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The day before the 56th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) officially convened, hundreds of women gathered in Salvation Army’s palatial auditorium for the CSW NGO (Non-governmental organization) Forum.  I was one of these women.

I am here as an employee of the advocacy ministries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), member of the Lutheran World Federation.  But today, I write not as an employee who is here to support Lutheran presence and encourage advocacy after CSW… today, I write as a woman humbled and inspired by other women.

Advocacy, at the very heart, is driven by stories—stories about the lives of real people in real places facing real challenges.  When we share our stories, we help organizations decide what to prioritize, we give our elected officials insight into the lives of their constituents, and we—purely, honestly, and intentionally—influence policy and public perception.  Events, like CSW, are valuable in that they bring people face-to-face to share stories and create organic conversations about the struggle and the hope in working towards a world that is just and safe for all women.

My role here as a communications director presents unique challenges and responsibility—specifically because I am often floating around events taking pictures and video.  I am honored by this role of documenting these precious moments of worship, education, conversation, and human connection.  These pictures and videos are invaluable in telling the world the important stories shared here.  During my very brief time here, I want to contribute hundreds of quality photographs that women can use in their personal reflections, spiritual growth, and advocacy efforts in their communities and capital cities as they go forth from this event.   Yet I am not always able to simply sit and listen.  I am often not a part of the conversations, I am on the “outside” recording them.  (The camera, unfortunately, often creates a wall between me and other women, because cameras can make people feel uncomfortable and make the moment feel unnatural.)  I sometimes feel that I cannot give the speaker at the microphone my undivided attention, because I am thinking of lighting, angles, flash, battery life, background noise, and contrast.  Frequently I am moving from group to group to capture images of these women, rather than dwelling in their powerful presence.

In jest, I told a friend and colleague that I feel like a “Martha at CSW”, referencing the New Testament story of Mary and Martha, two sisters who played different roles when in the presence of Christ.  Martha was busy, fluttering around the house, preparing for and facilitating Jesus’ visit to their home.  Mary sat with Christ, dwelled in his presence, learning and conversing from her friend and Lord.  Yet it was exactly through this role, as a photographer, that God reached down and touched my heart… when I was “Martha”, my Lord—in his mysterious and beautiful way—transformed me into “Mary.”

In the vast auditorium during the NGO CSW forum, my role permitted close proximity to the global leaders that were speaking from podiums of prestige on stage.  One of the esteemed panelists was Layla Alkhafaji, a leader in bringing democracy and equality in post-Sadaam Hussein Iraq.  Ms. Alkhafaji’s credentials are extremely impressive: she was a member of the first Iraqi parliament and now is the Director of International Relations for the Al-Hakim Foundation, promoting intellectual excellence, religious dialogue, and cultural understanding.  She shared how her organization works to encourage religious leaders to be involved in the Islamic Day for Anti-Violence Against Women, and teaches people that violence against women “is not accepted in any religion, including Islam.”

Yes, indeed Ms. Alkhafaji’s work, vision, and accomplishments are remarkable.  Yet her personal story is as heartbreaking as her resume is notable.  From her place on the panel, Ms. Alkhafaji described to the audience that under Sadaam’s regime she was “scrutinized, arrested, tortured, sentenced to execution” (a sentence later converted)—not for terrorism, but for being “outspoken” and refusing to join Hussein’s Baath party.  In painful irony, she was arrested on International Women’s Day, and spent ten years of her life (as a young woman—like me) in prison before escaping to Toronto in 1993.   She saw the execution of twenty-five women, telling the crowd, “I witnessed that and carried that with me to Canada.”

A few hours later I was near the first few rows—designated for “VIP’s and Speakers”—snapping photographs of these leaders, when I encountered Ms. Alkhafaji posing for pictures with women who were inspired by her.  I clicked my camera’s button to capture a few for Ecumenical Women’s website and, to my great surprise, Ms. Alkhafaji gently summoned me to her.  She kindly asked me if I would email her the pictures and handed me her business card.  I was humbled to receive her contact information, shook her hand and thanked her for her work as a global leader, and went back to taking pictures.

