UNCSW63: Faith, Feminism and Human Rights Frameworks Roundtable Discussion

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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 first event, Faith, Feminism and Human Rights Frameworks Roundtable, was hosted at the Canadian Permanent Mission in New York City. Over 70 participants, including members from government delegations, attended and engaged in the lively discussion. The focus on this roundtable discussion was on different frameworks – human rights, feminist and faith – that are used to enable gender equality. In her opening statement, Catherine Boucher, Counsellor at the Canadian Permanent Mission, reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to the importance of engaging with faith based actors, as a sustainable way to advance gender justice. Sharif Aly, CEO of Islamic Relief USA, also contributed opening remarks, which emphasised the importance of partnership, and working as faith actors to advance gender justice. The Prophet Muhammed’s teachings direct followers to look out for women and this speaks directly to the Sustainable Development Goal 5 on Gender Equality.

We were honoured to have a range of speakers. Josephine Mukwendi, who is the MenEngage Africa Training and Youth Coordinator at Sonke Gender Justice, shared her work in community engagement on gender justice. She shared how inspiration can be drawn from the teachings of Jesus, who challenged the patriarchal and social norms of his time.

Bani Dugal, who is the Principal Representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations, offered recommendations on finding alternatives to patriarchal structures in religious communities. These include the need to re-evaluate what it means to be masculine and feminine and to address deep seated beliefs about women and men. Bani also emphasised how we must consistently include men and boys within our efforts to advance gender justice at a community level.

Shaykha Tamara Gray, who is the Executive Director of Rabata, highlighted the prominent place occupied by religious leadership in Islam. She noted that Muslim women leaders are present and active in communities, but are often less visible to the wider public. To help address this, Shaykha Gray highlighted the importance of a “digital religion”, which helps to flatten hierarchies and provides an opportunity for women Muslim leaders (and others) to take the microphone.

Ulrich Nitschke, who is the Head of the PaRD Secretariat, also contributed to this panel. He stressed the importance of collecting and analyzing disaggregated data to support better decision making and help design initiatives that address the specific needs and realities of all women and girls. However, in certain local contexts, collecting this data is a considerable challenge because some faith leaders have been known to act as gate-keepers of data in their communities.

Our final panellist was the Rev. Fedis Nyagah, who is the Programme Coordinator at the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa and a partner of USPG. Rev. Fedis emphasised the need for close attention to the language chosen when cooperating with religious actors. She noted that many faith leaders may be hesitant use the language of a feminist approach in their communities. Instead, many leaders will agree to use anti-sexism and anti-misogyny related language in their work, preferring to avoid specific wording related to feminism.

Concluding remarks were given by Solange Mukamana, who is a Leader of a Survivor Movement in South Africa, working at Tearfund. Solange offered powerful recommendations about how survivors of Gender Based Violence must be part of such conversations. She also pointed out the crucial importance of strong partnerships to tackling gender inequalities.

Overall, panelists and members of the audience consistently reiterated the necessity of engaging with faith leaders on difficult and sensitive issues to help protect and promote human rights in communities.


Side by Side members, Faustina and Axsa, with panel speakers, Rev. Fedis and Solange.


Posted by: Side by Side | Thursday, May 9th, 2019
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