alert lawyers of known issues.

The bottom line, said Al-Haddad, is that you cannot work out a problem without having a common consensus, getting to know the people and the culture. “It’s important that we recognize when we have issues so we can bring them to the forefront, bringing awareness.” She said people must be informed, and apply their faith in a conscious way to respect the beliefs of others.

For information on religious liberty issues and resources, visit


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