Interfaith Communities that Have Multilateralism Inherent in their Respective Structural and Operational Mechanisms
Workshop at the 67th UN DPI NGO Conference
August 23, 2018
Prepared Remarks by Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding
I so appreciate the call and responsibility inherent in this year’s DPI NGO conference theme “We the Peoples: Together Finding Global Solutions for Global Problems.”
And so far at the conference I have heard calls to be loud, to be bold, to find new ways to strengthen our collective work, to bring our work to scale, and to include fresh innovation and imagination. As civil society space erodes, we have to hold it that space open and attempt to expand it, at the same time being critical and frugal about the flow of time and resources into spaces where our impact is limited. We have to define our own measures of success, and assess where we draw strength and inspiration and build our collective force.
I invite you all to join me in taking a few silent breaths, to remind ourselves of our sources of inspiration and the nourishment we receive in each moment. Thank you.
The Temple of Understanding is one of the oldest interfaith organizations, founded with a mission of building peace among all the world’s religions. Our multilateralism is built into our current operating structure, where we work in multifaith and interfaith and secular coalitions. We translate religious concerns into the UN’s secular language of human rights and morality. We are small and focused on networking, joining coalitions and amplifying voices from the margins. Our peace work is pragmatically focused on what makes for peace: food, water and health. We also ask about the sustaining force of faith, or values, in all we do.
As part of the NGO Mining Working Group (made up of over 30 religious and other groups, with constituencies in over 27 mining countries) we fought for the human right to water to be included in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6. Partnering with secular activists in water justice made this possible, including Meera Karunananthan and Maude Barlow who are global water activists and experts. We then contributed to the production of the Water Justice Guide, intended to help to local communities see which UN mechanisms may help them. Outreach goes to the grass roots constituencies, and the justice guide has gone to every diocese in the Greek Orthodox church.
I have served as a bridge between the Mining Working Group and the Women’s Major Group, facilitating collaboration. While many in the WMG focus on women’s rights to health and reproductive services, I focus on environmental concerns intersecting with gender. WMG includes over 600 organizations across the globe.
Creative strategies have included color themed days and political positions, to lift up the issues and human spirits for change; street actions in NYC, such as upon learning of the murder of front line environmental justice activist Berta Caceres of Honduras. We created a tribute, using masking tape across mouths pulled off as names of those murdered were read, saying presente. It was well received, and then used in a UN video coming out of the UNEA conference. Of grave concern is the growing pattern of labeling activists as terrorists. Standing up for civil rights hopes to disrupt injustice. To conflate it with terrorism is completely inappropriate and endangers the lives of activists.
Members of the Women’s Major Group keep coming up with inspiring slogans, tee shirts; I’ve not heard a song yet. WEDO’s latest is a shirt spelling out the acronym FIERCE – Fierce, Intersectionalist, Environmentalist, Revolutionist, Climate Activist and Eternal Optimist.
During July’s HLPF (High Level Political Forum), I contributed to a Twitter storm highlighting the increasing murder of women human rights defenders, and the overall impact of the WMG’s social media campaign was over 25 million impressions, reaching 3.7 million people. And then the next day we were on the street in a solemn protest over the murder of four Columbian human rights activists.
Our fitness for purpose includes condensing our messaging, struggling to work effectively inside the UN and on the ground, and attending to “intersectionality”. This is one way of approaching “no one left behind” in our coalitions and partnerships. That means no more “manels”- panels of only men. Women must be fully included, and men are also included. Youth, Indigenous people, LGBTQI, People of Color, seniors, and those with disabilities must be included not as a laundry list, not perfectly, but with effort and in respect. So while I can not fully attend to all causes, I practice inclusion.
Of course we collaborate with all the groups represented on this panel, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the Interfaith Center of New York, and the United Religions Initiative.
I want to name some of the amazing women we have worked with:
- The late Dr. Wangari Maathai, now her daughter Wangira Mathai of Kenya
- Dr Pam Rajput of India
- Rev Marta Benavides of El Salvador
- Dr. Vandana Shiva of India
Our model is one of power with others, versus power over others. We listen and include. We stand with our Muslim friends in protesting Anti-Muslim discrimination, and we admire and promote the social justice and environmental work of our Indigenous colleagues.
Just as all UN agencies and civil society actors at the UN have been called to ensure we are fit for purpose, so too the interfaith movement must ensure it is fit for purpose, by examining any ways in which we miss the mark of the human rights standards. “Leave no one behind” is the motto of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Is the Interfaith movement leaving anyone behind? Are we fully inclusive of women? Youth? Indigenous people? LGBTQI folks? People of color? All religious perspectives?
