Azra Abdul Cader and Malyn Ando of ARROW were recently at the Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in South East Asia. It was organized by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), and Boat People SOS (BPSOS) in Bangkok, Thailand from 29 September to 1 October 2015. The UN Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt participated in the event.
The Consultation, the first of its kind in South East Asia (SEA), intended to inform the UNSR and enable discussion on the pressing concerns from the region. There is a limited understanding of what freedom of religion or belief truly is within the mandate of the UNSR. More dialogue and communication with different stakeholders in the South East Asia region was deemed necessary in order to raise awareness of the right to freedom of religion or belief and relevant issues as well as to provide a platform for multi-stakeholders to come together and strategize on how to increase collaboration and cooperation in addressing these issues more effectively at all levels.
For ARROW this presented an opportunity to inform audiences and the mandate of the interlinkages between religion and sexual and reproductive heath and rights (SRHR) and advocate of greater consideration of these issues when developing strategies. In nearly every country women and men are routinely denied their reproductive and sexual rights under the pretext of religious beliefs and cultural and traditional practices. As a result, men and women suffer unnecessarily because they lack access to the health care services they need – family planning and contraception, safe sex methods, comprehensive sexuality education and safe abortion. See Azra’s presentation to understand the linkages more.
The official press release from the conference can be read here.