After another speaker, Ms. Alkhafaji and I crossed paths again.  We were able to converse this time, and I shared that I work in communications and grassroots advocacy for the ELCA.  She looked at me with her gentle eyes—eyes that had witnessed horrendous violence and murder, and yet eyes that once belonged to a girl-child… her gentle eyes that recognize foreign soil (and a nation I’ve never visited) as home, and yet reminded me of my own mother’s gentle, beautiful eyes.  She earnestly said, “I want to work with you—I want to work with Christians in the U.S.  I want to work with Christians in Iraq, and the Christians here—we need everyone.  We must work together.”  And then, in one of the most humbling moments of my life, Ms. Alkhafaji asked to take a picture with me.  In that moment, I wasn’t the photographer—I was a woman, standing beside another woman.  I wasn’t Martha, I was Mary.  For that moment, I could dwell in the presence of a strong, hopeful, and purposeful woman.  I was in the conversation.  This was personal, this was moving, and this was humbling.

The line separating us—me, a lonely and lowly photographer, and her, a global leader and honored speaker, disappeared.  The wall separating American Christian and Iraqi Muslim was gone.  No lines, no walls—just two women.  This moment of a sincere call for interfaith and international collaboration to help all hurting and vulnerable people is forever captured for me.

The photograph of me, Kate, aside her, Layla, is a well at which I can revisit the spirit of this powerful moment.  It is a well at which I can gather my thoughts and my prayers for peace, equality, and justice.  I can invite others—my family, my friends, my church, and my elected officials—to meet me at this well.  At this well, I can share Layla’s story, I can offer my story, and I can listen to others’ stories.

As I leave CSW tonight to return to my life and work in Washington, D.C., I ask the God of my mothers and fathers to bless, protect, and strengthen all women and men who gather here to listen and share.  I pray for courage, perseverance, and wisdom as we go forth and work for peace, equality, and justice in our world.  I thank God for these moments of unity, collaboration, and dialogue.

And I thank you, dear sister, for sharing on this blog, and for reading a piece of my story today.

Kate Gaskill  (kj.gaskill@gmail.com)

🙂 And I’m currently working to post all those pictures!  It’s a slow process, but I’m hoping to have all Ecumenical Women photographs and video that I worked on posted to the Ecumenical Women Picasa by Friday, March 2

 (www.picasaweb.google.com / username: ecumenicalwomencsw56 / password: uncsw56)

by Leigh Rogers posted with permission by Onleilove Alston

In the New York Times, Stanley Fish writes on the complexity of political correctness in academia. He notes that the liberal slant on many college faculties can be extreme.

In discussing a new book on the subject, Fish cites Cary Nelson’s, uber-PC example:

“His own example of absurdity (it occurred in his home department) is a faculty appointment that was derailed when it was discovered that the candidate, then teaching in New Zealand, had written a letter to a newspaper criticizing the practice of going barefoot in public places on the grounds that it promoted the spread of disease. A department member decided that the letter “was an attack on the Maori people and thus racist,” and even when it was determined that it is not the Maori, but “white hippies, who go barefoot in New Zealand, the majority voted against pursuing the candidate in order, says Nelson, to prove “themselves to colleagues of color.”

Though it sounds unrelated to interfaith dialogue, a lot about this subject has affected my participation in discussions with others of different faiths, especially within academia.

As a privileged, white, agnostic-Christian-raised participant in faith dialogues, I always felt like I wasn’t an asset to the group. Our interfaith dialogue group had plenty of white pseudo-Christian girls; instead, there always seemed to be a push for “diversity,” which meant a recruitment of those from more seemingly obscure faiths (Zoroastrianism, Baha’i, Jainism, Shinto) whose members were often people of color.

Even though I eventually became a leader of my collegiate interfaith group, I often felt like I was going to be “fired” from my role in order to meet quotas of diversity that others could fill with their religious and ethnic backgrounds. It always seemed to me like the diversity people were looking for was only the religious or racial kind. Those are obviously important for an interfaith group, but what about diversities of political viewpoints, cultural values, gender, or sexual orientation?

