[World Council of Churches] The role of faith in promoting women’s human rights was the focus of an ecumenical training session held in Geneva, Switzerland, for representatives of faith-based organizations.
The training seminar, organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC), Finn Church Aid– ACT Alliance, the World YWCA and the Lutheran World Federation on 7-10 July, equipped participants in becoming strong civil society actors in their struggles for gender justice.
The participants came from around 20 countries. They explored effective ways to hold their governments accountable in ensuring women’s rights in accordance with United Nations conventions and resolutions ratified by the member states.
In a number of sessions, the participants enhanced their understanding of the tools offered by the UN mechanism for promoting women’s human rights.
“At the training, we have tried to explore a holistic approach in defence of human rights and gender justice, where tools offered by the UN and churches speak to each other,” said Dr Fulata Mbano-Moyo, WCC programme executive for the Just Community of Women and Men.
“We cannot monolithically flag the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); we must also make use of the Universal Periodic Review and the UN Security Council Resolution 1325,” said Moyo.
“These UN mechanisms can support policies of ecumenical institutions related to gender justice, harassment, and sexual and reproductive health and rights,” she added.
Nora Carmi, a seminar participant from Palestine, said, “In each of our countries, denial of women’s human rights takes place at the local as well as at the national level.”
“Here we have explored how we do advocacy and looked at the UN mechanisms, searching the principles that we can apply to our own contexts as people of faith,” she added.
Speaking of discussions on “faith”, Carmi said that the “Christian understanding of service to humanity is central to the cause of women’s human rights. We must work together to uplift all human beings, including women, who are created in the image of God.”
Leena Sorsa, facilitator at the training session, said that “religions can offer a very positive support to human rights.” She stressed that criticism of all religious traditions and culture is equally important when it comes to the issue of subjugation and oppression of women.
“We must admit that religions are also causing a negative impact on human rights. We have to be critical of our own religious habits. Traditions that are repressive to women have always been part of our lives, and we have been told to be quiet about it. This is something that needs critical analysis from our side as people of faith,” added Sorsa.
While in Geneva, the participants also attended the 8 July session of the CEDAW.
“After attending the CEDAW session, I have rediscovered the importance of the work of faith-based organizations in promoting women’s human rights,” said Lynne Frith from New Zealand.
She said that, as representatives of faith-based organizations, “we have the opportunity to gather information, and represent the voices of women, who are often not heard.”
“Our commitment to justice, care for creation and the peaceful way of living offers us the unique opportunity to ask crucial questions, for example about the conditions of migrant women, and justice for all people, but especially for women and children,” Frith said.
During the training, participants had the opportunity to develop their report writing skills. Together, they worked on ways to network and create human resources for gender justice. The development of such resources was considered significant by participants in the on-going ecumenical projects that seek the elimination of violence against women and girls.
The participants in the training seminar came from Nepal, Haiti, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Nepal, Liberia, Kenya, the United States, Denmark, Myanmar, Palestine, Finland, Colombia, New Zealand, Guatemala and Switzerland.