The Diversity of Womanhood and All of God’s Creatures: Addressing Challenges in the Protection of Women’s Religious Freedoms Using a Novel Classification

47 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2020 Last revised: 19 Aug 2022

See all articles by Cochav Elkayam-Levy

Cochav Elkayam-Levy

Penn Carey Law, University of Pennsylvania ; The Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations, Hebrew Univeristy ; Lauder School of Government, Reichman University

Date Written: February 23, 2020

Abstract

The protection of women's right to freedom of religion or belief presents many challenges to liberal states. Yet, this fundamental right of women has not been recognized as such in global treaties. Women's entitlement to this right is a neglected matter in international law. When reference is made to the liberty to manifest religion, states are often given the vague guidance that discriminatory practices should be eliminated. However, what happens when it is women who choose to believe those supposedly oppressive practices to be the absolute truth from God? We tend to focus on the struggle between women's freedoms and religion, but forget that women are not a homogenous group, especially when it comes to their religious and faith aspirations. Some women wish to bring equality in their religious communities, some wish to remain secular, and others express deep attachment to their religious traditions despite conflicts with feminist ideas. The most complex dilemmas that states confront are those that present clashes between those diverse women's groups. This article reveals that the variety of women's religious and non-religious practices is not adequately reflected in the guidance given to states by human rights treaty bodies, and that states' challenges are left unattended. To date, only harmful practices committed against women and girls have been fully addressed and defined within numerous international sources. It is often obvious that international standards were formed and consolidated at a time when women were not considered as bearers of the right to freedom of religion or belief but as its victims. States are therefore left to develop their own understandings as to complexities in the protection of women's religious liberties. This article thus proposes a novel classification and suggests distinguishing between harmful, traditional and reformative practices of women. It lays out guidelines for the protection of such practices, in the hope that they assist human rights' advocates and policymakers in achieving the delicate balance needed in such situations to affirm women's belief liberties.

Keywords: freedom of religion or belief, international law, feminist legal analysis, women's rights, gender equality, religious liberties, CEDAW, religious practices, religion

Suggested Citation

Elkayam-Levy, Cochav, The Diversity of Womanhood and All of God’s Creatures: Addressing Challenges in the Protection of Women’s Religious Freedoms Using a Novel Classification (February 23, 2020). Cornell International Law Journal, Vol. 52, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3543193

Cochav Elkayam-Levy (Contact Author)

Penn Carey Law, University of Pennsylvania ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
University of Pennsylvania Carey School of Law
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

The Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations, Hebrew Univeristy ( email )

Jerusalem
Israel

Lauder School of Government, Reichman University ( email )

Israel

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