Of all the religious groups we recruited to attend our interfaith dialogue group, there was never an active push to recruit those attending Campus Crusade for Christ. The reason? I believe it stemmed from the fear that the discussion would turn into a proselytizing session by those who believe they can lead us to heaven if we believe in “Him,” and thus need to “save” as many souls as possible.

I was briefly a part of Campus Crusade for Christ and had many friends and acquaintances that attended. No one from Campus Crusade really took my offer to attend our interfaith dialogues seriously. But for me it was unlikely it would turn into a soul-saving rally. And yet, within the dialogue group, there seemed to be an unspoken fear of messianic religion and of the presence of political and intellectual difference of opinions on non-religious matters.

While we were perfectly fine and accepting of religious difference of belief and opinion, we were not so tolerant of strict political difference. Evangelical Christians convey more than evangelizing fervor to other faiths; they also convey a sense of secular conservatism that has a checklist of values meant to keep the cause pure.

Evangelical Christianity believes that it is the only means of salvation and that other religions are hocus-pocus. This, of course, was a problem for us. We seemed to have a preempted the tacit rule that all religions were not just valuable in their own right but also other roads to salvation. This made us contradictory to our own cause. We valued the general statement of “diversity” but weren’t willing to step out of our comfort zones in case we had our own liberal biases threatened.

We in fact did have a Pentecostal Christian as a regular attendee of our interfaith dialogue group. He regularly stepped out of his comfort zone with us, and I learned a lot from him as a friend and participant in our discussions. One day, in the student union, I sat with him after one of our meetings he explained to me why he attended the dialogues, even though he felt persecuted as a convicted Christian.

“I go for the educational aspect, to learn about other religious traditions,” he said. “I also go because it makes my faith stronger; when I learn about other faiths, it tests my own faith and instead of feeling threatened by other faiths, I can respect them as I strengthen my belief in my own.”

“It is a lack of one’s own faith that makes one threatened of other faiths.” he said. My friend has now recently graduated from Harvard Divinity School.

As a Pentacostal Christian, you don’t merely need to believe that Jesus is your personal savior to go to heaven, you must also be baptized twice (once in the holy spirit and another in the name of Jesus) and have an out-of-body, tongues-speaking experience. So, for him to find value in other faiths while having such conviction in his own could be a real challenge.

As people interested in interfaith dialoguers, I hope we can channel my friend’s mentality and showcase a diversity of diversities: the welcoming of not just religious and ethnic tolerance, but also political and intellectual tolerance of viewpoints. If we work from a fear of disagreement, of offending an objective PC truth then we won’t be able to find the center of our personal beliefs and where we might meet as a group of diverse individuals.

As one tweeter said, “In groups where everybody agrees, not much deep thinking will be done.”

Leigh Rogers is a graduate of Union Theological Seminary and works in communications for a women’s faith organization in New York. She blogs at Faithful Democrats and AJGita.

The Religions for Peace Global Women of Faith Network has recently launched the Restoring Dignity initiative, engaging senior religious leaders, women and men of all faiths, survivors of violence, and youth to End Violence Against Women. The response to the initiative, “so far has been inspiring”, says Jacqueline Ogega, Director of the Women’s Mobilization Program at Religions for Peace, a collaborator of Ecumenical Women.  Faithful women and men are taking leadership and becoming active in the Restoring Dignity– End Violence Against Women campaign at http://religionsforpeace.org/initiatives/women/restoring-dignity.html.

restoring dignity 

 

 

Please join and take action today!

With the official launch of Phase II of the UN Secretary-General’s and UNIFEM’s Say NO—UNiTE initiative, the initiative will count actions by individuals, governments, civil society partners and faith-based partners. You can show your support by visiting the Say NO website and take action by:

On this webpage, you are invited to create your own resources and actions, update photos from your interfaith event, and even link videos to youtube! And the best part, it’s very easy to use! But if you have any snags, send an email to GlobalWomenofFaith@religionsforpeace.org for technical support.

