Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Religion, culture cannot excuse female inequality: Cherie Blair

LONDON (AFP) - Religion and culture are no excuse for the suppression of women's rights, the wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair said in a keynote speech Wednesday.

Cherie Blair, a leading human rights lawyer, singled out Egypt and some orthodox Jewish communities as well as nations in south Asia and Africa for particular criticism over their treatment of women.

But she steered clear of addressing women's rights in Saudi Arabia, whose King Abdullah has received a lavish welcome from Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Gordon Brown on a state visit to Britain this week.

The issue of gender equality is "a matter of simple justice or, to be unfashionably unapologetic about it, a matter of right and wrong", Blair told an audience at the Chatham House international affairs think-tank in London.

"I believe our shared humanity prescribes equality and that any limitation based on this equality is a direct insult to our dignity," she added.

"It's about something as fundamental as a universal ethic that cuts across all cultures and all religions.

"It's an imperative for all of our shared humanity. Simply put, it's the right thing to do."

She also said that in some countries, the "twin distortions of culture and religion" can perpetuate the view of women as "powerless beings dependent on men for protection, worth and status".

As examples, she listed separate divorce systems for men and women in Egypt, the situation in some orthodox Jewish communities where only men can initiate a divorce and the treatment of widows as "second class citizens or the bearers of bad luck to the community" in some south Asian and African countries.


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