Gender equality, the environment and COVID-19 dominate the agenda at final European Regional Consultation

24 September 2020

The fight to safeguard the environment, foster gender equality and explore collaborations around governance, faith and technology were all at the top of the agenda yesterday as dozens of religious leaders and representatives of European religious groups, intergovernmental organisations, senior European Commission policymakers and experts gathered virtually at the Closing Meeting of European Regional Online Consultation to present recommendations ahead of the G20 Interfaith Forum.

The consultations – which have seen contributions from over 500 participants, have led to recommendations from Asia, Latin America and Arab regions - and have been supported by the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID), with key partners the G20 Interfaith Forum Association, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and Saudi Arabia’s National Committee for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue.

The Forum, which is now open for registration, will take place online, streaming from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from 13-17 October.

“The G20 Interfaith Forum has become a regular annual fixture alongside the G20 Leaders’ Summit and it is one among many admirable examples of a conversation, and often collaboration, between secular institutions and the world’s religious communities,” said His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, member of KAICIID’s Board of Directors.

His Eminence, who has served as Vice-President and President of the Conference of European Churches, highlighted the importance of cross-sector partnerships during a year of pandemic.

“Seldom has it been clearer that partnership between the sectors is vital as this year, with COVID-19 spread dramatically in Europe and other parts of the world. Faith leaders joined other front-line actors designing new community policies and practices to prevent the spread of infection, and delivering crucial services to comfort and care for the sick and those who are vulnerable. This cooperation involving both great activity and commitment deserves both to be praised and be encouraged as we move to a still uncertain future.”

The Europe Closing Meeting's recommendations are made up of discussions from three working groups: Empowering People; Fostering Gender Equality, Safeguarding the Planet and Frontiers at the Intersection of Governance, Faith, and Technology.

Recommendations ask governments to continue their efforts to uphold the access to international protection, including asylum, taking into special account the vulnerable situation of unaccompanied minors, women and girls and victims of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Governments are also asked to work with religious leaders and communities and civil society to address gender misrepresentations, discrimination and violence. Another recommendation seeks to encourage religious institutions to train religious leaders and educators to integrate lessons about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and sustainable living into formal and informal religious education.

Other working group recommendations highlight the importance of combatting hate speech by framing it within media and social media regulation in a way that prevents humiliation, dehumanisation, discrimination, persecution and aggression against individuals and groups.

The recommendations to policymakers and religious communities alike can be read online here.

“We at KACIID, as the only inter-governmental institution in this field, are so proud to be among you to organise the final round of the G20 Interfaith Forum in Riyadh and also to be a part of all the regional meetings,” said H.E. Faisal bin Muaammar, Secretary General of the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID). “It’s the first time in the interfaith forum experience that we have all these regional meetings.”

“We are so proud that there is an increasing awareness of the role of religion and interreligious dialogue to support policymakers,” he continued. “What we see, at the United Nations, at the Multi-Faith Advisory Council to the United Nations and in the link to the G20, is that we have much room to serve through interfaith work.”

The International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID), with key partners the G20 Interfaith Forum Association, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and Saudi Arabia’s National Committee for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue are jointly supporting the consultations, which will help shape a final series of recommendations to world leaders ahead of next month’s G20 Interfaith Forum, as well as the subsequent meeting of the G20 itself, scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia in November.

Dr Vincent Depaigne, European Commission Coordinator for the dialogue with religious and non-confessional organisations, addressed how some of today’s recommendations could help promote dialogue between religious groups and non-religious actors in the European Union.

“The G20 is seen as an intergovernmental process, but also a process engaging civil society in general, including religious organisations,” said Dr Depaigne. “To us in the Commission, religious organisations are fully part of civil society. When we engage with civil society, we also engage with the religious organisations and churches present across Europe.”

The Consultation’s final speaker was Professor Alberto Melloni, a professor of History of Christianity at the University of Modena-Reggio and Chair Holder of the Unesco Chair on Religious Pluralism and Peace for his university and the University of Bologna, Italy.

Italy will host the G20 Summit in 2021.

“The experience of the previous G20 Interfaith forum is very valuable for all of us,” said Professor Melloni. “The Interfaith Forum is a chance and a challenge mostly in an area like interreligious dialogue and theology, the practice of interreligious dialogue and the political consequences of interreligious dialogue. For us it will be important to underline that the most important Italian authorities have already declared a willingness to participate if COVID disappears in the next year.”