Side by Side at the Scottish Parliament

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On 29th January 2019, the Global Side by Side Steering Group participated in a Cross-Party Group meeting at the Scottish Parliament. The meeting, coordinated by the Scotland International Development Alliance and Side by Side, focused on gender justice, rights and empowerment. The starting point for this conversation was the commitment to ‘Leave No One Behind’, as we work towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The meeting was hosted by Lewis Macdonald MSP and included members of parliament, civil society and academia. Jane Machira, a member of Side by Side Kenya and the Global Steering Group, shared how her work with Christian Aid is underpinned by 4 pillars of inclusion:
• To challenge gender and power imbalances.
• To enable meaningful access and participation that addresses barriers.
• To do no harm and ensure dignity.
• To be accountable, ensuring all people have opportunities to feedback.
Jane connected her work with Christian Aid, who are a founder member of Side by Side, with why it is important to grow a faith movement for gender justice. Since its inception in 2015, now working in partnership with 45 faith based actors, national chapters are now rooted across the African continent.

In many contexts, faith leaders remain influential in shaping political and cultural discourse. Jane explained: “When they speak, we listen”. Bringing together faith leaders to advocate and advance gender justice has the potential to be truly transformational. Faith actors often have a prominent role when it comes to engaging with policy makers, stakeholders and governments.

Jane gave the example of our work in Malawi, who recently brought together faith leaders in the name of Side by Side, to campaign against the political violence towards female candidates in the run up to the elections. Jane concluded by emphasising that to tackle poverty, we must tackle gender injustice in our homes, communities, countries and across the globe.

We were honoured to be joined by Shahin Ashraf MBE, who is the new Head of Global Advocacy at Islamic Relief Worldwide. Shahin shared how cultural traditions have been used to legitimise gender inequalities, and emphasised that harmful practices must be challenged by faith leaders in Islam.

Shahin acknowledged that patriarchy continues to influence how scripture is implemented and structured, which impacts on societal roles and abilities assumed by both men and women. Islamic Relief Worldwide have recently been working on a pioneering Islamic Declaration on Gender Justice. Shahin shared how the declaration is a call to action, rooted in scripture, against gender inequalities around the world.

Shahin highlighted how their work on gender justice is particularly important in ex-conflict zones where women often shoulder the burden of peacebuilding. The declaration calls for new types of religious leaders, people who challenge traditional patriarchal interpretations. Shahin concluded arguing that the process is bottom up, “We must encourage and empower Muslim leaders, mobilise communities, restore social relations, and support inter and intra faith dialogue”.

The third speaker at this event was Dr. Lesley Orr, who is a historian, theologian and activist. Lesley focused on the Scottish context of working for gender equality and reiterated the importance of faith communities in the wider movement for gender justice.
Scotland has come a long way on the road towards equality. In the 100 years since women gained the vote in the UK, there has been significant progress on equal pay, employment, autonomy over bodies and recognition in religion.

Lesley shared the story of Helen Crawford, a suffragette motivated by women around her in desperate poverty in Glasgow in the early 20th Century. Helen’s message of speaking out to catalyse transformative change is still relevant today. The voices of women have often been silenced and subordinated, but a big part of the journey in Scotland, she said: “Is women speaking for ourselves”.

To conclude the event, Mike Battcock, who works for the Department for International Development (DfID) shared his closing remarks. Mike shared his personal experience of working in community development. Faith leaders are vital and in many cases the Church, Mosque or temple is likely to be part of any community for much longer than the lifetime of any specific development programme run by agencies, such as DfID.
The presentations were followed by questions from the audience and roundtable discussion with the Global Side by Side Steering Group.

 

Posted by: Rachel Tavernor | Tuesday, May 7th, 2019
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