In anticipation of International Women’s Day, March 8, Relief Society General President, Camille N. Johnson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints addressed the European Union in Brussels in the event “Empowering Women’s Freedom of Religion or Belief,” on March 4.

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

“Religious freedom of women is a key component to global peace,” President Johnson said. “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.”

President Johnson explained in her address that abuse against women and the recruitment and radicalizing of groups regarding religious freedom are extreme examples and “warning signs,” but are not reasons to restrict religious freedoms concerning women in other countries.

“We must better communicate with and actually empower our sisters in these desperate situations to reach across social divisions to solve problems,” President Johnson said.

When women’s religious freedom is empowered in a society, they’re encouraged and inspired to achieve their highest aspirations. But when societies and governments restrict religious freedoms, it often results in conflict and violence affecting women and children the most.

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

President Johnson shared examples of how the Relief Society is leading a Churchwide humanitarian initiative that attends to women and children’s basic needs.

She further explained how this humanitarian initiative collaborates with other global organizations to prioritize maternal and newborn care, child nutrition, immunizations and education around the globe. President Johnson shared a recent example of the Church’s humanitarian efforts when a Church-led malnutrition screening was administered to over 14,000 children in the Philippines. This was done to support, treat and educate people about malnutrition.

“The effort is now being implemented in over a thousand congregations in 12 countries,” President Johnson said.

While quoting the Church‘s President Russell M. Nelson, President Johnson said that women “have been blessed with a unique moral compass” and possess “special spiritual gifts and propensities” to sense human needs.

General Authority Seventy and Second Counselor in the Europe Central Area Presidency, Elder Jack N. Gerard, was present during President Johnson’s address to the European Parliament and said the invitation for President Johnson to speak “underscores the significant role our sister leaders play on the world stage.”

European Parliment building in Brussels, Belgium

European Parliament building in Brussels, Belgium. Photo credit: Church Newsroom & Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The speakers included in the first panel discussion were Rachel Bayani, representing the Bahá’í International Community; Helene Fisher, advocacy officer for Gender and Religious Freedom; and Anastasia Hartman, representing Open Doors International. The discussion was focused on the resilience of women around the world and their stories in the pursuit of religious freedom.

The second panel presented strategies and solutions to promote women’s rights within the context of religious freedom or belief.

Other speakers in the second panel included Carolyn Handschin, president of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women in Geneva, who offered insights into the contribution of the civil society’s role within the United Nations framework.

Susan Kerr, senior advisor on freedom of religion from the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, shared the importance of the security component in the exercise of one’s religious freedom.

Moderator of the panel, Francesco Di Lillo, director of the Church’s EU and International Affairs Office in Brussels, said he hopes “this event will spark more dialogue and collaboration among religious and political leaders, as well as civil society, to promote and protect the religious freedom of women around the world.”

“If we want peace, we have to stand for freedom of religion. And you have to fight for freedom of religion for women. That’s how you establish peace in the world,” said Anja Haga, the hostess, at the conclusion of the event.

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