Use these questions to help kick off this discussion thread:
- What specific obstacles and advances, in terms of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Resolutions, can be found in faith-based peacebuilding contexts and initiatives?
- What are some of the major obstacles in relation to gender equality posed by faith-based peacebuilding?
- What are some of the major obstacles in relation to gender equality posed by religion? How are women's rights specifically affected in this regard?
- Which strategies are used by women activists to overcome these obstacles?
Share your experiences, thoughts, ideas and questions by adding a comment below or replying to an existing comment!
Most religions have at their core a message of peace, tolerance solidarity and equality. In recent years this has been a starting point for many interfaith and faith-based peace initiatives. But religions are also institutional systems which are largely patriarchal and therefore could potentially threaten women’s involvement in those peace building initiatives as well as women’s rights as a whole.
Women are involved in faith-based peacebuilding work, especially on grassroots level, but in those high level peace initiatives among religious leaders from different faiths, their voices are often ignored, and many women feel a resistance from religious leaders to include women in their peace talks.
What obstacles and advances currently exist for the realization of womens rights in faith-based peacebuilding?
Related to this discussion topic, I was thinking of the work of Ouyporn Khuankaew in Thailand, and her work within the International Women’s Partnership for Peace and Jus- tice (IWP). This is a spiritual-based feminist organization working to support grassroots activism in South and South- east Asia, working among Buddhists to deconstruct patriarchy and teach women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people what the Buddha really taught about them.
One of her articles has been included in the IFOR/WPP Publication 2011 publication entitled “Faith-based peacebuilding: The need for a gender perspective", downloadable via http://www.ifor.org/WPP/wppmaterials_newsletters.html
I wanted to share some of her comments from another article she wrote (downloadable via: http://www.american-buddha.com/thai.buddh.patriarchy.htm)
I think she expresses very well some of the challenges she faces within Buddhism related to patriarchy, but also how much her faith and feminist work are intertwined.
“The greatest challenge to my spiritual practice is almost every time that I encounter a situation to work with high status monks or highly educated or experienced men who have suffered from patriarchal systems. Particularly for monks, to do an experiential activity makes them feel uncomfortable, especially when they have to do it with women. Expressing feelings or hearing women talk about their feelings makes them uncomfortable. For them, showing feelings makes it seem that they are not good monks because they are still effected by worldly defilement. As an ordained person, they are supposed to maintain equanimity to whatever happens around them. One time during a workshop in Cambodia, a few monks got up and left the session when one of the women started crying while talking about her suffering during the Pol Pot regime. One monk scolded her to stop crying.
Another challenge of working with monks and male Buddhist scholars is that they think they are the authorities to speak about Buddhism because they know more that everybody else. One time a well educated monk who is known for his preaching refused to join in a half an hour gender workshop. But after the activity was done, he wanted to preach to the group about Buddhism saying that in Nirvana, the state of enlightenment, there is no gender so we do not need to talk about gender issues.
In a situation like the above, it is the patience, understanding and compassion cultivated through Buddhist practice can help me continue with the process. When I was able to just listen to that monk expressing his ideas, his fear, and his uncomfortableness without getting angry, without trying to defend my experience and opinion, without trying to argue back to convince him to see the same thing I saw, and without feeling fear or loosing face for not being a good facilitator, I can experience the transformation inside myself which I never felt before when I was involved in feminist work in the early 1990s. I used to think that I would teach them something but at the end I myself have learned so much. This learning takes place only when I can prevent my ignorance from blocking me to listen and see things as they are. Without spiritual practice, I will not have compassion, patience, peace of my own mind and especially hope to change the situation.
For my own work, whether I call it feminism or gender, it has to have spiritual practice as a foundation because otherwise I will fall into a trap that I want the men to get out. I do feminist work through Buddhist practice and I practice Buddhism through feminist work.
In conclusion, I see that the issue of social transformation, such as feminism and Buddhism, relates directly with personal transformation. It made sense to my life to see the two things go hand in hand. Through socialization I realized how many layers of ignorance I had accumulated. Filling my head with information, such as theories, concepts and methodologies, and then having intellectual discussions is not enough to help transform my own suffering into peace, harmony and hope. If I cannot find ways to transform myself into what I advocate to others and society at large, it is impossible for me to experience the real awakening."
