International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief

Cheryllyn Dudley: Trust and Hope for a Shared Future

 

We empower each other to fulfill our individual and collective purpose as the best “us” that we can be. This builds trust and generates hope for a shared future, writes MP Cheryllyn Dudley.

 

What a privilege it has been for me to meet once again with IPPForb colleagues – this time in New York. I truly value these opportunities to work with amazing people from around the world who are grappling – as representatives of the people they serve – with the complex issue of how we can be catalysts in empowering society to embrace and protect their freedoms in a manner that respects and values others’ freedoms.

As a Member of Parliament for almost 19 years it is especially meaningful working with and forming bonds across continents, countries and cultures with men and women who hold or have held office in Parliament and know what it means to bear the responsibility, the favour, the sacrifices and the attacks that come with serving your constituency and your country.

The meetings held at the United Nations in New York recently to discuss research done on “Women and Religious Freedom: Synergies and Opportunities” were a courageous and welcome entry into territory which has become a virtual ‘no-go-zone’ till now!  Women are not exclusively ‘women’, we cross many boundaries and value the freedom to do so. What we choose to believe and the values we choose to live by are inseparable from who we are, just as being a women is.

Freedom ‘of’ religion

The concept of freedom ‘of’ religion has been confused at times with the concept of freedom ‘from’ religion and has been used by secular and liberal, agendas to impose foreign values and lifestyles on people.  It is my view that – just as FORB is NOT freedom for one religion or cultural belief in order to impose itself on another religion or cultural belief – and it should also NOT be an excuse for super liberal agendas to be imposed where they are culturally or religiously unacceptable.  While feeling strongly about this I must add that both minority and majority rights must be respected and an individual’s freedom to choose for themselves, must also be jealously guarded even where a majority choose another way.

This of course, is no easy task, it is an ideal worth striving for and working toward but constantly engaging each other is so important because human beings are inclined to be ‘control freaks’ when left to our own devices we so often feel justified in deciding what is right for others. For me IPPFoRB facilitates opportunities for MP’s across the world to support each other’s efforts to ensure that where an individual’s or communities rights and freedoms do not unreasonably restrict the rights and freedom of others they are upheld and championed.

FORB and Gender Equality

The conversations held in the #IPPFoRB2017 NewYork meetings with leaders in global and national governance – and both secular and religious NGO’s – gave a broad perspective and platform from which participants could take a closer look at the relationship between FORB and Gender Equality.  Very specifically in terms of the tensions and synergies they create and the potential opportunities for both – in developing greater understanding and respect across the perceived divide.

As noted in Professor Nazila Ghanea’s study on ‘Women and Religious Freedom: Synergies and Opportunities’ (University of Oxford), “both sets of human rights provisions (FORB and women’s equality) take insufficient account of the other.”

There are a number of reasons for the presumption that FORB and the advancement of women’s rights to equality clash, including the fact that “numerous reservations to human rights concerning women and girls are asserted in the name of religion and religious laws”.

As frustrating as this may be for many – even many who hold religious views but identify with the concept of, and need for greater Gender Equality – the problem is democracy becomes selective when norms and values are imposed on people. The author of “God & Political Justice”, Landa Cope puts it like this “you cannot give people more justice than they will allow” – if we are claiming to support democratic principles that is!

Build trust and generate hope

Many countries and people, who have been persuaded to consider the benefits of democratic principles and the concept of a peaceful global world linked through mutually beneficial trade relations, begin to withdraw and turn toward a fierce nationalism when they feel their identity being threatened – when they feel manipulated and thoughts of new forms of colonization cross their minds.

With a view to transcending the barriers and addressing the divide, the UN Human Rights Committee has been identified as best placed within the UN system “to address synergies concerning women, equality and FORB”.  While general comments address women’s equality they do not speak to women’s rights regarding both equality and freedom of religion or belief, FORB.

Women’s rights activists tend to dismiss views that do not match their own with ridicule and disdain and give the impression that they hold superior views which must be adhered to by those who are inferior.  These sorts of superior attitudes on both sides of the divide, we believe can change as we interact meaningfully, embrace our diversity, gain better understanding and learn to respect each other’s right to hold our unique perspectives.

A common ideal of IPPFoRB members I have worked with has not been a need to be like minded on every issue, but the valuing of each other for who we are and the belief that in doing so we empower each other to fulfill our individual and collective purpose as the best “us” that we can be.  This we believe builds trust and generates hope for a shared future.

Cheryllyn Dudley in a member of the Parliament of South Africa (since 1999), and an IPPFoRB-member (since 2014).

* Blog pertaining to IPPFoRB Meetings at the UN, New York in September 2017