Introductory Note: The following Declaration is intended to elicit the commitment and action of the world’s religious leaders, adherents and institutions to honor and uphold the dignity and human rights of women. It is the critical role of religion as a powerful force of influence on the quality of life experienced by women and girls throughout the world and advocates the moral responsibility of religions in improving those lives. Declarations including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration Towards a Global Ethic issued at the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions, the United Nation’s 1979 international treaty (and bill of rights for women) entitled Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) ratified by 189 States, the UN’s Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, President Carter’s Call to Action, essays and statements including his presentation at the 2009 Parliament, as well as international religious doctrines and statements of religious founders and leaders, prominent political, women’s, and human rights leaders and activists were reviewed for content and language. The wording of this declaration combines precise language and paraphrasing from these sources as well as original material. A specific list of sources will be available as an addendum.
Care was taken not to use language that reflects any one religious tradition, so that leaders and adherents of all religious traditions and spiritual paths, or none, might support its objectives. This declaration does recommend actions we hope will be undertaken to alleviate the subjugation and suffering of women and girls. It is designed to be universal in scope and inspirational in tone.
The struggle for the dignity and equal rights of women is the global human and civil rights struggle of our time. War and violence, economic disparity and impoverishment, environmental damage and its devastating consequences fall disproportionately upon women and girls who also suffer the most prevalent injustices in our world today. Violence, child marriage, slavery and forced prostitution, rape and sexual assault, domestic brutality and abuse, “honor killings” and immolation, bodily and genital mutilation, gendercide of girls and selective abortion of female fetuses, and legitimized murder of women are pandemic.
- Throughout the world, one in three women has been raped, beaten or violently assaulted.
- Seven hundred million women were children when they were married.
- More than one hundred and thirty three million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation (FGM).
- More than twenty thousand women a year are victims of “honor killings,” usually murdered by their father, uncle, or brother.
Institutions in which women are given little or no voice impose constraints on women’s basic freedoms to control their own bodies, move about freely, own property, choose to marry or obtain a divorce, retain custody of their children, receive an education, work, or have their testimony given equal weight in court. All over the world, they risk being ostracized, abused, or killed if they try to change these unjust conditions. Even where advances toward equality have been made, women continue to suffer disproportionately from poverty and environmental devastation, from violence and abuse, life-damaging discrimination in access to education and health care, the burdens of unpaid care-giving and unequal pay, and the systematic exclusion from decision-making within religious and other institutions that determine the quality of their lives.
These shameful violations of women’s dignity and human rights are based on the false premise that men and boys are superior to women and girls, an outdated view perpetuated by too many religious leaders and adherents who choose to misinterpret or use carefully selected scriptures, texts, and teachings to proclaim the inferiority of women and girls. These harmful and religiously justified beliefs permeate societies and contribute to the pervasive deprivations and abuse suffered by women and girls throughout the world.
As the Elders have advised: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”
It is time to end these practices and views. It is time to heal the broken heart of humanity’s feminine half.
The Role of Faith in Ending the Subjugation of Women
Being treated justly and with respect should not depend on whether one is male or female. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration Toward a Global Ethic call for the equal rights of men and women, and the teachings of the world’s religions universally call for compassionate and equitable treatment of all—both men and women.
The principle of treating others the same way one wishes to be treated is stated, in one form or another, throughout the religions of the world. We are all interconnected and interdependent and when half the human race suffers, we all suffer. We must all be treated with justice, respect, kindness, and love.
It is impossible to imagine a God, a Divine Source, a Sacred and Ultimate Reality, that is unjust. There is no religion that despises women, for hatred and oppression cannot come from the heart of God, or Goddess, or Holy Mother/Father, nor flow from that which is Divine, the Creator, the One, the Source, the All.
It is impossible to imagine the healthy, sustainable, just, and peaceful world of our collective future without the spiritual wisdom and leadership of women.
Commitments of Conscience
Therefore, we, your grandmothers, mothers, daughters, wives, and sisters, call upon our grandfathers, fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers, and upon each other–upon all people of faith—to alleviate the unwarranted deprivation and suffering of women and girls.
We are mindful of and grateful for leaders, adherents and institutions of faith and those interfaith institutions already fighting for the dignity, well-being, equal status and human rights of women around the globe - but more good work to remains to be done.
We call upon the religions of the world to lead the way in ending violence against women and girls.
We call upon faith and interfaith organizations to work collaboratively with institutions and organizations that are working to advance the well-being, and rights of women around the globe. Furthermore, we call upon the world’s guiding institutions to partner with faith and interfaith organizations working to advance women’s well-being and rights.
We call upon all religious leaders and adherents to challenge and change harmful teachings and practices that justify discrimination and violence against women and girls.
We call upon all religious leaders and adherents to acknowledge and emphasize the positive messages of dignity and equality that the world's faiths share.
We call upon all religious leaders and adherents to embrace their moral responsibility and collectively commit to ensuring that women are fully and equally involved in decision-making within religions and in every sphere that involves their lives.
We call upon the world’s religions to honor and uphold the dignity, well-being, and human rights of women and girls.
We commit ourselves to this collective undertaking to heal the heart of our humanity by releasing women, girls, men, and boys from the bondage of gender-based discrimination and violence. We do so with hope and with faith in our future.
© 2015 Parliament of the World's Religions
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