The 60th Commission on the Status of Women was held at the UN in New York in March 2016. An Introduction to the Commission and the Agreed Conclusions can be found in the entry three below this one. The following is a report on one of the events during the Commission.
Engaging Faith Communities to Implement the Sustainable Development Goals: Achieving Gender Justice and Eliminating Violence against Women and Girls CSW60 Side Event March 16, 2016
Organized by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the US Federation for Middle East Peace, Islamic Relief Worldwide, and The Lutheran World Foundation, this panel presented views I am not ordinarily exposed to.
Moderator Salwa Kader, president of the US Federation for Middle East Peace, explained that the OIC was founded right after 9/11 to foster dialogue among peoples. The group works against human trafficking and for the empowerment of women in 17 countries.
Jesca Mnari, a young Tanzanian leader at World YWCA, spoke of challenging gender inequality by using her faith. As a child, she saw that the Bible says all are equal in eyes of God and wondered why women had to submit to men. As she grew up, she wondered further why faith communities are not committed to protecting the human rights of girls and women, which she sees as a “faith call.” In her work, she encourages women to have their own opinions, even when society demands that they submit to their husbands, and works to promote education to achieve true equality between men and women.
Pastor Cibele Kuss, a Brazilian with the Lutheran World Foundation, spoke of the human rights crises in Brazil. Of the 207 million residents, 15 women are killed each day, homosexual people are murdered each day, and there is a rape every few minutes. She sees much of this violence coming from the shift to messianic evangelical religions, with faith-based violence increasing by 460%, according to the official registry. Policy is not helpful, as rape has been a crime in Brazil only since the 1990s, and in 2014 a Supreme Court suit took action against an official for saying that she did not deserve to be raped.
She cited an increasing evangelical movement to degrade women’s rights, reduce financial support, and give little legal support for those who speak out against abuse. She called on religious organizations to speak for gender justice and to make interfaith efforts to change policies and practices. Particular efforts are needed to protect indigenous people, who are being targeted, as was a little girl who was stones as she returned from worship.
An Interfaith coalition is beginning to gather to press for human rights policy, to commit public acts of solidarity, and to publicize the violations by fundamentalist groups
Ms. Sharifa Abdulaziz, a Gender Advisor for Islamic Relief Worldwide, from London, spoke of the need for capacity-building in communities, to ensure they have the power, knowledge, confidence, and skills to participate in decision making, directions and development.
Faith-based organizations, she said, can be very influential in making changes because they are at the grassroots and embody the values of the community, and especially because they incorporate the spiritual into health, education, politics and other phases of human development.
This first-hand knowledge can be invaluable in making advances. For instance, one challenge in the Ebola crisis was convincing local people to hand over the bodies of infected relatives for safe burial. Faith-based groups worked with the health organizations to develop safe and religiously acceptable burial rites.
Dr. Azza Karam, a UN Senior Advisor to the UN Population Fund, spoke of the need to learn from the differing traditions in Africa, the Middle East and the West, for instance in developing relations between military and religious groups, ways of forming policy, and identifying the needs of young people. The UN Population Fund is concerned with much more than reproductive health; a current focus is on migrating peoples and where they will live. People from third world countries, she said, cannot understand that some pregnancies might not be wanted.
She spoke of the need for the UN to pay more attention to religious groups in achieving its goals, citing the fact that 30-40% of all basic services are provided by religious organizations. The UN is only beginning to understand the importance of involving religious leaders in their work. A great need is to expand the conversations about terrorism to include other kinds of violence, such as gangs and violence against women. Religious and secular women’s groups are beginning to take action on this. She advised us all to start the dialogue with our neighbors.
The Question and Answer period ranged from early contributions of women in Islamic countries, such as Sultanas founding educational institutions and women contributing to developing Egypt’s university even before they could attend, to misconceptions about religion as an excuse for violence against women. Dr. Karam suggested that women need to emulate the “old boys networks” to develop faith-based resistance to violence. She cited as inspiration a line from the Koran in which Allah speaks of creating differences among people so that we would get to know each other more deeply.
A person from Somalia explained that this country just developed some sexual laws because religious leaders were involved in the process from the start. This mirrors the SDG principle that all sectors of society should be involved in any changes that will affect them.