Shirin Taber (email), Executive Director of Empower Women Media
Welcome to Live What You Believe, a booklet designed to equip stakeholders and leaders to support freedom of religion and women’s empowerment in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Over the last decade, violence toward women from groups like ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Taliban has increased. Despite women’s resilience, we rarely hear positive stories of women who challenge these violent acts of intolerance. This booklet, created in partnership with religious freedom advocates, explores how freedom of religion and belief is critical for women’s rights, peacebuilding and thriving societies.
Many organizations already put in significant efforts in documenting and publicizing the tragic cases of religious discrimination of women in Muslim contexts. While our booklet acknowledges these human rights violations, our focus is to draw attention to what is not being talked about enough – the many positive benefits of the universal right of freedom of religion, belief, and conscience for women in Muslim-majority contexts. As one of our network participants perfectly explains, “cultivating freedom of belief and conscience unleashes creativity and innovation which is needed more than ever in our increasingly global world.”
With the right tools and approaches, leaders can play a particularly important role in shifting attitudes and building social movements to support religious freedom for all. Unfortunately, religion has sometimes been misused to justify incitement to violence and discrimination toward women, and it is vital that leaders from all faiths show leadership to counter religious-based violations. In preparation for this booklet, we conducted dozens of interviews with women’s rights advocates and religious freedom experts from around the world. We connected with lawyers, social workers, artists, businesswomen, faith leaders and scholars as they shared their lived experiences. Complementing these interviews, we interwove case studies and women’s captivating personal stories about the benefits of religious freedom they shared in their workplace and community.
Through our work and research, we have learnt that women are more entrepreneurial and productive when they are allowed to freely express their beliefs (whether religious or secular) and bring their whole selves to work. Along these lines, Jacqueline Isaac, an international lawyer and religious freedom advocate, makes an excellent point: “We cannot ignore that in order to flourish, people have to be able to address their deepest questions of existence and meaning, both privately and in community with others.” With these words in mind, we are excited to share with you this religious freedom training booklet.
If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to contact us personally. We hope this booklet stimulates rich conversations and fruitful advocacy efforts that shift the culture to support greater religious freedom worldwide. As we continue pushing for change, let us work together to support women’s rights to religious freedom and dignity.