Related to what Ouyporn Khuankaew says about the challenges one faces within Buddhism, or any other religion, related to patriarchy and in particular this section:
Another challenge of working with monks and male Buddhist scholars is that they think they are the authorities to speak about Buddhism because they know more that everybody else. One time a well-educated monk who is known for his preaching refused to join in a half an hour gender workshop. But after the activity was done, he wanted to preach to the group about Buddhism saying that in Nirvana, the state of enlightenment, there is no gender so we do not need to talk about gender issues.
I found this opinion by a participant in the Nicosia Interfaith Peace Building Consultation to be most interesting and was wondering what other people thought about this opinion:
The point was strongly and repeatedly made that many of the exclusionary or violent norms and practices in use against women that are thought by many to be religiously based, come in fact from cultural norms and constructs which are then imputed to scriptures and embedded in religious teaching. Furthermore the texts adduced to support discrimination are almost always selected and interpreted by men. Women lack the education and hence the confidence to challenge these scriptural interpretations. The education of women was identified as being crucial to their emancipation, in religion as in other things, and while alternative opportunities such as training workshops can be created, changing mainstream education was seen as a priority for many of the participant. Women reported that when they do write scholarly books, their works are relegated to the back of library shelves. More women need to write with the support of other women and from male allies in making their writing known.
Where do religion, culture and tradition separate and become different parts of our lives and those of society?
The scripture in no way creates any obstacles for women, peace and security. the problem lies in the area of interpretation and implementation of religion. However, in order to create respect for biological rights of existence between male and female, and between cooporate entities of individual home or couple to avoid any form of abuse , regulatory laws are enacted to be observed so that territorial integrity is maintained. For example, parent can not have any romantic relation with their children or wards. religion stands to remove obstacles of culture, patriarchy and interpretation problems by clerics if we can totally submit ourselves to right knowledge and full understanding of the scripture with right divine inspiration.
(Prof) Sabit Ariyo Olagoke
Center for Religious Cooperation and Tolerance (CRCT)
Email - email@example.com
Indeed, it’s not so much religion itself which discriminates against women, but rather the interpretation of religious texts which tends to do that. There is a need for people to stand up, and question and challenge patriarchal interpretations. One obstacle for doing this, is the internalization of fear. When you grow up in religious communities, you are expected to accept and internalize what you are taught. It takes courage to challenge this. Women in the WPP Interfaith Consultation shared how the fear of punishment or of going to hell played a big role in not daring to challenge it. As one lady put it: “You need to accept not being accepted.”
I think especially for this reason, its important for women to come together, and to share, and support one another, and encourage one another – creating a community which is supportive and not build on fear to maintain a status quo which is discriminatory towards women.
I agree very much with Jose. Thank you to all of you who show us by quoting the different religious texts that indeed religion and the scripts are not the problem when talking about gender discrimination (and any other discrimination), but the interpretations of male religious figures who read the texts from the perspective of a highly gender discriminatory and patriarchal society.
As Jose pointed out above, it is not easy to challenge those (widely accepted) interpretation which have become intertwined with cultural practices. Additionally to courage, women (and men as well of course) who openly question these interpretations need to be knowlegeable of the text itself, not just the interpretation. I believe women have to claim their space, literally, to come up with their own gender-sensitive interpretation. This implies that women find each other and support each other in their claim which can make them a target of aggression since it challenges the mainstream, and it needs a woman (or two) to be the first to stand up. As one of the trainer in the Training of Trainers the WPP recently organized said: "When you face injustice and you look around for somebody to acknowledge it too, somebody with the capacity and the right knowledge to stop it, you have to realize that you are just that person."
Thank you very much for your inputs. I agree with what has been said so far. Indeed, as I mentioned somewhere else, I do believe that the only way to respond to patriarchal cultural behaviours and extreme religious interpretation is through awareness, dialogue and education.
Awareness because women need to be aware of what their rights are, and this goes hand in hand with education.
Education because women need to be given the necessary skills to stand up for themselves and initate constructive dialogue. Through education they will understand what their potential really is.
Dialogue as a tool of spreading knowledge, mutual understanding and sustainable social change.
