Voices of faith challenge violation of women’s rights

By agency reporter
July 8, 2013

Speaking at the Human Rights Defenders Forum, former US President Jimmy Carter has called the abuse of women the “most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violation in the whole world.” This abuse, he stressed, is contrary to the basic premise of every religion, including Christianity.

Carter spoke at the forum held at the Carter Center, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, from 27 to 29 June, addressing the theme 'Mobilising Faith for Women'.

The event brought together 70 religious leaders, activists, and religious scholars representing more than 15 countries and over 35 faith-based organisations, including the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Carter emphasised that women’s abuse is a direct contradiction to the universal declaration of human rights, to which almost every country in the world holds itself accountable as signatories.

He noted how some religious leaders have abused religion in the reading of sacred texts and scriptures to justify the dominance of men and the inferiority of women. "Such an understanding is incompatible to religious beliefs," Carter argued.

In response to Carter's comments, Dr Fulata Lusungu Moyo, WCC programme executive for Women in Church and Society, spoke of how women have taken the lead in reading scriptures in their communities for awareness raising on women’s issues. These issues have included human right violations and the trafficking of women and girls.

Moyo explained how the methodology of contextual Bible study has been used to shed light on the issue of women’s trafficking. One such example is reading the book of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible, which invokes reflections on how Ruth was trafficked as a young woman.

She added that due to general patriarchal misconceptions of women as inferior, women find themselves in desperate social and economic situations. These circumstances lead to women’s vulnerability in being forced to turn their bodies into commodities through human trafficking and sexual slavery, Moyo said.

“In the book of Ruth, Naomi had to use Ruth as a younger woman to regain the property and food sovereignty by ‘sexually trading’ herself to Boaz, a rich man much older than her,” Moyo said. She asked them if there are deprived and desperate women like Ruth and Naomi in their communities.

“Have you listened to their stories? And what are you doing to protect these women from such dehumanisation?” she asked.

Mona Rishmawi, chief of the Rule of Law, Equality and Non-Discrimination Branch in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also addressed the forum. She asked why most religious leaders were not standing up to defend women's rights by declaring that the abuse of women and girls was sinful in the eyes of God.

“Wasn’t it because they erroneously believed that women are inferior to men?" She argued that culture and religion should not be confused, and that each should enhance the dignity and wholeness of every created being, especially that of women and girls.

On behalf of the WCC, Moyo presented several WCC publications to Jimmy Carter, one of which was the recently released, When Pastors Prey, featuring a prologue from Carter himself. The book tells the stories of women whose trust was abused by their pastors, offering a procedural and legal framework to assist in understanding and addressing the problem.

Several sessions at the forum were led by Carter accompanied by his wife Rosalynn, and Karin Ryan, director of the Carter Center's Human Rights programme.

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