Photo: Susan Kim/WCC

Photo: Susan Kim/WCC

As the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSWS62) was underway this week in New York City, Rev. Canon Terrie Robinson encouraged faith leaders to see their positive role in speaking out for gender justice in their communities.

When it comes to living and working with a sense of justice, “faith leaders and faith groups - at least where they are adequately equipped - have huge potential,” she said.

As co-chair of Side by Side, a faith movement for gender justice, Robinson believes that faith leaders have great power to help people live with equality and dignity. “There is a faith imperative for gender justice,” she said. “People still listen to faith leaders. Governments still listen to faith leaders.”

Speaking as part of a panel on 15 March, Robinson highlighted some of the strides faith leaders have made in helping people to better lives. “In recent years we’ve seen how faith leaders can dismantle the stigma around HIV and AIDS. We have seen faith leaders lead communities in letting go of centuries-old practices that led to the spread of ebola.”

When it comes to gender justice, Robinson acknowledged the collective church has, at times, oppressed and discriminated against women. “We’ve gotten it wrong plenty of times,” she said. “But we can reclaim our sacred texts and reclaim our job. Faith leaders can be agents of change in their communities.”

The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a member organization of Side by Side. WCC deputy general secretary Isabel Apawo Phiri is currently being featured in an exhibit, organized by Side by Side along with Christian Aid, entitled “Faith in Gender Justice” in place at the Scottish Parliament.

In addition to Side by Side, speakers on the 15 March panel represented Finn Church Aid, the Lutheran World Federation, Centro Bartolomé de las Casas, and Islamic Relief Worldwide.

These organizations, along with the WCC, organized the panel discussion, entitled “Do You Have Faith in the SDGs? Faith-sensitive gender justice mainstreaming in faith-based organizations.”

Panelists spoke about how their groups, in part by encouraging grassroots efforts from local churches across the world, have made a difference in gender justice and in reaching other “SDGs,” or Sustainable Development Goals.

Dr Azza Karam, the UN Population Fund’s senior advisor on culture, said she believes the United Nations, civic organizations and faith-based groups have been forming “a transformative partnership.”

Ten years ago, during the CSW, there were four events focused on religion, she noted. “Today, we have more than 25 events addressing religion - and addressing it from a much more positive perspective.”

Eva-Marita Rinne-Koistinen, a senior advisor for Finn Church Aid, said faith perspectives on human rights are becoming more and more important. “During recent years we have worked to build opportunities and dialogue so that different faith actors are included and heard in their gender equality perspectives,” she said.

The different organizations present at the panel have strengthened their impact by collaborating, reflected Maria Cristina Rendón, who works with gender justice for the Lutheran World Federation.

“The work at gender justice is at the heart of our efforts. And we are not just partners with CSW. We are partners all year round,” she said.

Larry Jose Madrigal Rajo, who leads a masculinities program for Centro Bartolome de las Casas, said men who experience both personal and collective education about gender justice are more open to collaborate, change, lobby, and work together with women. “They are absolutely open to change every day not only in the political discourse but in their homes, with their friends, in the churches, at a political level, in all kinds of different areas.”

Iman Sandra Pertek, senior policy advisor for gender at Islamic Relief, highlighted how the most important foundations of the Muslim faith are important for gender justice: upholding balance, upholding dignity, respecting equality, standing up for justice, and exercising rights and responsibilities.

She quoted Prophet Muhammad on positive masculinity, saying “the best of you are those who are best to your wives and families.”

CSW62 continues from 12-23 March in New York City.

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