“Dignity, Freedom, and Grace: Christian Perspectives on HIV, AIDS and Human Rights,” a book published earlier this year by the World Council of Churches (WCC), will be among reports discussed at a 20 September event with the theme “Keeping the Faith in Development: Gender, Religions & Heath.”

The discussion, a side event to the UN General Assembly, will be held at The Salvation Army Auditorium in New York City at noon. “Keeping the Faith in Development” will explore “taboo issues” faith communities encounter when seeking to address sexual and reproductive health challenges and the “faith-full” ways to resolve them, with participants invited to put forward recommendations for action to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The WCC publication, “Dignity, Freedom, and Grace”, broaches the challenging questions faced by those with HIV and those who work with them. The book offers perspectives on the meaning of human rights, their relation to the language of church traditions, contextual wisdom of key populations most at risk for HIV, and best practices and theological reflections of Christian churches.

In addition to “Dignity, Freedom, and Grace,” the discussion will focus on “Religion, Women’s Health and Rights: Points of Contention, Paths of Opportunities,” a joint UNFPA–NORAD paper; and “Promoting good health & good conscience - The Ethics of Using Contraceptives,” which gathers scholarship from prominent Catholic theologians, ethicists and physicians to provide a re-assessment of the ethics of using contraception.

Organizers note that issues of health and gender equality are central to the Sustainable Development Goals, and achieving the goals requires addressing the opportunities and challenges religious communities and religious faith provide.

Anwar Khan, chief executive officer, Islamic Relief USA, who will speak at the event, notes “The faith-based community plays an integral role in the lives of women. Representatives of these faiths have much to offer in the discussion on health care and development as it relates to the community members they engage and support.”

Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, Ph.D. Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies and Director, Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue, Jewish Theological Seminary, who will also speak at the event adds, “We are taught in Genesis that God created humanity – male and female – in God’s image and likeness. Thus we are commanded to care for our health, especially reproductive health, as we extol the Creator and bring new life in God’s image into the world. We must teach and practice, even those topics that we find difficult, to serve our Creator and the image of God we see in one another.”

“The nexus of health, gender and religion can of course be very contentious in secular and religious dialogue, and perhaps has held back the full potential of religion as a driver and sustainer of development ” says Francesca Merico, coordinator of the WCC-EAA’s Live the Promise campaign which is co-hosting the discussion. “Respectful dialogue that can identify areas of agreement and practical ways forward is essential as we all seek to uphold the inherent dignity of every human being.”

The upcoming discussion is co-hosted by UNAIDS, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UNWomen (as part of the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and Development), WCC-Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, and Islamic Relief USA.

The panel will be comprised of authors, religious scholars, faith leaders and secular international development representatives. Confirmed speakers include: Rabbi Burton Visotzky, Jewish Theological Seminary; Imam Shamsi Ali, President of Nusantara Foundation; Mr. Luis Mora, UNFPA; Ms. Sally Smith, UNAIDS; Ms. Lopa Banerjee, UNWomen; Mr. Luca Badini-Confalonieri, Wijngaards Institute; Mr. Anwar Khan, Islamic Relief USA; Ms. Gillian Paterson, Heythrop College, London, Ms. Julie Clague, University of Glasgow and Mr. Ulrich Nitschke, International Partnership for Religions and Sustainable Development (PaRD)]; Ms. Safira Rameshfar, Baha'i International Community; and Ms Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Wash Alliance

Background information

“Keeping the Faith in Development: Gender, Religions and Health”

Tuesday, September 20, 12:-- 2:00 pm

Salvation Army Auditorium, 221 East 52nd St. (between 2nd and 3rd Ave), New York.

The event is open to the public.

Dignity, Freedom, and Grace: Christian Perspectives on HIV, AIDS and Human Rights (Gillian Paterson and Callie Long, co-editors)

Religion, Women’s Health and Rights: Points of Contention, Paths of Opportunities

Promoting good health & good conscience - The Ethics of Using Contraceptives

WCC-EAA Live the Promise: HIV Campaign

For more information, please contact Marcelo Schneider, WCC Communication Officer,, or Marianne Ejdersten, WCC Director of Communication, +41.79.507.6363.