The world’s religions are among the largest multinational organizations in the world. We must amplify our collective voice and demand action on crucial issues including climate change and social justice.
The Temple of Understanding is excited to welcome our 2018 student interns to New York City and the United Nations! Read on to meet our interns and learn about the projects they will be pursuing this summer.
My name is Isabella Amaro and I am a student from Guadalajara, Mexico. My keen interest in the Temple of Understanding internship stems from my experience volunteering in my community and my drive to solve the problems that I see present in Guadalajara. From a young age I began helping Central Americans and Mexican migrants in my city. At first, my family and I prepared sandwiches and bought juice to bring to these people. Years later, I realized that providing migrants with a meal was not doing enough to help them improve their situation, so I began to volunteer at a local shelter where, with a group of friends, I give English lessons to migrants. Although learning English provides migrants with a tool that can open the door to new opportunities and improve their communication skills, I wanted to intern at the United Nations because I still believe that legal action and international measures are needed in order to fully tackle this problem. I hope that by participating in the Temple of Understanding internship I am able to see and understand how problems, such as immigration, can be dealt with through diplomacy.
Throughout the program, I would like to analyze different methods being used to help migrants adapt to a new country, focusing on methods used to prevent migrants from Central America and Mexico from resorting to organized crime or gangs in order to adapt to life in their final destination, or survive the journey.
My name is Caroline Beshay, and I am a first year student at California State University, Long Beach, studying Political Science and International Studies. I am an 18-year-old Egyptian woman aspiring to change the world by becoming an international lawyer and working at the United Nations. I have always been passionate about the nature of politics. Unfortunately, in my county and the Middle East in general, democracy has not yet prevailed. I have encountered tolerance, understanding, and love in my country, but there is still a lot of corruption. I have also personally experienced a lot of religious and political intolerance alongside gender intolerance and injustice. Organizations like the Temple of Understanding and the United Nations have given people like me hope for this world, and I want to be a part of that hope for the world around me. I am pursuing this interest in hopes of expanding my knowledge and understanding of the world around me. I am interested in peacemaking and international relations as well as women’s initiatives. Peace is the first step to prosperity. I am hoping that this will be the first major stepping stone for a lifetime of world changing experiences. I am looking forward to this eye-opening experience.
My name is Larkin Cleland, and I am from Medina, Ohio, which I like to describe as the town the furthest south where people still pretend to be part of Cleveland. I am 18 and will be starting college this fall as an Eminence Fellow at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. I have grown up in an interfaith family, but in an area that is very homogeneous in many ways. I think because of this, and because of the opportunities I have had to meet people of completely different backgrounds, I feel driven to encourage communication between people from diverse situations. I am extremely excited to be able to interact with an institution as diverse as the UN while working towards the main goals I share with it: namely encouraging peace and equality. I am particularly interested in religious minorities and how they relate to majority groups in their countries and regions, as well as the unique challenges they face when they must flee as refugees. Specifically, I want to look at parallels between the various minority groups in the Middle East and South Asia.
Hello! My name is Molly Galant, and I am 18 years old and from New York City. I had the opportunity to research the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals during my junior year of high school, which propelled my interest in advocating for ecological prosperity in developing nations. In addition, as part of my senior year course load, I enrolled in the AP Environmental Science course. I found myself immersed in each lesson, and curious as to how to find viable solutions for global issues such as the decline in natural resources due to demand. I am most interested in advocating for Ecological Justice. The political and social climate, particularly of the United States, remains volatile as climate change is at the forefront of concern. Global warming is often disregarded due to personal prejudice and economic incentives. An era of “denial-of-facts” is being ushered in. Our priority, as current inhabitants of the planet, is to advocate for reducing the irreversible trends in climate change. Finally, I am interested in working towards the implementation of improved and advanced education regarding the environment for future generations because I believe that access to this knowledge is vital to the future of creating sustainable lifestyles.
Hi! My name is Yasmeen Khan. I’m 18 years old, and I’m from Los Angeles, California. I am incredibly excited to intern with the Temple of Understanding. I have always been very passionate about human rights and politics. I have interned on numerous political campaigns and am very dedicated to getting the youth in my local community involved in politics to encourage reform and progression within our society. I have participated in activities such as Speech and Debate and Model United Nations where I engaged in topics such as the refugee crisis and sexual assault. As a female I have experienced firsthand the prevalence of sexism and inequality in our society. This summer I anticipate researching how to make education more accessible in order to counter various oppressive issues plaguing young girls around the world like genital mutilation, child marriage, and poverty. A couple of years ago I had the honor of touring the United Nations, and ever since I knew that the United Nations is where I want to end up. This internship is the first step on my journey!
