The First Global, Multi-faith Study on the State of Women and Freedom of Religion or Belief

PHOTO: Ryan Brown/UN Women


FoRB Women’s Alliance recently released the first global multi-faith analysis of women and FoRB. As a human rights accelerator working at the intersection of women’s rights and freedom or religion or belief, we undertook this research initiative to explore new ways to support and improve collaboration across multiple sectors and frame a narrative that can help women shape the agenda on these issues.

With funding provided by The Fetzer Institute, the Alliance partnered with Gender and Religious Freedom, a London-based organization, to conduct this study. During individual interviews and focus groups, women and men with diverse institutional, professional, religious and geographic backgrounds identified gaps and resources that can help women and FoRB advocates be more impactful at the local, national and global levels.


This study is groundbreaking for several reasons:

PHOTO: The Abrahamic Reunion



Our study benefitted greatly from the prior work done by Open Doors International – a World Watch Research team that has studied women and FoRB since 2018, and Stefanus Alliance International, a Norwegian mission and human rights organization, which also has undertaken important research on women and FoRB and conducts awareness training worldwide.

These previous studies revealed that women and girls face compound persecution because of not only their religion or belief but also gender inequality, political, and economic stressors and cultural norms that often masquerade as religious dicta. Although this persecution is often hidden inside houses and within communities, these infringements on women’s and girls’ human rights have been treated separately.

We also understood that as women face compound persecution for their religion or belief, freedom of religion or belief itself is a compound right: It is intricately tied to other basic freedoms, including that of association and expression, and also key rights, especially women’s rights and women’s and girls’ right of equal access to healthcare, education, housing, and other essential services.



Key Finding #1

Both isolated networks and the siloing between FoRB rights and other sectors, especially women’s rights, have disadvantaged women advocating for relief and redress and exacerbated their gendered experience of persecution on the basis of religion or belief.

Key Finding #2

Exclusion from power structures additionally marginalizes, undermines, under-studies and under-resources efforts to address FoRB violations committed against women and girls and limits their capacity to effectively act.


Key Finding #3

Cultural and religious norms can be creatively and courageously challenged.

Key Finding #4

Collaboration is a form of empowerment to increase capacity, influence and relief.


Key Finding #5

Structural change is the necessary accelerator for addressing Women’s and FoRB Rights and requires an external catalyst. It is not within the agency of the unempowered to have the necessary resources or create a space for themselves at the table.


The future vitality and health the FoRB movement depends on the support for individuals and organizations working for women and girls, and their having a seat at the table as equal partners and participants in FORB programs, policy making, and implementation.

PHOTO: Flickr/U.S. Dept. of State


FoRB Women’s Alliance hosted a global virtual event on April 18, 2023 that featured participants from this study.

Watch the March 28, 2023 live event held at the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom

SLIDER PHOTOS: Josh Young/21Wilberforce