Within the context of the new chair in Religion and Sustainable development, launched in January 2019 in collaboration with ACT Alliance and ICCO and led by Prof Azza Karam, Vrije Universiteit organized a Roundtable on Gender and Development to discuss how religious actors can contribute to the achievement of SDG 5 (gender equality) and agenda 2030.
Prof. Karam, the chairperson of the UN interagency taskforce for cooperation with faith-based organisations, is widely known for her expertise in religion and development.
Religion plays a major role in all developmental issues, including around gender equality, education, peacebuilding, poverty and climate change. As 80% of the world’s population identifies with a religious belief, it is critical to understand its role in shaping international politics and policies.
The road to gender justice remains a long one and walking the talk is a challenge for many religious institutions. Religious actors are among the strongest social and cultural gatekeepers in many parts of the world, and often, mainstream religious discourse still upholds patriarchal messages, making religious institutions “the strongest bastions of patriarchy in modern times”.
As co-organiser of the new chair of Religion and Sustainable Development, ACT Alliance’s General Secretary, Rudelmar Bueno de Faria alongside Corrie Van der Ven, ACT’s Program Manager for Religion and Development participated in the proceedings.
“Faith actors, specifically those dealing with the interpretation of sacred texts, have the task to identify what kind of religious understanding is giving ground to traditional and unequal gender roles,“ said Bueno de Faria.
“If gender roles are defined to limit and restrict full humanity for women and non-conforming identities to the normative patriarchal norms and values – then, this system is not fair, not based on justice. Churches and faith-based organizations that are grounding their practices in the Bible and a theology that is based on love and dignity, cannot but be prophetical and critical to this kind of system,” continued Bueno de Faria
The active engagement of ACT Alliance with the new chair of Religion and Development is part of ACT’s wider strategy of implementing the Created Equal Campaign, a groundbreaking gender justice campaign which aims to change minds and hearts on issues of gender equality amongst religious actors operating in humanitarian, developmental and environmental contexts.
The day before, the new chair of Religion and Sustainable Development, Professor Karam also delivered an inaugural lecture:
“It is not whether religions matter to development or not – for they do. Nor is it a question of how religions matter. For clearly, religious actors matter in multiple ways – so much so that there is even a religious inspired technocracy at play. Rather, I maintain that the questions should be: which religious actors are prepared to uphold all human rights at all times? And which government and/or intergovernmental entity is prepared to work with those actors to secure the indivisibility, interrelatedness, as well as the inherent and inviolable character of human rights for all human beings with no exceptions – thereby strengthening civic spaces which can uphold and defend democratic values, in an age of unreason?”
The roundtable is part of a series of events that VU Universiteit is developing to encourage dialogue between religious and secular organizations on some of the most pressing challenges of our time and to explore how faith-based beliefs and practices can contribute to achieving the ambitious agenda that governments need to implement by 2030.