Securing religious liberty for women is vital to global peace, President Camille N. Johnson, Relief Society general president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Thursday at the 2024 BYU Religious Freedom Annual Review in Provo, Utah.

“As women, we exist in an often-unspoken global sisterhood,” she said. “The tides and seasons of our biology and the universality of the way we bear and nurture humanity connect us wordlessly across cultural divides, language barriers and political chasms. They create a common experience when no other obvious bridges exist. Because of the connectedness of women and of humanity’s highest aspirations, I submit that the religious freedom of women is a key component to global peace.”

President Johnson said this “bold claim” comes from her lived experience as the head of one of the world’s oldest and largest women’s organizations. The Relief Society consists of nearly 8 million women in more than 30,000 congregations worldwide. Her presidency recently announced a new donation of $55.8 million to expand its global initiative to improve maternal and child health worldwide, working with eight partners in 12 countries.

She said Latter-day Saint women are equally powerful in the work they do individually and in their families, congregations and their local areas.

“I have seen how this faith-based organization inspires women to unite in providing consistent acts of service within their homes and communities,” she said.

That is why governments and others should champion religious freedom for women, President Johnson said.

“In almost all instances when society or governments restrict women from living out their rights of conscience, we can expect poorer outcomes — poorer outcomes within the home, with public health, with education and with civil society,” she said. “By extension, when religious freedom for women is protected, we can expect better outcomes in all those domains.”

The theme of Thursday’s BYU conference was “Becoming peacemakers through supporting religious freedom and pluralism.” Muslims, evangelicals, Latter-day Saints and people from other religions and faith traditions talked throughout the day about the importance of finding common ground in a polarized society. (The Deseret News will provide additional coverage in coming days.)

She asked leaders at the conference to seek ways “to remove unnecessary burdens and restrictions on women” and to stand together for freedom of religion and belief.

“Women’s engagement in their congregations and families and communities will create a wave of empathy and compassion. The sisterhood of women, unburdened by prejudice and oppression, can unite across boundaries through the simplest of acts.”

President Johnson said empowering women’s freedom of religion and belief empowers them to reach across faith boundaries as peacemakers.

“Our implicit sisterhood creates an ability to build on common ground,” she said, “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.”

In fact, she said, providing robust religious freedom can unleash the power of a global sisterhood.

“Imagine with me what would happen if every woman felt empowered, within her sphere of influence, to live out the full measure of her special gifts and propensities for nurture, care, healing, teaching, leading and peacemaking,” she said.

“Women who express faith from any faith tradition or spiritual background will then undoubtedly serve those around them,” she added. “This service, especially when rendered alongside other women of faith and across cultural divides, will empower the peacemaking capacity of our global sisterhood.”

President Johnson also said freedom of religion and belief provides assurance to women “that they can live conscientious moral lives with mutual supportive fellow believers while affording that same dignity to their neighbors.”

Her term as Relief Society general president has afforded her the opportunity to travel around the world and see first hand what women can do when allowed “to express their fullest selves and connect with others through our joint sisterhood.”

“I have seen women elevate one another in the midst of poverty,” she said. “I have seen women care for, feed and nurture children who are not their own. And I have seen women stand to protect others from the ravages of war. When it lives up to its highest aspirations, our sisterhood provides the practical means of fulfilling Jesus Christ’s admonition to love our neighbors and our friends just as ourselves, thereby providing the conditions for lasting peace and human flourishing.”

She provided examples of how Latter-day Saint women with religious freedom have rallied alongside other women to care for others, such as helping thousands of refugees in Europe.

President Johnson also described how Latter-day Saint women in the Philippines created a local project to help feed malnourished children, and how it now has rippled outward to over 1,000 congregations in 12 countries.

“More than 16,000 children have been screened for malnutrition, and additional congregations are scheduled to launch child nutrition efforts in the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa and Asia in the coming months,” she said. “Indeed, drawing in no small part from the inspiration of this initiative, the Relief Society leads a church-wide humanitarian initiative to address the basic needs of women and children.”


She said the Relief Society and the church will use their global reach to scale “women-inspired efforts,” but that she believes “that the most important and impactful work of women continues to be done when we care for our own children, when we 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 was grieving.”

President Johnson’s talk was drawn from an address she gave in March to the European Union Parliament before International Women’s Day.

As she did then, she issued a call to action on Thursday, asking everyone to pause and, seeking inspiration from prayer, think of someone whose life they can meaningfully improve with an act of compassion. Then she asked them to write it down, and act on it.

The Religious Freedom Annual Review included breakout sessions about how to be practical peacemakers and how to help rising generations engage in religious freedom efforts.

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