A position paper prepared in consultation with members and friends of the European Religions for Peace movement, November 2020.
Political and diplomatic leadership
All people, whether religious or secular, need cooperation. We all face the same threats of environmental disaster, inequality and discrimination, political polarisation, fundamentalism and violent extremism. By promoting shared responsibilities for the common good, we can together harness our resources and our networks to tackle some of the greatest challenges of our time. Interreligious, Civil society and public sector partnerships can strengthen movements for sustainability, gender equality; interreligious education; peace, justice, inclusion; and freedom of thought, conscience and belief.
There is a perception that national leaders who are women have coped better than male leaders, with the Covid-19 pandemic. The likes of Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel and Tsai Ing-wen have been hugely impressive, demonstrating strong political leadership, bringing their communities with them through a sense of shared responsibility and solidarity. They have in common the fact they are women, but what really should be taken from their examples is their focus on collaborating with others, whether it be ministers, civil society, individuals and communities – demonstrating heart-centred not just head-centred leadership.
Political organisations are still driven by male models of power and influence, so in order for women to be influential in existing organisations they often feel compelled into having to present a ‘male’ style of influence – which tends to be more status driven and individualistic, than relational and collaborative. There is a call to promote a model for organizational influence which focuses on making change, rather than being in charge. Moving beyond ego, competition, and control; a leadership style open to people of any gender.
There is a call for a greater movement of sisterhood, for women to support each other to achieve common goals. Women are less visible in politics and high level diplomacy. Women remain underrepresented in government, business, United Nations negotiations, justice systems, and in finance. The gender pay gap persists in many countries. Women need to empower other women.
There is a call for both more women and particularly younger people (<35 years) to be more present in number and more visible within our national governments and European level inter-governmental bodies – and to be given meaningful roles.
Women of Faith and their resources for building peaceful societies.
Women of faith play important roles in their communities and also demonstrate many different forms of leadership, which can be formal, but is often more subtle, informal and less visible than men, but no less valuable. In many communities women have different kinds of networks to men and are influential within these networks.
Virtues of empathy, compassion and solidarity are not necessarily reserved for women. However, more and more women in leadership are demonstrating that you can be kind and you can be strong, you can be compassionate and you can be strong-minded, you can be collaborative and you can lead. Inspiring men and women alike.
Hospitality has been a very important tool in ‘welcoming the other’ for thousands of years. Many women of different faiths have a lot of experience bringing people together to share food- welcoming different faiths, ethnicities, including migrants, to share experiences and relations together.
Women of faith are not immune to the struggles of women globally, who are disproportionately victims of violence and abuse. This is no different in Europe where the Covid-19 pandemic saw a surge in domestic abuse cases. Women of faith in Europe, as in other regions, play a key role in their communities in supporting other women facing such challenges. Their support may be quiet, unacknowledged, most likely informal, but nonetheless vital in building more peaceful societies.
Women within the Religions for Peace European networks have shown a particular concern for engagement with youth and recognise that young women do not always have the opportunities to show their leadership skills. Women leaders are keen to support the development of younger women within religious and interreligious networks, and to support emerging leaders.
Examples of European multi-religious initiatives which attempt to contribute positively to a sustainable environment; gender equality; interreligious education; peaceful, just and inclusive societies; and freedom of thought, conscience and belief, include:
• Goda Grannar (Sweden) (Refugees)
• Coexister (multi religious initiatives in Europe, responding to racism, Islamophobia and Anti-semitism)
• United Religions Initiative (URI) Europe
• Faith for Climate (UK)
• Youth for Peace Bosnia and Herzegovina (Peace education)
• Believers for Peace (Balkans)
• Safe Haven – Responding to Racism and Religious Hatred (Ireland)
• Speech4Change Campaign
• The Peace Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation
• The Forgiveness Project
• Nishkam Schools Sikh led Interfaith Education
• Lokahi Foundation
• Nisa Nashim
• Interfaith Rainforest Initiative
• Salaam Shalom
• Interfaith UK
• Interfaith Scotland
• Faith for the Climate
• The Faith and Belief Forum
• Three Faiths Forum
Religions for Peace European Movement:
• European Council of Religious Leaders
• European Women of Faith Network
• European Interfaith Youth Network
• National Interreligious Councils
• United Kingdom
• Bosnia and Herzegovina
• Hungary (In development)
• Kosovo (In development)
• Poland (In development)
Some countries also have established women and youth networks.
Drafted by Dr Mark Owen and Rebecca Bellamy