1. In many countries forms of discrimination against women are based on or attributed to
religion and culture and may be tolerated or even legalized.
2. International human rights instruments almost all assume gender equality and proscribe
discrimination. However, women’s rights to some individual freedoms such as freedom of
religion or belief may not have received sufficient attention when set against the collective
manifestations of such individual freedoms as those of religion or belief.
3. A basic and sensitive problem arises where the fundamental, universal rights of women are
claimed by religious communities to be in conflict with what are seen as their religious
obligations, which in turn are difficult to differentiate from the cultural or ethnic dimension.
4. The right to difference and cultural specificity implied by freedom of religion or belief is to
some degree incompatible with universal rights, especially those of women, who are often the
victims of a certain view of religious freedom, particularly in situations of conflict and
5. This study addresses these apparent contradictions by seeking to define religion, to see the
relationship of religion to culture, and of universality to cultural specificities.