UNCSW63 Unlocking the Power of Faith-Based Partnerships: Enabling the Right to Social Protection

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Side by Side, as co-lead of the PaRD Gender Work-Stream, alongside Global Affairs Canada and Islamic Relief Worldwide, co-organised two high-level events at the UN Commission on the Status of Women 63. Our two events were co-hosted by Canada, Denmark and the UK, alongside 11 faith actors (including Side by Side and our members: World Council of Churches, Episcopal Relief and Development, The Lutheran World Federation, Sonke Gender Justice and World Vision).

Our second event, Unlocking the Power of Faith-Based Partnerships: Enabling the Right to Social Protection, took place inside the United Nations Headquarters. We were delighted that this event was full, with 130 participants from civil society and government delegations.

We were honoured to have H.E. Ambassador Martin Bille Hermann, the Permanent Representative of Denmark to the United Nations, give the opening remarks:

“The Danish government have worked with faith based organisations for decades, but let us be honest, only recently that we began to work with faith based organisations on faith. Religion and cultural norms are key to development. This is difficult and sensitive work. Denmark have chosen to work with religious and cultural actors because they have a crucially important space and true power to touch on peoples lives.” – H.E. Ambassador Martin Bille Hermann

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Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, ACT Alliance General Secretary, also contributed opening remarks:

“As faith actors we know that understanding religion and what influences and drives religion and cultural harmful practices is crucial. These practices are not stagnated and do not operate in isolation. They are influenced and motivated by the social, economic and political context in which they operate. Faith actors are in a position of progress as these practices are motivated by values and beliefs. Faith based actors are therefore instrumental in ending harmful practices such as gender based violence.” – Rudelmar Bueno de Faria 

The panel included Dr. Elisabeth le Roux, Research Director at Unit for Religion & Development Research, Stellenbosch University, who gave an overview of conclusions of a research project commissioned by PaRD’s Gender Equality and Empowerment work-stream. The research addresses a lack of robust research on religion, development and gender-based violence. Dr. le Roux’s video presentation is above.

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Our Side by Side: Faith movement for gender justice was represented by Axsa Charles, Gender Adviser at both the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania and Side by Side member spoke of the difficulties for women and youth in accessing social protection services in Tanzania. She noted the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s considerable efforts to engage with members of local communities, particularly with parents and religious leaders to discuss gender concepts and notions related to identity and with boys and men on positive masculinity.

“At the Commission on the Status of Women, working in different faith partnerships and sharing our stories, we are advocating the right to social protection. We recognise the primary role of governments is to provide social protection to the citizens. But I recognise the holistic mission of the faith based actors. The government’s citizens are the Church’s congregants, and there is space for powerful partnerships.” – Axsa Charles, Side by Side and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.

Rabbi Diana S. Gerson, Associate Executive Vice President, New York Board of Rabbis spoke of the fact that no matter the faith, no religious teaching condones gender-based violence. However, faith leaders all too often do not acknowledge gender-based violence (GBV) as a reality. Yet, in all corners of the world, faith leaders offer council and leadership to members of their communities. They are often “first-responders” when members have problems and thus need to be included in efforts allowing them to address GBV.

Suzy Ismail, Founder of Cornerstone, shared stories she had encountered when travelling to the border of Syria, in particular acknowledging the hardship encountered by women and girls. Suzy emphasised that these stories, while distant, are not unfamiliar. Experiences of struggle and violence to women and girls is happening in our countries. She concluded by emphasising the role of education, and of faith based partnerships, to connect with one another and to share knowledge, and understanding.

“Throughout the month of March, when we celebrate International Women’s Day, we speak about the topic of women and gender equality. Many times, I receive questions at different talks and programs like, why is there no men’s day? Why do we focus so much on women? And the response is simple. It’s in the numbers. According to the World Health Organisation, every fifteenth second there is a young women or girl, somewhere in the world, who are sexually assaulted or raped. So this is why we need, not just a month to address women’s issues, women’s rights and gender inequality. We need a year. We need many years. We need decades. We need centuries. We need every day of our lives to address this issue and to understand it until we see change.” – Suzy Ismail, Cornerstone

Concluding remarks were given by Dr. Isabel Apawo Phiri, Deputy General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, who summarised the discussions shared how the WCC are promoting the Thursdays in Black campaign. This global ecumenical campaign has been adopted by many of the WCC’s 350 member churches, national councils and ecumenical and inter-religious partners, academic institutions, student associations, and more.


Photo Credit: Simon Chambers / ACT Alliance 2019

Posted by: Side by Side | Monday, May 13th, 2019
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