A three-day congress hosted by the British Humanists Association, BHA, and the International Humanists and Ethical Union, IHEU, took place at Oxford UK, recently.
Speaking to the World Humanist Congress delegates, the vice president of the British Humanist Association, Andrew Graying, highlighted the difference between freedom of speech and freedom of expression within the rule of law and in a democratic space when both freedom of expression and freedom of speech are justified. He noted that within the limits of the law there is self-censorship, but also hate speech which is used to discriminate people with different religions, gender, sexuality, disability among others. He further cited examples of where people who take a position not to believe in any religion are discriminated in their societies.
Over a thousand delegates of different beliefs, atheists and humanists from different parts of the world met to promote freedom of thought and expression at the congress. The congress promoted tolerance and interaction between human beings without imposition of personal beliefs on others. The themes of the congress highlighted discourses on the world of science, literature, media and human rights from different perspectives in the context of 21st century Enlightenment and the use of new media and technology to promote the rights of individuals.
Amie Bojang-Sissoho, programme coordinator at Gamcotrap was part of the gathering. In her contributions as a representative of a women’s rights organisation, she noted that 2014 World Humanist Congress was an opportunity for networking and sharing experiences. She said some of the presentations highlighted the gender dimensions of freedom of expression and speech within different cultural contexts where women and girls are discriminated and their human rights are abused in the name of culture and tradition.
The universality of human rights was emphasised by many speakers who share humanist values of tolerance, love, and fairness as basic human values no matter whether people believe in a particular religion or not.
Some also called for an end of imposition of a particular belief system on all citizens who do not share those beliefs but have equal rights as citizens. Some sessions focused on voices of reason, wisdom and urged looking at human behaviour to address myths about witchcraft and the changing climate affecting rain patterns in different parts of the world. The session on leadership engaged delegates to view leadership qualities in promoting human rights of all citizens through the right institutions and cultural and legal systems no matter their belief or not in religions.
A panel of political activists from the British Parliament, the European Parliament and the American Humanist Association held challenging discussions on how party rules deter individual parliamentarians from voting on humanist issues beyond party lines under the theme “Should Humanist Matter in Politics?” chaired by Labour humanist, Naomi Philips.
At a separate engagement held at Conway Hall in Holborn in London, the Central London Humanist Group and London Black Atheists organised a seminar on witchcraft led by research scholar Leo Igwe, who shared his research findings on witchcraft in Ghana and in Nigeria. In her contribution to the seminar discussions, Mrs. Bojang-Sissoho of Gamcotrap highlighted the mythical beliefs about witchcraft linked to gender, sexuality and reproductive health rights. She cited that in The Gambia, it is mostly women who are traditionally accused of being witches when girls suffer or die from bleeding caused by female genital mutilation. She also noted how issues of witchcrafts and myths are linked when marriages cannot be consumed or when there is difficult child delivery mostly associated to child marriages and effects of FGM.
The congress delegates are expected to continue to promote the concept of freedom of thought and expression among their communities and advocate for the protection of individual and community rights in public and social policies.]]>