About the Gender & Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) working group:

The Gender & FoRB working group is part of the UK FoRB Forum, a gathering of civil society stakeholder organisations working to advance the freedom of religion or belief. The working group on Gender, started in September 2020, represents a diverse selection of stakeholders addressing the intersectionality of gender and Freedom of Religion or Belief. Its strength lies in the collaboration between multiple actors in this area, who draw on their partnerships with local organisations as well as their own extensive understanding and experience.




Recommendations to Government:



1.      The United Nations, considering the impact of COVID-19 on women, highlighted the following areas as of prime importance[1]:

-          Economic impacts on already socio-economically vulnerable women

-          Health impacts from resource reallocation

-          Increases in unpaid care work

-          Increases in gender-based violence (GBV).


2.      Furthermore, “these impacts are further amplified in contexts of fragility”[2]. Discrimination and violence towards religious minorities is a key fragile context in which such gendered inequalities are further exacerbated. COVID-19 has heightened injustice on the basis of religion or belief[3]. We submit evidence below on this intersection using cases from India, Nigeria and China.



3.      There is increasing evidence that demonstrates the ongoing complex challenges for women of religious minorities in India[4]. These challenges are amplified by the pandemic whereby 17 million women in India have lost their jobs. The socio-economic impact of COVID-19 disproportionately impacts marginalised women, especially those who are already socio-economically vulnerable. Additionally, it restricts vital access to sexual and reproductive health services[5].


4.      The economic and care work impact of COVID-19 on women from marginalised communities is exacerbated by religion or faith-based discrimination. Women have been severed from community and family support because of their beliefs. Restricting religious freedom has also made them more socio-economically vulnerable, pushing them into insecure work which has subsequently been restricted because of COVID-19.



-          A widow who converted from Hinduism to Christianity was thrown out of her house with her children when she refused to denounce her faith and reaccept Hinduism. She has been working as a daily wage labourer but with the lockdowns had no jobs or food. She suffered from depression and the pressure of feeding her children without work. No one is helping her because of her faith.[6]

5.      In the general population approximately 86% of women are facing domestic abuse, often leading to trafficking when women leaving violence have few options apart from entering trafficking rings. The rising global trend of gender-based violence during the pandemic due to restricted movement and increased stress can be seen in India, with religiously motivated targeting and withholding of support. Consistent sexual violence against women of faith is largely hidden from reporting[7].


-          A young Christian girl, whose family and village have not been supportive of her faith, was raped by a village man who accused her of following a foreign religion and being a bad example. The police are not reporting the case and no witnesses are coming forward[8].


-          In another brutal incident, a Christian girl aged 22 has been raped and murdered for her faith. The villagers say it’s a lesson for everyone not to accept Christianity.  The police are not reporting or sharing any details.[9]


6.      Aid has been distributed in regions of India where the effect of the pandemic is most extreme. In the West Bengal region, there have been anonymous reports given to the Working Group whereby traffickers would accompany the aid workers in order to target and recruit girls from religious minorities as sex workers and traffic them back into cities or over borders[10].


7.      Religious minority groups have been particularly susceptible due to extreme economic deprivation whereby the selling of children takes place to increase family income. Girls from the tribal Christian belts of India are being specifically targeted and trafficked to different parts of India for domestic servitude and for prostitution, with the highest demand from Mumbai, Maharashtra[11].


Recommendations to Government:

We urge the UK Government to

8.      Endorse the Fundamental Rights in India enshrined in the Constitution guaranteeing civil liberties during the pandemic, such that all citizens can lead their lives in peace and harmony. These include individual rights regarding equality before the law, freedom of speech and expression, freedom to religion or belief, and the right to constitutional remedies for the protection of civil rights.  These rights universally apply to all citizens, irrespective of race, place of birth, religion, caste, creed, colour or sex.[12] 


9.      Urgently call the Indian Government to systematically enforce zero tolerance in regard to gender-based violence in government, law enforcement, the education system, healthcare system and in traditional and religious communities. This would include the application and monitoring of the Murad Code[13].


10.  To create systematic change internationally, the Universal Periodic Review process could be further explored as an avenue to hold governments to account for protecting women who face this intersectional violence.  Specifically, relating this to Article 15 of the Indian Constitution prohibiting discrimination of Indians on basis of religion or belief, race, caste, sex or place of birth.




11.  The pandemic “has opened up a pandora’s box displaying the inhumane treatment women are often subjected to. We must talk about acts of social injustice, discrimination, and exploitation against women”[14]. COVID-19 has exacerbated the already precarious position of women where there is a systemic and cultural malaise of devaluing and legitimising the subordinate role of women and girls in the country.


12.  The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic initially emerged slowly and was viewed as suspicious propaganda from Western governments. When evidence revealed its growing impact and the rate of community spread the Federal and State governments issued different phases of lockdown with ‘Stay at Home’ orders. A COVID-19 Crisis team was issued at the federal level but only one woman in a team of twelve was appointed. This led to producing gender insensitive policies. 


