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Religious Freedom of Women Key to Global Peace, President Johnson Tells European Union Parliament

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“Religious freedom of women is a key component to global peace,” Relief Society General President Camille N. Johnson said in an address to the European Union Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday, March 4, in anticipation of International Women’s Day on March 8.

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The European Parliament represents 450 million people who live in the European Union, known as the EU, and influences its 27 member states and the 180 nations who have embassies in Belgium.

Quoting President Russell M. Nelson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Johnson said that women “have been blessed with a unique moral compass” and possess “special spiritual gifts and propensities” to sense human needs.

“Our implicit sisterhood creates an ability to build on common ground, which forms the basis of peace — a peace that is more than mere coexistence in the absence of war — but something much more beautiful and powerful, bringing individuality into a unified whole,” she said.

Empowering women’s freedom of religion and belief helps women to achieve their highest aspirations. But when societies and governments restrict religious freedoms, the resulting conflict and violence harms women and children the most.

President Johnson acknowledged that abuse against women and the recruitment and radicalizing of populations in name of religious freedom are extreme examples and “warning signs,” but are not reasons to restrict religious freedoms, which are stabilizing and empowering influences. “We must better communicate with and actually empower our sisters in these desperate situations to reach across social divisions to solve problems,” she said.

“Our greatest success will be in unleashing the power of our global sisterhood by unleashing the power of women as expressed through faith and conscience,” she said.

Regardless of faith tradition or spiritual background, women tend to express faith through serving others. This faith-motivated action, combined with the efforts of other women of faith across all cultural divides, “will empower the peacemaking capacity of our global sisterhood.”

“The sisterhood of women, unburdened by prejudice and oppression, can unite across boundaries through the simplest of acts,” she said.

“I believe that the most important and impactful work of women continues to be done when we care for our own children, teach a friend to read, patiently address the needs of an elderly neighbor, prepare a meal for the sick, or cry with a sister who is grieving.”

In addition to the efforts made in the past decade to aid refugees regardless of ethnicity or religious background, President Johnson shared examples of how the Relief Society, the Church’s worldwide organization for women, is leading a Churchwide humanitarian initiative that addresses the basic needs of women and children. “We collaborate with other global organizations to prioritize maternal and newborn care, child nutrition, immunizations, and education throughout the world,” explained President Johnson.

She shared how a local Church-led project to screen Latter-day Saint Filipino children for malnutrition led to the Church’s support of organizations that treat and prevent malnutrition throughout the Philippines. More than 14,000 children have been screened for malnutrition, and the effort is now being implemented in over a thousand congregations in 12 countries, she said.

While it is impossible to reach every person in the word through programs and policies, “through our global sisterhood, we can reach every single soul,” she said.

“Reaching across faith boundaries builds peace and empowers our global sisterhood,” President Johnson concluded. “Friends, we can achieve what no government can: a global sisterhood of peacemakers.”

Elder Jack N. Gerard, a General Authority Seventy and counselor in the Europe Central Area Presidency who attended President Johnson’s speech, said the invitation for President Johnson to speak “underscores the significant role our sister leaders play on the world stage.”

This is the second time the Church’s Relief Society General President has addressed parliament in Belgium.

Sister Jean B. Bingham, former Relief Society General President, spoke at the European Parliament in November 2017 — declaring that “religious freedom is a critical right for empowering women.”

She and her husband, Elder Bruce Bingham, are now serving a mission as government relations representatives in Brussels.

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