It is a fact: too few women are found in leadership roles in interreligious dialogue. For that reason, KAICIID Dialogue Centre brought together seventeen female experts from ten countries and a diversity of religious backgrounds at KAICIID to advise the Centre on how to maximize the potential of women in interreligious dialogue, especially in KAICIID’s own programmes and projects. The participants work in a range of fields, including development and interfaith work, as well as intergovernmental organisations, and academia.
KAICIID asked the experts how to include more women as key stakeholders in its work. Women are underrepresented among religious leaders, yet they are often pioneers in interreligious dialogue work around the world, especially leading sustained development at the community level. While women are disproportionately affected by the social and economic consequences of conflict, they are often leaders in local conflict resolution and mediation processes.
“Too often, women are seen as a target audience, rather than as a key stakeholder. This consultation is a first step to implement KAICIID’s commitment to include more women in every step of our work, to learn from the specific experiences of women, their challenges and opportunities in facilitating interreligious dialogue and to represent and address these at the heart of our activities” said Hillary Wiesner, KAICIID’s Director of Programmes.
KAICIID presented its projects in the media and education fields, its field activities in Tanzania and Indonesia, and its research and peace mapping initiatives. During the meeting, participants also discussed how women could be substantially involved into these programmes and projects in the future.
Concretely, the experts recommended that the role of a “leader” be analysed more closely. Many religious communities do not identify “leaders” in the conventional sense of the word, and often, women are underrepresented in the ranks of those religious communities that identify “leaders”. A wider and more nuanced approach would also allow for more inclusion of women under the concept “religious leader”. The participants also emphasized the need to expand the circle of stakeholders in interreligious cooperation and attempt to identify those who may be outside established networks or groups.
To help KAICIID find an answer, the discussion also addressed wider issues of the power and potential of women in interreligious dialogue. KAICIID also hosted a public panel that discussed what potential women and men have in religious communities when both genders are provided with equal opportunities.
One of the speakers, Ravinder Kaur Nijjar, the Sikh member of the International Women’s Coordinating Committee for Religions for Peace Global Women of Faith Network, said: “Women, I feel, are guardians of a spiritual and peaceful society. They are the peace makers, naturally, because they are always using their mediation skills, negotiating skills, for conflict resolution in the family. We have a lot of skills that can be transferred from a family situation to society.
A society that does not value its women cannot achieve prosperity and peace. In a truly equal society a woman should have the opportunity to reach her potential spiritually, religiously, educationally and physically without encountering any barriers.”