13.  The impact has been significant due to Nigeria’s failed health care delivery system and is ranked 187/191 in the World Health Organisation Health System Performance rating[15]. Nigeria received assistance from China which offered PPE and medical support. This had a mixed response and further produced political tension in the country.


14.  Women comprise the majority of the informal economy threatened by lockdown restrictions, take on the majority of unpaid care work which has increased, and are subject to heightened levels of intimate partner violence which was exacerbated due to reduced household income that women were unable to secure[16]. In Lagos state the rate of reported GBV increased by 40% and this was believed to be under reported by the deputy police chief. Child abuse has also been reported to have increased alongside corrective rape against lesbian and bi-sexual women.



15.  This vulnerability is further intensified by religious targeting and the withholding of support on the basis of belief. Communal attacks have increased against Christian Communities in Kaduna and plateau state whereby several people were killed and Christian women raped. CSW reported,


-          Neither a COVID-19 lockdown nor the June curfew have inhibited perpetrators from attacking seemingly at will. CSW Nigeria has calculated that from 25 March, when the COVID-19 lockdown came into effect, until the morning of 15 May, 16 armed attacks were launched across five LGAs, claiming 59 lives. In addition, 155 homes were burnt down, and hundreds of people were displaced[17]


16.  There has been no recourse to justice or seeking out the perpetrators. Although reports often omit the raping and abduction of women, local and regional leaders have informed the Working group that this is a systemic part of attacks.


-          A Christian woman widowed in April by militant Fulani herdsmen faced both the grief of her loss and the challenge of providing for herself and her daughter now that the family’s main income provider was gone. The attackers also burnt most of the family’s belongings, which compounded with COVID-19 increased the economic stress. Furthermore, she, along with other Christians in the area are often neglected in official aid distributions[18].

-          Women of the Izala Muslim community are particularly vulnerable to the rising levels of gender-based violence in the country. The structure of their society means that they are incredibly isolated and difficult to assist[19].



Recommendations to Government:

We urge the UK Government to

17.  Urgently call the Nigerian Government to systematically enforce zero tolerance in regard to gender-based violence within the government, law enforcement, education system, healthcare system and traditional and religious communities. This includes improved training of police in collecting evidence in a victim-friendly way, enforcement of the law delivered to perpetrators of crime especially in the military, police, and by government officials. This would include application and monitoring of the Murad Code. [20]


18.  Hold the State Government of Nigeria to account in the implementation and use of a sexual offender register whereby convicted offenders will be recorded and their identity made public. This will ensure justice for victims and rehabilitation whilst severely punishing perpetrators as a deterrent for others. This is essential to end the cycle of violence against women and children.[21]


19.  For the UK Government to urge the Government of Nigeria and the international community to implement the recommendations presented in the APPG for Freedom of Religion or Belief report on ‘Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide?’[22].


20.  Endorsing evidence that indicates that the attacks predominantly target Christian communities and symbols of Christianity. Such violent attacks by the Boko Haram and Fulani extremists are primarily incited by religious motives, driving atrocities that include gender- based violence and abduction of women and girls. 




21.  As COVID-19 was beginning to take effect globally, tougher restrictions were being imposed by the Chinese Government that brought further restrictions in violation of FoRB. The new measures came into effect on February 1, 2020. Bob Fu of China Aid reported,

-          These regulations will require religious leaders and organisations to display complete devotion to the Chinese Communist Party. Article 5 of the new regulations reads, ‘Religious organisations must spread the principles and policies of the Chinese Communist Party… educating religious personnel and religious citizens to support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party… and following the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics…”[23]

22.  In the absence of greater accountability to the international world due to COVID-19, these regulations were enforced with the confiscation of shipments of medical supplies from churches and the intimidation of Chinese Christian leaders.[24]

23.  Gender inequality in China is growing, particularly through the economic gender gap. The Chinese government appears committed formally to equality, yet in practice consistently prioritises men’s interests over women’s[25]. Repression of religious activity outside of state-sanctioned organisations is also increasing, with the state excusing action in the name of national security to violate the right to freedom of religion or belief[26]. Emerging reports of arbitrary detention, mass surveillance, torture, forced labour, and other inhuman treatment of Uyghur Muslims is of particular concern[27].


24.  Uyghur women and girls suffer disproportionately. Women in this context are especially vulnerable to sexual violence in internment camps[28]. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that Uyghur women are subject to pregnancy checks, forced abortion, sterilisation, and insertion of intrauterine devices[29]. It is difficult to determine precisely the impact of COVID-19 on this marginalised group due to the Chinese government’s control over the region[30].


25.  However, there are stories of COVID-19 resulting in increased surveillance, forced use of traditional Chinese medicine, inhumane and degrading disinfection practices, and forced labour while others self-isolate[31]. This points to human rights violations and violence as a result of ethno-religious discrimination. The lack of available information on the specific nature of this intersection points to a need for further engagement and investigation, as the Chinese government has been successful in creating a media blackout for the Xinjiang region[32].


Recommendations to Government:

We urge the UK Government to

26.  Urgently call on China to uphold its national laws and international obligations to respect human rights which includes the gender-based discrimination of China’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims. The government must be more proactive in affording Uyghur women greater protection from human rights offences.[33]  





[1] United Nations, 2020. Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women.

