"Religion and tradition are a great force for peace and progress around the world.
However, as Elders, we believe that the justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a higher authority, is unacceptable.
We believe that women and girls share equal rights with men and boys in all aspects of life.
We call upon all leaders to promote and protect equal rights for women and girls.
We especially call on religious and traditional leaders to set an example and change all discriminatory practices within their own religions and traditions.
The Elders are fully committed to the realisation of equality and empowerment of all women and girls."
The Elders, 2 July 2009.
The dignity of all, regardless of gender or background, is a common thread in our great faiths and cultures. This powerful concept also provided the foundation for the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Religious values and teachings, along with traditional customs, have provided comfort to hundreds of millions of people, stability for societies and have been a major force for good in our world and in our history.
Sadly, they have also been used throughout the centuries to justify and entrench inequality and discrimination against women and girls. These teachings and practices have been abused by men to give them power over the female members of their families and women across their communities. As a result, women have lost control of their bodies and their lives. In many societies, women only gain freedom from the wishes of their fathers when power over them is handed to their husbands.
Over the next pages, we chart how this deep-rooted belief that women are worth less than men has infected every aspect of our societies. It has led to women suffering brutal violence and mistreatment. It has denied girls and women fair access to education, health, employment, property and influence within their own communities. It is not just women who are paying an enormous price for this cultural and religious prejudice. We all suffer when women and girls are abused and their needs are neglected. By denying them security and opportunity, we embed unfairness in our societies and fail to make the most of the talents of half the population.
But there are, too, signs of hope. We want to point to the progress that is being made to lift this inequality and the impressive results such action brings. During the lifetimes of the Elders, in almost every society and in every area, women are breaking down the barriers which have held them and their daughters back for so long.