Many of you have already emphasised the hard relationship existing between secular and religious women organisations and I do believe that this represents the first obstacle that needs to be overcome. Social changes for women's rights should be achieved regardless one's faith, religious background or secular perspective, as equality does not derive directly from faith, neither from secularism.
I do agree with Merle and believe that women should claim their own space through actively taking part in society, claiming their rights to be educated, to educate other women and to initiate constructive dialogue with religious and political leaders.
In terms of the lack of integration of UNSCR 1325 in faith-based peacebuilding, the participants in the 2010 WPP Interfaith consultation shared the obstacles women face as well as ideas on how to deal with them. A participant from India told about how important creativity is in terms of awareness-raising with regard to UNSCR 1325. For example, her organization would bring religious leaders together to teach them about conflict resolution. They made sure to include sessions on UNSCR 1325 to emphasize the importance of taking the realities and perspectives of women into account and including them in all peacebuilding efforts.
Although some women’s groups are working for UNSCR 1325 at the grassroots level in different countries, the governments are rarely pushing it. Many women are still unaware of its existence, and due to gender prejudice in society it is difficult for women to apply for WPS-related positions.
The main problem that the group identified was this: Women are involved in conflict prevention and resolution processes within faith-based settings, but they are not operating at the higher decision-making levels.
As short-term strategies for dealing with that problem, the group proposed for example:
Does anyone has practical examples of how UNSCR 1325 was successfully used/integrated in interfaith peacebuilding?
Thanks Merle for raising UN SCR 1325. 1325 was agreed by all UN member countries, yet the challenge is always in the implementation. So far 25 countries have developed National Action Plans, providing specific plans and strategies for implementing 1325, The US is now developing its own National Action Plan, and I've been part of a civil society team, under the leadership of the US Institute of Peace, that is providing recommendations to US government agencies to ensure the Plan is comprehensive. I think that is a really important role for civil society is to be actively engaged in the development and implementation of these plans to be sure they are not tokenistic, too narrow, underfunded, or not implemented. You are welcome to contact me if you'd like a copy of our recommendations, which includes debunking some myths that have been obstacles in more effective support for engaging women in peacebuilding.
I feel 1325 is a big advance and we each need to hold our countries accountable.
I agree with some of the obstacles mentioned above, particularly patriarchy. I feel culture can also be an obstacle, as well as religious fundamentalist beliefs. That's why 1325 is so important. We each need to keep challenging patriarchy that hurts all of us.
And let's use the media to our advantage. I highly recommend the Abigail Disney Women, War and Peace series currently being broadcast on PBS each Tuesday night for 5 nights. She has done an amazing job of highlighting examples of women taking leadership for peacebuilding in Liberia, Afghanistan, as well as the extraordinary challenges in countries like Bosnia. Watch it if you can.
Kim Weichel, Peace X Peace
Thanks a lot. I would be very interested to hear more about the recommendations which were given to the US government regarding the US 1325 National Action Plan on 1325. Can I find them somewhere?
The WPP has been part of the development of civil society recommendations on the implementation of 1325. I wanted to share it here, its downloadable at: http://www.gaps-uk.org/docs/Recommendations%201325%20in%20Europe.pdf
Good morning, gentlewomen - & gentlemen too, if you're reading this. I have commented on other threads but avoided this one so far because I thought it might be dwelling on the negative (a naive pre-judgment from my Little Mary Sunshine side, as if I weren't acquainted with the night). Now that I'm in, I want to agree and underline many of the wise things that have been said already. Jose started off on exactly the right foot, I think.
All of us at Peace X Peace are proud that Kim is part of the US 1325 implementation conversation. I'm glad if she can open it wider by sharing the draft doc with some of you. And I'm glad to hear the reminder, earlier on, that if someone should do something, the someone is probably me.
Saturday night Kim and I went to hear Sweet Honey in the Rock, and the concert closed with that timeless classic, "Let there be peace on earth/And let it begin with me." And of course it begins in me with the inner space. I was fascinated to hear of the challenges in Buddhist peacemaking circles. As a Catholic Christian painfully aware of the patriarchy in my own church, I'm inclined to romaticize Buddhism, as if Thich Nhat Hanh & Pema Chodron were representative and not the fruit of decades of intense inner and outer work. It's so helpful to talk with each other!
