Webinar explores the role of faith communities in promoting human rights
(LWI) - Faith communities and faith leaders need to advocate more strongly for human rights and also to be accountable for human rights violations and extremist teachings in their context. This was the general understanding in a webinar held on International Human Rights Day on the topic “A faith imperative for Human Rights.” The webinar was organized by The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), in partnership with Side by Side, Act Alliance, Act Church of Sweden, the Anglican Communion, the World Council of Churches, Islamic Relief Worldwide, Christian Aid and Religions for Peace.
In a panel discussion, Deepika Singh (Religions for Peace), Gloria Mafole (Christian Council of Tanzania and Side by Side Tanzania), Patrick Watt (Christian Aid), and Hanbeet Rhee (Thursdays in Black, World Council of Churches) shared insights from their work on the difficulty faith actors face in promoting human rights, and some approaches on how to overcome those.
Impact of COVID-19
“Faith and Human Rights represent two different systems, two distinct ways that speak into two different realms. Yet about the same foundational commitment to the dignity and inalienable value of every human being,” LWF General Secretary Rev Dr. Martin Junge said in his opening remarks. He spoke about faith as a resource, and the role of faith-based communities in advancing the part of faith-based organizations and faith-based communities in advancing the human rights agenda. “Faith-based human rights actors need our investment and support,” Junge said.
While human rights defenders were already facing difficult challenges and contexts, the COVID-19 pandemic has made their situation even more difficult. Gloria Mafole of the Council of Churches in Tanzania shared examples of violence against women and girls in Tanzania, which now happen much more freely as lockdowns prevent public scrutiny. “Providing a safe space has become a challenge for us as a church.” Christian Aid’s Patrick Watt noted how the pandemic has been used to impose legal constraints on civil society and how the COVID-19 response often fails to reach the most vulnerable.
More accountability of faith communities
However, faith communities might themselves be divided in their understanding of human rights, especially when it comes to gender justice, the panelists observed. Hanbeet Rhee (WCC) shared how engaging in human rights can endanger academic careers. Deepika Singh (Religions for Peace) suggested to “use language of human dignity” and to emphasize religious teachings which promote human rights and gender justice.”
Gloria Mafole suggested to also monitor and address “extreme teachings” in their faith context. All panelists agreed that faith communities need to be more strategic, form alliances, and to secure funding to promote human rights. Fundamentalist groups are usually well resourced and very intentional in their public advocacy and in pushing their agenda with parliaments and legal structures, Lusmarina Campos Garcia (ACT Alliance) noted.
The question of human rights profoundly speaks about how we are a community.
Aspiring to a better world
“Human rights need a systemic change,” Daniel Seymour of UN Women emphasized in his closing remarks. He challenged how human rights, especially women's rights, are often portrayed as the individual's rights versus a community's rights. “The question of human rights profoundly speaks about how we are a community.” Faith groups and human rights defenders share the perspective of aspiring to a better world and should collaborate in bringing about this systemic change, Seymour said. “Faith communities have tools and the experience to tackle these issues.”
There is a strong faith imperative in human rights,” moderator Eva Ekelund (Church of Sweden) concluded. “We have a role to play.”
By: LWF/C. Kästner