BHA calls on UN Human Rights Council members to end global discrimination against women

22 June, 2015

Cordelia Tucker O’Sullivan addresses the UN Human Rights Council.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has called for the end of discriminatory laws and harmful practices which undermine the fundamental rights of women worldwide, as part of the 29th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The UNHRC is the inter-governmental body responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the world. The 29th session, which began last week, focuses on issues such as discrimination against women in their active realisation of basic human rights, and freedom of expression with regards to internet privacy and encryption. In particular, the Report of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice highlighted the influence of cultural and religious norms and traditions and gendered social attitudes on the global degradation of women.

In a speech to the assembled nations of the UNHRC, BHA delegate Cordelia Tucker O’Sullivan said that states who fail to challenge practices which are harmful to women and girls threaten ‘the universality of human rights in their extension and application’, a failure from which ‘Europe and the west are not exempt’.

Ms Tucker O’Sullivan highlighted in particular the effect of discriminatory social attitudes which often ground practices such as wife beating and other forms of domestic abuse, and instances of gendered state sanctioned violence, such as that inflicted on a victim of rape in Saudi Arabia in 2007.

The BHA also pointed out ‘Discrimination against women often stems from draconian religious and cultural norms – which are defended by States in the name of cultural or religious preservation… [this] does not absolve States of their duties as members of this Council to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”.’

The BHA’s statement comes amid the legal challenge against Northern Ireland’s highly restrictive abortion laws, which currently outlaw abortion on all grounds except in the extremely limited circumstances of when there is a risk to the woman’s life, or physical or mental health. Those who obtain an illegal abortion face a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. As a consequence, 802 women and girls from Northern Ireland travelled to England and Wales for abortions in 2013 alone.

Given the pervasiveness of discrimination against women, which is often justified on the basis that to tackle the norms and practices responsible would undermine religious freedom – a flagrant example of religious exceptionalism – the BHA has stressed its support for the end to all such practices, regardless of their genesis.


For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns at or on 0773 843 5059.

Read the BHA’s statement:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethically and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion of belief.