Thank you for joining New Tactics and the International Fellowship of Reconciliation's Women Peacemakers Program (IFOR/WPP) for an online dialogue on the topic of "Faith-based peacebuilding: Applying a gender perspective". The role of religion in conflict and peacebuilding, the rise of religious fundamentalism, and the threat this poses for women's human rights are issues receiving increasing attention. IFOR/WPP and its partners have been exploring the link between gender, religion and (inter)faith-based peacebuilding, including the positive role religion can play in promoting peacebuilding, and human and women's rights.
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 those obstacles (best practices)? Which positive dimensions do religion and spirituality bring to women's lives? 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?
This dialogue is an opportunity for those involved in faith-based and interfaith-based peacebuilding and gender work, as well as those interested in it, to discuss these questions and share experiences.
"We do not want to choose between religion and women's rights. We need to claim our right to redefine religion, bring out its positive aspects in women's lives, and strategize against the negative practices that are being justified on the basis of religion."
- A participant of the IFOR/WPP Consultation on faith-based peacebuilding and gender (Cyprus, 2010)
What is the relationship between faith, peacebuilding and gender?
Religion has the potential to empower women but ignorance, media propaganda and misinterpretation of religious texts has allowed religion to be used as a cover-up to fuel conflict, war and violence. Yet, readings of holy texts should not be confused with the text itself, which do not teach injustice.
Patriarchal interpretations of religious texts are observed in all religions. This needs to change, and to achieve this, it is important that women of all religious denominations reclaim their right of interpretation of scriptures.
This is particularly important in terms of faith-based peacebuilding. Faith-based peacebuilding is about finding commonalities, uniting people, and recognizing that all humans are created equal. Religion can play a tremendous role in peacebuilding, particularly in countries where religious leaders play a strong role in community affairs; help in mobilizing for peace; and provide hope to people. On the other hand, religious leaders at times also play a role in promoting intolerance of other religions, and have tremendous influence on youth and their attitudes about other faiths, which easily stirs up emotions and incites violence. In this context, promoting interfaith dialogue and prayer can be useful in rebuilding relationships and strengthening bonds. Its is important to underline here that the responsibility of expressing positive religious messages does not rest solely on the shoulders of religious leaders, but it is also the responsibility of parents as to ensure that their children are being taught constructive interpretations of their faith and open to other faiths.
What obstacles and advances currently exist for the realization of women’s rights in faith-based peacebuilding?
As women are differently affected during conflict and are often taking up new roles during conflict – including heading the family – they are important stakeholders when it comes to building peace.
However, due to the different social norms, roles, rules and regulations for women, men, girls and boys, women often have a hard time getting included in peacebuilding processes, including faith-based peace processes. Considering that most of those who have interpreted religion are the same who hold positions of power and are unwilling to open these up, religion then becomes a tool to manipulate a section of society into oppression, for the domination of others. It is hence not the scripture that creates obstacles for women’s role in peace and security matters, but the interpretations given to it. That said, many of the exclusionary and violent practices used against women, and thought to be religion-based, are in fact cultural norms “supported” by carefully selected texts, interpreted by men and then accepted by women who lack the education and confidence to challenge the interpretations. This clearly highlights, first, the need for education to free women and, second, the need to support women’s writing and re-interpreting. However, challenging widely accepted interpretations which have become intertwined with cultural and religious practices is not easy. A high level of courage is hence also needed by those openly questioning these interpretations.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) provides women with an important tool to claim their space in peacebuilding. Individual organizations have realized how important creativity is in terms of awareness-raising with regard to UNSCR 1325, and many women’s groups are actively working for UNSCR 1325 implementation at the grassroots level in different countries. Still, governments rarely push it, and many people remain unaware of its existence. Women involved in conflict prevention and resolution processes within faith-based settings face another challenge: They rarely operate at high decision-making levels within these settings. To change this, UNSCR 1325 needs to be promoted further at the grassroots level, and more specifically amongst religious communities . Finally, religious leaders need to be actviely involved in order to generate their support for women’s peace work.
How do we apply a gender perspective in faith-based peacebuilding?
Women peace activists working in faith-based contexts should work together, exchanging ideas and experiences, replicating successful examples and researching religious texts and teachings. An example of a successful move by women to change their role is that of the Afghan Peace Jirga to which the path was long but the effort opened new possibilities for them Afghanistan, including participation in the 2007 Afghanistan-Pakistan Peace Jirga in 2007. Another example comes from Kenya, where women have defied the male dominated order of religious leadership and have been ordained as Bishops, Reverends and Pastors, creating a platform for interpretation of the Bible from a woman’s perspective. During 2007, religious institutions in the country have given women a platform and facilities to meet and funds to work for peace.
Women have to be creative in their approaches and strategic in whom to involve, which includes involving men. Women also need safe spaces to meet and alliances with religious leaders who are sympathetic to their struggle.
The IFOR/WPP 2010 Interfaith Consultation in Cyprus concluded with three main recommendations for activists and policy makers in supporting the involvement of women in faith-based and interfaith peacebuilding 1) Supporting progressive religious scholars and activists and sustaining each other by creating a support network 2) Building bridges by involving progressive male religious leaders and showcasing how men are also victims of fundamentalist interpretations. 3) Creating awareness and further education of UNSCR 1325 and relating it to local realities and contexts.
An initial step is to realize that patriarchy is not only characteristic of religion; it exists in most domains in life, including politics and economics. Just as feminists refused to stop being active in these arenas, so should be the case in religion. The next step is to empower women in local communities through dialogue, awareness and education. People should be reminded of the original role that women have played in different religions. To take the discussion to the next level and to ensure a greater gender perspective three primary avenues exist - education, advocacy, and affecting policy. For example, an organization such as Peace X Peace provides education and outreach through weekly publications to 20,000 women in 120 countries; advocacy on behalf of policies and legislation that supports and empowers women; and is engaged with civil society to ensure that their recommendations are included and voices heard in the development of a US National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security.
Individuals working in this area could share advice and experiences, and support each other by sharing training resources and tools, their networks of funders, trainers and practitioners engaged in similar work, and by having a network simply for the sake of moral support, an important part of sustainable activism.
- Association for Women’s Rights in Development
- Civil Society Recommendations on the Implementation of UN SCR 1325 in Europe (2009) by the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office, Initiative for Peace and International Alert
- Faith-Based Peacebuilding: Mapping and Analysis of Christian, Muslim and Multi-Faith Actors, (2005) Paper by the Netherlands Institute of International Relations and Salam Institure for Peace and Justice, Washington DC
- “Faith-based peacebuilding: The need for a gender perspective”, International Women’s Partnership for Peace and Justice (IWP) 2011 publication
- (Inter)faith-based Peacebuilding: The Need for a Gender Perspective (report)
- Liberation of Women in Religious Sources, The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics
- Re-writing traditional stories to gain a gender-sensitive perspective, tactic about the work of an the NGO Women & Memory Forum in Egypt
- Religions for Peace website
- Taking Back God: American Women Rising Up for Religious Equality, review of book by Leonora Tanenbaum
- United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on gender mainstreaming in peacebuilding
- Violence is not our culture: the global campaign to stop violence against women in the name of culture, global network of organisations and individuals committed to ending discrimination and violence against women in the name of culture/religion. And their Toolkit for Online Activism
- World Bank Chapter on Empowerment
- Women’s Rights & Islam, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) publication