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Religious Freedom & Sustainable Development

In this ongoing series, the relationship is explored between religious freedom and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at an historic UN Summit.

This relationship is important to understand because over the next fifteen years, motivated by these new goals, countries will mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind. All sectors of society need to see how religious freedom contributes to these efforts.

Sustainable development has been defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It calls for concerted efforts towards building an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future for people and planet. And eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions is an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.

This series examines how religious freedom plays a part in achieving sustainable, inclusive and equitable economic growth, creating greater opportunities for all, reducing inequalities, raising basic standards of living, fostering equitable social development and inclusion, and promoting integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems.


How does religious freedom align with the sustainable development goals?

Ending Poverty

Religious freedom helps tackle “small-p” poverty through “self reliance”

Poverty, some argue, can only be effectively tackled by governments enforcing top-down, big-P Poverty reduction policies and programs. But a host of religious groups haven’t gotten the memo. Innovative faith-based initiatives worldwide are tackling poverty using bottom-up, small-p poverty alleviation approaches that empower individuals to be resourceful, resilient and self-reliant.

Indeed, a central aspect of religious freedom is that it gives faith groups license to innovate and contribute to the wellbeing of individuals, communities and nations. But where religious freedom is curtailed, so are such innovations. For instance, reform-minded Saudi princess Basmah bint Saud argues, religion “should not be a shield behind which we hide from the world but a driving force that inspires us to innovate and contribute to our surroundings.”

This first installment of an ongoing series on the connection between religious freedom and sustainable development describes these small-p initiatives and concludes with a case study of how one faith group is directly targeting and reducing poverty in its congregations worldwide. Such faith-based activities are facilitated by religious freedom and directly contribute to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 – Ending poverty in all its forms everywhere.

Also see the related World Economic Forum Agenda article by Brian Grim and Linda Woodhead, Can religion make economic growth more fair?


SDG5-genderEmpowering Women

Brian Grim, President, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, and Jo-Ann Lyon, General Superintendent, Wesleyan Church, explore how religious freedom contributes directly to women’s empowerment.

Religion is often seen as a barrier to gender parity. Stories abound of gender-based violence done in the name of religion. As a result, in many cases, the issues of religion and gender parity are often dismissed as too complicated to address. There appears to be no way to unwind this rather complex multi-institution.

However, a critical factor overlooked in this conversation is religious freedom. Unless there is religious freedom, minority groups, including women, will not be at the table and their vital, productive and creative voices will not be heard. Corporations and economies will suffer if they miss out on the contribution of women. The denial of religious freedom contributes to gender inequality throughout the world.

Extremist ideologies such as ISIS represent the complete loss of religious freedom, and when respect for a diversity of religious beliefs and practices disappears, gender equality suffers.


Goal 16 - PeaceFostering Peace

A global study challenges myth of religious violence. The research found no general causal relationship between religion and conflict when looking at all of the current conflicts in the world.

The study, conducted by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) in conjunction with the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, aims to get beyond ideology to provide a more comprehensive understanding of how religion interacts with peace.

Quantitative analysis has revealed that many of the commonly made statements surrounding the relationship between peace and religion are not supported by the analysis contained in this study.

Countries with greater religious freedoms are generally more peaceful, whereas countries with less religious freedom are generally less peaceful.

The most influential factor affecting religious freedom is the government type. Full democracies are the most peaceful and have the greatest level of religious freedom, regardless of the type of religious belief or various religious characteristics.


More to come …