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Report reveals significant contribution of women’s interfaith work in the UK

05 May 2023

Cover images from the report

Cover images from the report

A NEW report assessing women’s contributions to interfaith work in the UK says that a range of projects, as well as “helping women’s voices be heard”, contribute to interfaith understanding and co-operation.

The report, Deep Connections: Women’s local inter faith initiatives in the UK, is published by the Inter Faith Network for the UK (IFN). It considered 50 different interfaith groups around the country.

The findings come from a research project, begun in 2021, which examined interfaith initiatives led by women and mainly for women. The researchers, who used a survey, round-table online discussions, and interviews, looked at the challenges and benefits of projects.

The report states that the interfaith initiatives are “part of a rich wider tapestry of local women’s inter faith activity”; these include short-term projects and ad hoc events, along with activities in schools, places of worship, and other contexts. Group activities varied from dialogue and education to arts and crafts, well-being-related activities, sport, and activism.

The IFN’s executive director, Harriet Crabtree, said: “This research project shows the richness and value of women’s local inter faith initiatives . . . these initiatives make a significant contribution to inter faith understanding and cooperation, help women’s voices be heard (sometimes in challenging circumstances), and are spaces where deep personal connections are forged which benefit both the women involved and their wider communities.”

The report includes examples of grass-roots projects that have helped to strengthen ties between different groups and added to the well-being and cohesion of local communities. It also includes tips for future initiatives, with the aim of inspiring and encouraging others.

Shared meals were a common feature of many groups, with more than half of those surveyed saying sharing food was a highlight of their activity. Food also featured prominently among the “top tip” shared by groups.

In the top tips section of the report, the Women’s Interfaith Forum in Sheffield states: “Work from the bottom and not the top down. Start with the women and grow the initiatives. Food! Food is essential.”

Other tips came from the Canterbury Women of Faith group, which said that welcome and hospitality at a grass-roots level, and respecting everyone, was essential. A Calderdale group advised: “Organise what you enjoy and are interested in. It will bring joy to others.”

A lack of resources was identified as a significant challenge for projects, as well as the need to develop skills and confidence for women’s leadership. Other challenges included the loss of face-to-face meeting during the Covid pandemic, and, for some, the problem of finding welcoming spaces where women did not experience prejudice or feel constrained.

There were numerous benefits listed by those surveyed, from emotional support, friendship, and greater understanding of others’ beliefs to increased representation of women on interfaith groups, creativity, and sending a message of unity to the wider community.

The report concludes that women’s interfaith projects make a significant contribution to interfaith understanding and co-operation.

It states: “What is striking across all the stories told by the women who have contributed to this project is the quality of deep connection: friendships forged, experiences shared, and a sense of commonality and shared endeavour. This was highlighted in many of the responses which speak of the development of long-term, enduring friendships.”

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