Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Involving Religious Leaders in Women’s Rights Work: Innovative Practices and Challenges from the Field

11 MAR '14

CSW 58 Panel Discussion highlighting challenges and opportunities at play when working with religious leaders for the advancement of the gender equality agenda.

View PDF version of press release here

NEW YORK, USA – On Tuesday March 11th, the Women Peacemakers Program (WPP), Cordaid, the City College of New York, ABAAD – Resource Center for Gender Equality, and the Ecumenical Women’s Initiative (EWI) organized a panel discussion on involving religious leaders in women’s rights work. Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, Lilianne Ploumen, gave the opening speech of the event, which was hosted by the Permanent Mission of the Netherlands to the UN in New York.


Recent years have shown that the rise of religious fundamentalisms poses a major challenge for advancing gender equality targets of the Millennium Development Goals. However, while taking this reality into account, WPP’s work with women activists on the ground revealed that at times religion and religious leaders have been powerful allies in terms of promoting women’s participation in (post-conflict) community processes and advancing women’s rights.

To analyze the challenges and opportunities that exist in terms of involving religious leaders for the gender equality agenda, WPP moderated a dynamic discussion, during which its partners highlighted several examples, from UN to grassroots level of challenges posed by religion, while simultaneously sharing the innovative strategies they have developed to address these.

Minister Ploumen speaks

In her opening speech, the Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, Lilianne Ploumen, noted that religion and spirituality are for many people a source of inspiration and personal strength, also within the field of women’s rights. Religious leaders can be an important partner within the struggle for gender equality. Only by entering into a dialogue with religious leaders mutual overlapping positions can be found, though there must also be room to discuss issues of disagreement.

Representatives of the City College of New York, ABAAD, EWI and Cordaid started the discussion by informing the audience of global and local trends in terms of religious fundamentalisms. Next, they elaborated how religion can also play a role in promoting peace and women’s rights; thereby referring to successful strategies they have used in their work for gender equality. Several of the speakers underlined the need of strengthening the women’s rights constituency by reaching out to progressive voices inside religious circles, including progressive religious leaders; women theologians, and faith-based women activists.

The reality is that religion matters to a lot of people; it continues to be a defining characteristic in the political and cultural norms that shape our societies. We cannot talk about changing power relations and social inclusion without accounting for the role of religion, religious institutions and religious leaders. We cannot act as strategic or effective agents of change for gender equality without engaging religion.” – Akinyi Walender, Director Women's Leadership for Peace and Security Programme, Cordaid

The hierarchy of religious institutions are often reluctant to engage with women-led civil society initiatives for peace, sometimes creating obstacles particularly in religiously diverse communities. However local clergy on the ground are at times some of the most open for dialogue as they share the reality of their communities.” – Carolyn Boyd Tomasović, Managing Director Ecumenical Women’s Initiative

The event concluded with a list of recommendations formulated by the panelists, including:
1. Support and involve progressive religious voices for the women’s rights agenda.
2. Invest in building bridges between secular women’s movements and progressive faith-based women’s movements to strengthen the women’s rights constituency.
3. Create and enabling and safe environment for progressive religious voices, including women theologians.

WPP is a member of WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform. Read the full post, including list of speakers and organizations, on the website of Women Peacemakers Program