 

TAKE YOUR FIRST ACTION TODAY! Sign the Call to Action to the UN Secretary-General by 23 November 2009.

 

For many women who weren’t able to attend (or who weren’t old enough to know what was going on oat the time) the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995 exists only in the realm of the imagination.  For me (age 12 at the time) the words “Beijing conference” conjure up the list of areas of the Beijing platform and visions of huge crowds of global women.  That was until I saw “The World Through Women’s Eyes.”

In the time leading up to the Beijing conference, a group called The U.S. Ecumenical Women’s Network: Beijing and Beyond, was focusing on the importance of calling media attention to Beijing and spreading the stories that would be shared there.  This group of women decided that one of the most effective things they could do was create a video (yes, it was VHS then) documenting the conference.  Through the magic of modern technology, we were able to transfer this VHS tape to DVD, and then upload it to YouTube.

It is with great thanks to the women who had the foresight to make this video possible that we encourage you to watch, send it to your friends and networks, and inspire a new generation with the stories of your own involvement in the global women’s movement.

Pray the Devil Back to HellIn Liberia, thousands of women—ordinary mothers, grandmothers, aunts and daughters, both Christian and Muslim—came together to pray for peace, armed only with white T-shirts and the courage of their convictions.

Winner of Best Documentary Feature at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, the film PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL chronicles the remarkable story of the courageous Liberian women who came together to end a bloody civil war and bring peace to their shattered country. A story of sacrifice, unity, and transcendence, Pray the Devil Back to Hell honors the strength and perseverance of the women of Liberia, and is a compelling testimony of how grassroots activism can alter the history of nations.

This remarkable film shows us a faith-filled example of how powerful peacemakers can be when they join together, and it is coming to New York, opening on November 7, 2008 at CINEMA VILLAGE (22 E 12th St.; 212-924-3363). A special multi-faith screening will be held and free tickets can be reserved by sending an email to NewYorkRSVP AT gmail DOT com with the name of your organization and the number of tickets you would like to purchase. Tickets for other nights can also be purchased at the cinema.

Watch the trailer below:

According to an article published in today’s New York Times, women in a remote province of Afghanistan called Bamian, are beginning to gain back their rights.  From driving cars, to serving on local councils, to electing the first an d only female Governor of Afghanistan, the changes in these women’s lives are having a profound effect on Afghanistan as a whole.

You can read more at the Times, or even watch this fantastic video of the story.

The Women, Faith, and Development Alliance is launching their Breakthrough Summit this Sunday, April 13, in a move to end global poverty.  EW applauds many things about this historic alliance, such as a large networking event for faith-based women’s groups, the summit being open to the public, and free registration.  Obviously, getting lots of people together to make a gender-based statement against poverty from a(n inter)faith-based perspective is something EW can get behind! 

We do, however, wonder what purpose this summit will achieve.  The most we can find is that different organizations will be announcing their committments to support women and girls in the fight against poverty–and that’s great–but where are our Christian denominations in this picture?  Why isn’t the summit being broadcast over the internet?  EW is eager to learn where this alliance will go, and what documents will be put forth in response to the summit. 

My two week CSW experience is just coming to an end. This has been a great opportunity to witness the nations from across the globe come together around the issue of the status of the half of the world’s population – women. Read the rest of this entry »

by Sarah Strickland

As a first-time delegate to the CSW annual meetings, I can only describe my experience as “jumping into the deep-end of the pool.” I was blessed to be asked to be a delegate for the Women’s Intercultural Network by Jean Shinoda Bolen and Marilyn Fowler and I thank divine guidance for my leap of faith to say “yes!” My trade is strategic planning and co-creating “road-maps” that help people in organizations “see” where they want to go. I often find myself in a “midwife” role by helping bring an emerging idea or strategy into being. Recently, I have found myself drawing what I am seeing, hearing and understanding to be present about conversations I am in. The images flow through me and simply show up. It is my way of synthesizing and connecting many different elements into a picture-story. I was asked to share this with others. Please feel free to use it however you wish.

