Leave No One Behind: Gender Justice, Rights and Empowerment
At January's Cross Party Group on International Development meeting at Holyrood, speakers from Islamic Relief, Christian Aid and the University of Edinburgh shared their insights and experiences of tackling gender injustice in local, national and international contexts.
Lewis Macdonald MSP and Jane Machira, Christian Aid. Credit: Esme Allen 2019, Christian Aid Scotland
Kicking the meeting off, MSPs and guests heard from Jane Machira, a Kenyan national and the gender and inclusion Advisor at Christian Aid. Jane has over 25 years of experience in the development sector, with expertise in gender inclusive programming, working across Africa.
Before going into the background and work of the Side by Side movement, Jane explained her work with Christian Aid is underpinned by 4 pillars of inclusion:
- Challenging gender and power imbalances
- Meaningful access and participation / addressing barriers
- Safety, dignity and do no harm
- Accountability – ensuring all people have opportunities to provide feedback
However, she emphasised that ‘Leave No One Behind’ means inclusion in all its forms, and that Christian Aid programming focuses on sex, age, disability and diversity.
Side by Side - mobilising communities for gender justice
Jane went onto explain how Side by Side, a faith movement for gender justice that brings all faiths together, has the potential to be truly transformational. Since its inception in 2015, 10 chapters of the movement have sprung up across the African continent.
In many contexts across Africa and elsewhere, faith leaders remain influential in shaping political and cultural discourse. “When they speak, we listen” Jane said, as she explained the importance of bringing faith leaders on board to achieve gender justice. They have a prominent role when it comes to engaging with policy makers, stakeholders and governments.
In Malawi only last week, the Side by Side campaigned against political violence towards female candidates in the run up to the election there. In Burundi, the movement has focused on Inheritance Law. Jane emphasised that gender justice work on this theme can be redistributive and help fight poverty as well.
Islamic Declaration of Gender Justice - a call to action against gender inequality
Shahin Ashraf MBE (pictured left), Global Advocacy Advisor at Islamic Relief Worldwide, spoke passionately and openly about the reality of fighting for gender justice in the context of Islam. She said that cultural traditions have been used to legitimise gender inequalities, and emphasised that harmful practices must be challenged by faith leaders in Islam.
She acknowledged that patriarchy continues to influence how scripture is implemented and structured which impacts on societal roles and abilities assumed by both men and women.
Islamic Relief Worldwide have recently launched a pioneering Islamic Declaration of Gender Justice. The Declaration is a call to action against gender inequality from an Islamic faith perspective, and seeks to tackle discrimination and harmful practices, especially against women and girls in Muslim communities.
Shahin went on to say that this declaration and their work on gender justice is particularly important in ex-conflict zones where women often shoulder the burden of peacebuilding. She highlighted the need for new types of religious leaders – people who challenge traditional interpretations. The declaration does just that, it asks people to face up to contemporary and historical patriarchal challenges.
However, she also said that this process must be bottom up in its approach, not top down: “We must encourage and empower Muslim leaders, mobilise communities, restore social relations, and support inter and intra faith dialogue.”
A good story to tell in Scotland…
Dr Lesly Orr, from the University of Edinburgh, was the third speaker of the day. A historian, theologian and activist, she has extensive experience working in the NGO and public sector for gender and social justice.
Focussing on the Scottish context, Lesly reiterated the importance that faith communities play in the wider movement for gender justice.
Scotland has come a long way on the road towards equality. In the 100 years since women gained the vote in this country, there has been significant progress on equal pay, employment, autonomy over bodies and recognition in religion.
She told the story of Helen Crawford, a suffragette motivated by women around her in desperate poverty in Glasgow in the early 20th century. Her message of speaking out to catalyse transformative change is still relevant today. The voices of women have often been silenced and subordinated, but a big part of the journey in Scotland, she said, “is women speaking for ourselves”.
The realisation that the system and structures in place were the root cause of gender inequality was transformational in Scotland. For many, religion was part of that problem, perpetuating the status quo. But women’s voices within churches challenged this, through messages of love, liberation and equality.
Today in Scotland, the changes are stark – we have a female First Minister and a Cabinet that is 50% women. However, we still live in a society with significant and continuing gender inequality. The pace of action for many women, particularly minority groups is slow – many are still being left behind. Thankfully, women across Scotland are rising to the challenge.
Save the date 25 September 2019!
The overarching theme of the Alliance Annual Conference 2019 will be gender justice!
This year, the conference will take place on 25 September at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Look out for upcoming announcements on keynote speakers and sessions...
*All images credited to Esme Allen 2019, Christian Aid Scotland*