Available at: https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/policy_brief_on_COVID_impact_on_women_9_april_2020.pdf

[2] Ibid, pp.2

[3] IDS, 2020. Discrimination and violence rife for religious minorities during COVID.
Available at: https://www.ids.ac.uk/news/discrimination-and-violence-rife-for-religious-minorities-during-COVID/

[4]Anonymous, Upcoming. Gender Inequality for Indian Religious Minority Women

[5] UN in India, 2020. New UN gender study: Women ‘far from having an equal voice to men’.
Available at: https://in.one.un.org/news/new-un-gender-study-women-far-from-having-an-equal-voice-to-men-2/

[6] Anonymous, 2020. Oral Evidence from Indian NGO

[7] RLP Webinar, 2020. Roundtable on India. Online

[8] Anonymous, 2020. Oral Evidence from Indian NGO

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12]  Central Government Act, “Article 15 in The Constitution Of India” (1949) Available online: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/609295/

[13] Available at: https://www.muradcode.com

[14] Revd G. Para Mallam, 2020. The Para-Mallam Foundation Webinar: Tackling Sexual and Gender-based Violence as a Pathway to Sustainable Peace.
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaUUd4gNvKE

[15] Tandon, A., et.al. MEASURING OVERALL HEALTH SYSTEM PERFORMANCE FOR 191 COUNTRIES. World Health Organisation. Available at: https://www.who.int/healthinfo/paper30.pdf

[16] Akpan, U., 2020. COVID-19 in Nigeria: A Gendered Perspective.
Available at: https://www.soas.ac.uk/blogs/study/COVID-19-in-nigeria-a-gendered-perspective/

UN Women, 2020. Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria during the COVID-19 Crisis: The Shadow Pandemic.
Available at: https://nigeria.un.org/sites/default/files/2020-05/Gender%20Based%20Violence%20in%20Nigeria%20During%20COVID%2019%20Crisis_The%20Shadow%20Pandemic.pdf

[17] CSW, 2020. At least 21 killed in latest attacks in southern Kaduna.

Available at: https://www.csw.org.uk/2020/07/27/press/4748/article.htm

[18] Open Doors UK, 2020. Memories and Mourning.
Available at: https://www.opendoorsuk.org/news/latest-news/coronavirus-nigeria-abigail/

[19] IDS, 2020. Fatima Suleiman talks about increased violence against women in northern Nigeria.
Available at: https://www.ids.ac.uk/news/creid-podcast-fatima-suleiman-talks-about-increased-violence-against-women-in-northern-nigeria/

[20] Available at: https://www.muradcode.com

[21] Announced at the Gideon and Funmi Para-Mallam Peace Foundation Webinar on 18th August 2020 on “Tackling Sexual and Gender Based Violence as a Pathway to Peace.” Report available at: https://www.vanguardngr.com/2020/08/gender-based-violence-plateau-to-open-sexual-offenders-register/

[22] APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, 2020. Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide?.

Available at: https://appgfreedomofreligionorbelief.org/media/200615-Nigeria-Unfolding-Genocide-Report-of-the-APPG-for-FoRB.pdf

[23] Fu, B., 2020. Available at: https://www.chinaaid.org

[24] Release International, 2020. China stops Church Aid on Coronavirus. Available at: https://releaseinternational.org/china-stops-church-aid-on-coronavirus/

[25] Otis, E., 2015. Inequality in China and the impact on women's rights.
Available at: https://theconversation.com/inequality-in-china-and-the-impact-on-womens-rights-38744

[26] ChinaAid Association, 2020. Chinese Law & Religion Monitor: January - June 2020.
Available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1BR_dopsBr8W76Ja_QwV8pJBXyBKyf82y/view

[27] Bar Human Rights Committee of England & Wales, 2020. Briefing Paper: Responsibility of States Under International Law To Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims Xinjiang, China.
Available at: https://www.barhumanrights.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/2020-Responsibility-of-States-to-Uyghurs_Final.pdf

[28] René Cassin, 2020. China's Systematic Oppression of Uyghur Women.
Available at: https://www.renecassin.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Rene%CC%81-Cassin-Briefing-on-Uyghur-women-.pdf

[29] Associated Press, 2020. China cuts Uighur births with IUDs, abortion, sterilization.
Available at: https://apnews.com/article/269b3de1af34e17c1941a514f78d764c

[30] Campaign for Uyghurs, 2020. China's Genocide in East Turkistan.
Available at: https://campaignforuyghurs.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Genocide-Report-English.pdf

[31] Chaudry, V., 2020. The Impact of COVID-19 on Uighur Muslims: An Ignored Crisis.
Available at: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/humanrights/2020/04/23/the-impact-of-COVID-19-on-uighur-muslims-an-ignored-crisis

Rogin, J., 2020. The coronavirus brings new and awful repression for Uighurs in China.
Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/26/coronavirus-brings-new-awful-repression-uighurs-china/

[32] Chaudry, V., loc. cit.

[33] Available at: https://www.renecassin.org/jewish-action-to-stop-uyghur-persecution/