Promoting Equality

Promoting Equality

Our vision of society is for all people to be equally valued for who they are. The EHF rejects any form of discrimination based on all grounds, including religion or belief, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race or ethnic origin, etc.

At the EHF, we work in support of anti-discrimination legislation as a necessary – though not sufficient – tool to combat discrimination. We think that policy-makers should pay particular attention to ensure that non-believers’, women and girls’ and LGBTI people’s rights are respected and defended in the fields of education, employment, family, health and free movement within Europe. This is all the more important since conservative attacks and rising populism increasingly challenge these rights in particular in a number of European countries as well as at the level of the EU.

Non believers’ rights

As shown in our sister organisation’s, the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s annual Freedom of Thought Report, non-believers are still strongly discriminated against and persecuted across the world.

EU measures to protect the rights of believers and non-believers abroad has improved over the past few years but unfortunately, it remains biased in favour of people belonging to religious minorities, at the detriment of people holding non-religious beliefs or no beliefs at all. The EHF works to raise EU policy-makers’ attention on this particular issue and to balance legislation on freedom of religion or belief. This has resulted in a greater interest from EU institutions in the situation of non-believers worldwide, but a lot remains to be done to make sure that the EU strongly stands for their cases.

LGBTI people’s rights and gender equality

In many EU Member States, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people face the risk of discrimination and harassment on a daily basis, as shown in an extensive survey of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. At the EHF, we work to support the adoption of European legislation which protects and promotes the rights of these people. For instance, our commitment against discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation has led us to mobilise Members of the European Parliament for the adoption of the EU roadmap against homophobia. This work is particularly needed since conservative movements have strengthened in many EU countries (e.g. in France, Romania and Croatia) as well as at the EU level and strive to oppose any further progress towards equality.

This phenomenon, often led by religion-driven organisations, also campaigns against gender equality throughout Europe. As a response, the EHF regularly reaches out to policy-makers and advocates for the adoption of gender equality friendly legislation.

This advocacy work at the European level complements the grassroots actions and activities of our member organisations to promote equality in their countries.

In depth

Within the European Union, the principle of non-discrimination in employment, occupation and training has been given the force of law in the EU by Council Directive of 27 November 2000. This bill covers discrimination based on religion or belief but sadly permits states to introduce rather wide exemptions for religious organisations.

The EHF is concerned by situations in Europe where churches or church-related organisations have been claiming their right to “religious freedom” in order to deny other people’s rights. One of their tactics has been to interpret very extensively the exemptions set forth in the EU equality directives, thereby effectively discriminating against, for instance, divorced or LGBTI employees.

Initiatives to enforce non-discrimination in other areas, such as the provision of goods, facilities or services, have been taken by the EU with a draft directive published in July 2008, although some states (e.g. the United Kingdom) have already issued their own laws on the subject. However, the adoption of this directive has been blocked in the Council since 2008 despite repeated calls from many NGOs including the EHF.

Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights concerns the elimination of inappropriate discrimination, including that based on religion or belief. Regrettably though, it is not a freestanding right but one applying only in conjunction with the substantive rights set out in earlier Articles.