This picture emerged in the chapel at the Church building after I attended two days of meetings. Read the rest of this entry »

Ecumenical Women’s coalition member, the World Council of Churches (WCC), has recently been featured in an article by The Economist, a prominent news, politics, and business periodical run out of England on a weekly basis.  Published on February 21, 2008, the article expresses some of the difficulties and many of the successes that the WCC (and the ecumenical community) has historically experienced in manuevering the ecumenical and Christian communities.  Read more here

Ecumenical Women, together with the Al-Hakim Foundation and Religions for Peace, announces a multi-cultural, multi-religious panel, entitled “A Dialogue Between Cultures: ‘Iraq for All‘” on Monday, March 3, 1:00 – 3:30 pm in the Tillman Chapel of the Church Center for the United Nations.  The topics of conversation are: the role of NGO’s in re-building civil society, women as builders, and practicing the Millenium Development Goals. 

Panelists:  

  1. Ms. Layla Al-Khafaji, Member of the Iraqi Parliament, Al-Hakim Foundation, IRAQ
  2. Dr. Michele Fedoroff, Deputy Chief of NGO Section, DESA
  3. Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Assistant General Secretary, World Conference of Religions for Peace
  4. Dr.Bayan Al-Araji, Al-Hakim Foundation, UK
  5. Dr.Jafar Jawad, Al-Hakim Foundation, US
  6. Michel Ngoymulunda, Lutheran World Federation, Youth leader in Lutheran Communion in Central and Eastern Africa,  Democratic Republic of the Congo

Moderator: Dr. Mohammed Mohammed Ali, IRAQ

Come and join us for some stimulating conversation!

This post is by Christian Albers, a vicar from Germany who is interning at the Lutheran Office for World Community at the United Nations in New York.

When Daisy Khan was introduced today at the Faith and Feminism Brown Bag Lunch sponsored by the Sister Fund in New York City, the Muslim woman was compared to no one lesser than Jesus himself. While one might question whether this comparison was appropriate, Kanyere Eaton from the Sister Fund made it clear what she meant: “She is the one we were waiting for.”And indeed, although Ms Khan is neither male nor a Jew nor the Messiah, she is an extremely remarkable person, who is reconciling something urgently in need of reconciliation: Muslim faith and feminism.

Daisy Khan’s interest in religion and interfaith dialogue are rooted in her childhood. Born to a Muslim family in Kashmir, Ms Khan attended a Christian school with predominantly Hindu teachers, played in her childhood with Sikh friends and bought food from Buddhists. Finally, Kashmir is regarded as the lost tribe of the people of Israel.

But it took Daisy Khan some time, including times of doubt, until she found to her own Muslim faith through Persian poet Rumi, who said “I looked for God. I went to a temple, and I didn’t find him there. Then I went to a church, and I didn’t find him there. And then I went to a mosque, and I didn’t find him there. And then finally I looked in my heart, and there he was.”

Ms. Khan came to the United States as a teenager, and went on to study architecture, and work in interior design. But after Sept. 11, that she felt the urgent need to put together her Muslim faith and her commitment for the advancement of women. She realized that these two things ultimately belong together especially because many people, religious and feminist, still think that these two sides are mutually excluding.Her ultimate goal is to show that Islam has the power to positively inspire women and transform society.

As executive director for American Society for Muslim Advancement, she has convened several conferences to raise the often marginalized voices of Muslim women in matters of politics and religion. Her goal is to create a think tank of Muslim women scholars that can engage in debate with the Islamic judicial and theological systems. She explained that there is indeed quite a number of highly qualified female Islam lawyers (Mufti) but only a few of them actually can serve in an official position – mostly as vice muftis and only in Turkey. The think tank attempts to use the expertise of women Islam scholars in order to be heard by religious and political leaders.It was very inspiring for me to meet Daisy Khan and I’m looking forward to hearing her and other Muslim women’s voices making a difference in the future religious dialogue.

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