A commitment to redressing religious inequalities and promoting freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) is a commitment to more inclusive societies and politics for all. In our original conception of the Coalition for Religious Equality and Inclusive Development (CREID) programme, we were mindful of the importance of redressing inequalities in FoRB-promoting efforts along the lines of:
- Gender (women have often been treated as beneficiaries of FoRB initiatives, rarely as agenda setters)
- Class – (elitism in who speaks for religious minorities was often a feature of FoRB initiatives)
- Ethnicity – (recognition that sometimes redressing inequalities means recognising that sometimes people are targeted because they belong to a religious minority and happen to be ethnically despised as well)
- Geography – (living in remote, hard to access areas and/or areas with limited or overzealous security has led to the exclusion of people experiencing religious inequalities)
- Population size – (recognition that when religious minorities experience socio-economic and political exclusion and happen to be very small in size, they were most likely to be side-lined and overlooked).
However, while recognising that people with disabilities also need to have their rights to freedom of religion or belief protected and promoted, it is clear we need purposeful policies that seek to do more to incorporate their insights and experiences.
Purposeful policies that are inclusive of people with disabilities
This may include:
- Ensuring that our own practices are mindful of creating an enabling environment for people with disabilities to participate. Our recent event on redressing religious inequality for people with disability was the first CREID event to provide sign language interpretation. Now is the time for all of us to pledge to having all of our public events with sign language interpretation, captions and to introduce other measures, as needed
- Ensuring that our outreach to people excluded on the basis of religion or norms and beliefs also includes members of the communities who have disabilities. This means including them not only as beneficiaries but also as participants in agenda-setting
- Ensuring that our research takes into account the intersection of disability and religious marginality. This is challenging and requires a great deal of purposeful rethinking of how we collect data, with whom, how and where.
Ultimately, we are scratching the surface on how to interconnect freedom of religion or belief and freedom to live a full life as a person with disability. Champions of FoRB and rights of people with disability have each respectively sought to de-ghettoise their causes so they become part and parcel of our way of life. Perhaps now is a good time to engage in deeper, sustained dialogue so that FoRB-promoting actors can become mindful in their practices of the rights of people with disability, and champions of inclusion for people with disability can also engage with those members that face additional marginalisation on account of belonging to a religiously marginalised group.