Mary Liepold, Peace X Peace
I'd be happy to send them early next week as they are still being finalized. I'm excited since Wednesday our civil society group is meeting for the first time with representatives from each government agency drafting the US National Action Plan and we hope it will be a productive meeting where we can talk about our recommendations and future civil society collaboration.
Pls contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll send it to you.
Which raises a question - Krisin, are you going to share email addresses with each of us? It would be nice to continue the conversation afterwards.
Hi Kim - yes I'd be happy to share the emails with everyone. I'll double check to make sure everyone is comfortable with this. Another option is to continue using this space for further conversations - if you want, you could continue adding comments to this space. I hope that everyone continues to stay connected!
excellent Kim, thanks!
Thank you again for all the comments posted and I couldn't agree more with your views on cultural norms being shaped by misinterpretations and/or selective interpretations of religious books. My own work on peace and disarmament and women's rights, and most of the women I have worked with at grassroots, is shaped by our own faith and belief systems which have at the core - peace, justice, tolerance, equality, love.
I fully agree that to work for peace, one must live peace, as inner peace and calm is the greatest weapon to counter any unkind, intolerant, abusive words or actions that may be thrown at you. I think one of you had brought this up earlier in the case from Thailand and the insensitive monks. We have sufficient examples to model our peace upon. I agree that the patriarchal system is a great obstacle to gender equality, historically the word comes from the old testament origins of Judaism, the old patriarchs of Abraham, etc. The problem occurs when those who interpret religion to justify cultural norms, make these interpretations at face-value, based on the letter of the law, without considering the historical context of these events in the scriptures.
So, in our early days of activism, when women complained about domestic violence or spousal rape, there was uproar from conservative male forces (including church officials) that women are their husband's property who can do whatever they wanted with them. This is a misrepresentation of the scriptures. As the God of love and justice, surely they can not allow his creation to be abused, mistreated, tortured, or violated. No human being has the right to violate the creation of God, whether it is another life or the environment, etc. Women and men are both created by God so they are equals. This idea of women being men's property needs to be addressed as it lies at the root of most violations perpetrated by men against women, and the subject of most WPS resolutions. With those kind of attitudes, soldiers who serve on peacekeeping missions abroad, also violate the women and young girls they are supposed to protect, understanding that the sanctity of life and its protection is a responsibility that one will have to be accountable to the one who rules supreme one day. Same thing as protection of the environment, so that our role as stewards should ensure that the environment or the world must be left in a better condition for the use of the next generation after us. Hence, war, armed violence, weapons of mass destruction, really should have no place in this world.
. Ema Tagicakibau, IANSA Women, Pacific Network for Peace and Disarmament, Auckland, NZ
Thank you Ema for your comments and, especially for me, raising the issue of sexual violations against women by international peacekeepers. Most often we think of women experiencing abuse from the males in the families or communities, but stories from the DRC and other places of "blue helmets", the very same people who are supposed to be protecting people of all ages and genders, KEEPING PEACE, are doing quite the opposite. I found this article about the United Nations denouncing these actions and introducing dusk to dawn curfews for soldiers, but how have women in these communities themselves responded? Has anything sustantial been done?
Partriachy and its attendant beliefs is a great obstacle. Studies have shown that it promotes violence against women in all spheres; Beyond Boundaries naturally is the name of a book that was published after a national research on violence against women in Nigeria by Project Alert.
When this report was later presented at international fora, it was revealed that the finding were similar to reflect that women
were viewed the same way whether in Nigeria, Africa, Asia, Europe, America, etc viewed to be second class and inferior to male specie. Unfortunately the same applies even in the religious areas.
some of the concerns in the numerous issues of obstacles mostly in the religious settings include:
1. The mixture of culture and religion.
2. Deliberate misrepresentation, misinterpretation and misapplication of religious texts.
3. High level of ignorance especially amongst women due to exclusion and seclusion as the case may be in different contents.
Would it possible for you Bridget to provide a source for this report? Many believe this to not be true in Western Europe and United States especially so it would interesting to read more about the report's findings and how they compare across regions, countries and even religions.