Women's Rights: Is religion the real problem?

By: The New York Times

On Friday, at the United Nations conference held in Toronto, the Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee began a very controversial debate on women’s rights and religion’s impact on it. Women’s equality has been a topic at the forefront of discussion for hundreds of years and has progressed greatly with people like Susan B. Anthony and the Famous Five. Although this progress has given women equality in many ways, such as being considered a human and being given the right to vote, there is still a very large divide between the two genders. As a result, 65 countries have come together to reduce this gap and continue the much needed advancements around the world.

It was quickly seen that all of the countries cared for and wanted to improve women’s rights, but the topic about how religion affected women’s equality, raised 3 main viewpoints. Countries such as Bahrain, Iraq, and the United Kingdom believe that religion itself doesn’t have a negative impact on women; it represents both genders as equal. Instead, they argued that the individuals who follow and promote specific religions should be the main concern, as religion is ‘self-interpreted’ and how people follow it are through ‘individuals’ points of views’. As a result, the problem isn’t with the ideals, it is with the people.

Other countries such as China and Germany represented the point of view that religion does impact women’s equality, negatively. The delegate of China said early on, “Religion is used as a means to justify crimes against women and minority groups.” He went on to add that in areas where one religion is dominant, the views of that faith become the cultural norms. Since the it can be argued that some cultures limit women, religion would be seen as the core cause.

The last stance that was taken by many countries, like the Dominican Republic and the Czech Republic, was that religion does not play as big of a part on women’s equality as culture and politics do. Their stance was that the committee should shift their focus to the real problems, such as extremist groups, rather than focusing on these minor ones. This sparked an idea.

As the discussion carried on, religion became an even greater issue. Extremist religious terrorist groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Taliban were used as proof that religion was used to justify the degradation of women, as these men would sexually and physically abuse them. With the naming of all these terrorist groups, Chile brought up a question: Is the problem really religious groups or is it the countries these religious groups originate from, like the Islamic states?

Dispute erupted in the conference room and the accusations pointing towards countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, were quickly shot down. Czech Republic and Bahrain came to the rescue, bringing up the many other religious groups that mistreated women and did not originate from the Islamic states, such as the infamous KKK.

It became apparent that a single religion couldn’t be to blame, or any religion for that matter. Extremists are the real problem. The representative of Bahrain, a country where the Sunni court, a religious extremist group, dominates, explained the effects of radicals to the New York Times. “In Bahrain, the government doesn’t want to impose women’s rights at all, because of the Sunni majority. If they tried to aid the women, an uprising would be at hand. Religious extremists are where much of the violence comes from. It’s a result of ignorant people who have taken a religion, warped it into their own misinterpretations, believing it to be the truthful one, and then taking it to the extreme.” Bahrain is not the only place in which atrocities such as these occur. Syria and Sri Lanka echoed the same opinions about how extremist group’s views are dominant in a society and so, as a result, women are continually treated horribly.

With the problem exposed, potential solutions were thought up. The United States commenced the discussion by saying that, “nobody should be going against a religion, but that does not mean that individuals in a country can use religion as an excuse for certain violent acts that are committed towards women. Also, not every human being believes in religion and it is unfair to generalize a whole population of women and say each and every one of them believes in the beliefs provided within the religion. If some women have different beliefs, they shouldn’t be forced to abide to the cultural norm that is present”. By putting a stop to the enforcement of religion and promoting the more positive aspects of it, the Americans believe they could progress women’s rights. The delegate from Turkmenistan suggested that the media could be used in order to change the patriarchal cultural norms in countries, and Haiti believed wholeheartedly that the government should be the ones to fix the problem.

The solution that made it past the speculation stage though, and developed into a rough document, was a more diverse education. Bahrain, one of the leading countries in this discussion, and many other Islamic countries, decided that the most effective way to progress in women’s rights without infringing on the dominant religious groups that control many of their countries, was to implement an education for the younger generation. The older generation already has a set perspective that they are much less willing to change, while the younger individuals are much easier to mould into more tolerable people who grew up learning about how to treat women. In this way, there will not be as much injustice in the future.

The introduction of this resolution began heated debate, in which there was a lot of back and forth between the supporters and opponents. Many countries believed that the resolution was a good idea, but that it shouldn’t be dismissing older people. Even if it is believed that elderlies cannot do anything; they deserve to experience the same education about injustice and women’s rights. Once the topic was seemingly ready, the voting began. With voting, disappointment and relief ensued as the Islamic countries lost by one vote.

The social, humanitarian, and cultural committee are now back at the drawing boards, thinking up new ideas that may pass in the days to come.