It’s frankly a huge burden to be a woman religious leader who, at the same time, is a leader working for peace, said Prof. Dr Azza Karam, secretary general of Religions for Peace. “Women ourselves must be the model of how to include everyone,” said Karam. “It is important to be at the peace table as women representing a wide variety of interests, not just ours—barring none.”
Karam and others spoke at an online forum entitled “Faith forward: Women brokering peace in conflict & crisis.” Co-organized by the World Council of Churches, Religions for Peace and the Lutheran World Federation, the event paralleled the 65th Commission on the Status of Women.
Dr Nayla Tabbara, co-founder of the Adyan Foundation, described how the foundation works not only for diversity but to show people how to peacefully live in diverse communities. Tabbara is also a co-president of Religions for Peace in Lebanon.
“We are in a post-war context but—all the time—we are in a pre-war context,” she said. “Mainly what we work on is allowing people to relive the past and to understand—also to recognize—the hurt of each other, and to meet each other, especially among people belonging to different sects or religious sects.”
Dr Sehin Teferra, founder of Setaweet, an Ethiopian feminist movement, spoke from her country which, she said, is “descending into something you might not recognize.” In Ethiopia, each party in the conflict is using rape as a weapon of war. “It’s happening as we speak,” she said. “What we can do is offer a gendered analysis of what’s going on. We’re talking about communities of faith inflicting this kind of violence on other communities of faith.”
That kind of infliction should cause all of us to be very uncomfortable, said Amanda Khozi Mukwashi, CEO of Christian Aid. “It is when the identity takes over or moves away from our values that it becomes a toxic identity,” she said. “If women are not listened to within our religious groups—if we’re not sitting at the table of decision making in our own groups—it becomes really difficult to be brought into decision-making spaces at the tables dealing with peace and security.”
Those very tables should be more than just talk—they should result in action, said Ranjita Christie Borgoary, women’s desk secretary for the United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India. “We need a leader who listens and acts for justice, not only supporting in the talk but also in action,” she said. “We have many women pastors—but they are not given opportunity. Because of the patriarchal system and structure, they are struggling to come up into leadership positions.”
For a young woman, that struggle is even greater, reflected Mira Neaimeh, regional executive of the World Student Christian Federation-Middle East. “We are equal in terms of faith, in terms of duties, in terms of serving the Lord,” she said. “We should be aware that it’s not just because we are women that we should be doing this—it’s because we are Christians. We have to be aware that we are a prophetic voice, wherever we are.”
As he moderated the dialogue, Isaiah Toroitich, head of Global Advocacy for the Lutheran World Federation, said he drew encouragement from hearing about community organizing and calls for representation. “Thank you for being prophetic voices for us today,” he said.