THE worldwide multi-religious network Religions for Peace has launched an initiative to “exalt” the influence and power of women in the religious community.
The Women of Faith Network for the UK, which was launched in Westminster on Wednesday of last week, has been formed to raise the profile of religious women, and to push for empowerment and gender equality within communities and families in the UK. It also seeks to raise awareness of violence against women, and to reject the myth that this violence is religiously sanctioned.
To kick-start the campaign, members of the network have curated an exhibition, “The Dignity of Women: Spiritual Reflections”, which quotes from scripture and from leaders of the main world religions — Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hindu, Islam, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Jain — to illustrate that men and women are considered equal in those faiths.
The reflections also explore the importance of motherhood, and equality and respect in marriage, places of work, and worship.
Baroness Uddin, who chairs Women of Faith and was the first Muslim woman to take a seat in the House of Lords, said: “Interfaith is an important matter of respect. Often, faiths are discussed in the way of tolerance. We have to leave behind the notion of tolerance in order to be more respectful, and secure the peace we all desire.”
The keynote speaker at the event, Professor Ursula King, said that the vision and task of the group was “absolutely essential and very urgent”: to reknit families and communities. “Women can contribute so much — not only to their religious group, but by teaching, preaching, and developing professionally, and taking full and equal responsibility to men. We have to move from dialogue to transformative action.”
The Women of Faith Network has been endorsed by interfaith and women’s organisations, as well as faith leaders. The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, who attended the launch, said: “Those present were highly motivated, and I was deeply impressed by their clear desire to work together at improving community relations and promoting the dignity of women. This is a very hopeful development which I am glad to support.”
The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said that “productive and open interfaith dialogue is desperately needed to foster peace”, and that the group presents an opportunity to work for this common good.
The Women of Faith Network is being backed by the European Council of Religious Leaders. The secretary-general, Jehangir Sarosh, said at the meeting: “The global community needs a decisive impetus to bring about a much needed cultural change that comes from appreciation of our interconnectedness, our interdependence, and our shared story.”