Hi! My name is Sofia Manekia. I am 18 years old and from Princeton, NJ. This fall, I will be a freshman at the School of International Service at American University. Ever since I was a little kid, I have always been fascinated by the world and how each country contributes to the global society at large. Those intimate connections between nations that link economies, societies, and humanities are what intrigue me and what drew me to international relations. The United Nations is the epicenter of those connections – it’s where these relationships thrive and are further enhanced. That is what led me to intern at the UN – to delve deeper into those relations and truly discover the unique attributes each nation has to offer.
Through my internship with the Temple of Understanding, I aim to further my understanding on the psychology of genocide as a form of mass killing and the social/political circumstances that facilitate it. Specifically, I intend to conduct meaningful research on the Yazidi Genocide in Iraq and Syria and the Darfur Genocide in Sudan. Two ongoing genocides that, unfortunately, have no end in sight. I am incredibly thrilled to be a part of the Temple of Understanding’s Summer Internship Program and am excited to start working on the pressing issues of today.
My name is Olwethu Mfeka, and I am an eighteen-year-old University of Cape Town student from Durban, South Africa. Given my country’s history of institutional racism and racial segregation, whilst growing up, I found that it was not reasonable for me to simply ignore socio-economic issues, such as disparities in access to healthcare, education inequality and housing segregation, which arose as a result of the injustices of the past. In high school, I began to show greater interest in current affairs. I sought opportunities to expand my knowledge and understanding of the world and its events, and was able to do so by attending youth conferences. This internship was a discovery I made whilst searching for ways to make meaningful use of my free time during holidays. Through the Temple of Understanding and the United Nations, I believe that I can learn more about women’s initiatives and peacemaking, on which I intend to focus for my research during the program. I am particularly interested in the rising number of cases of violence against South African women and in the effects of past and present United Nations peacekeeping operations, such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
My name is Danielle Miller, and I’m 18 years old. I live in Morgantown, West Virginia and will be attending Trinity College this fall. My main interests revolve around international relations and trade, human rights, and peace and conflict studies. I chose to apply to the Temple of Understanding internship because of my desire to learn more about world religions and how they relate to political systems, trade, and food sovereignty.
Last summer, I traveled to Peru and became interested in how Latin American countries use cultural and traditional methods for their organic food production, rather than the production methods of huge conglomerates that are detrimental to the environment and economy of small business owners. I have particular interest in food sovereignty, and would like to assist communities in becoming more sustainable and resilient by the use of traditional cultivation methods. I’m interested in researching food sovereignty methods in Peru and the role religion plays within food sovereignty. I would like to study the historical Incan techniques, as well as the use of historical irrigation systems — canal beds, cisterns, terraces, crop rotation, and smaller scale production for indigenous communities and families to preserve their environment and culture.
My name is Alessia Casson Milstein, and I am an eighteen-year-old from New York City. What led me to intern with the Temple of Understanding was my interest in international relations. Over the summer of 2016, I did a pre-college program at Oxford University and took an international relations course shortly after Brexit. I enjoyed the class greatly and wanted more experience working around international law, and I felt an internship would truly help me determine if this is a field I wish to pursue. I am also considering majoring in international relations. I am particularly interested in the justice issues (specifically involving the United Nations), of the Syrian refugee crisis and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. While these are my initial interests, they are issues I still feel fairly uneducated on; I also hope to learn more about social justice issues the United Nations is working on while pursuing this internship. I am particularly interested in exploring the current peacekeeping initiatives that the United Nations is involved in, and their direct impact on global conflict resolution, along with the Temple of Understanding’s role in related issues. While I am not a particularly religious individual, I look forward to exploring various faiths through religious site visits during this internship while also discovering the role of faith in creating global peace.
My name is Eric Muthondu, and I am an 18-year-old from Richmond, Texas. This fall I will be a freshman at Harvard University potentially pursuing degrees in African Studies and Economics. My interest in the United Nations and wanting to be an intern mainly stems from my passion for understanding the expanding interconnectedness of the world we live in as well as the social, political, religious, and economic factors that contribute to modern global trends. Through summer programs on foreign policy and discussions with diplomats, I have gained valuable insight into the complex nature of global relations and the pressing issues that often impede recognizable progress. During my time at the UN, I hope to explore the history and implications of education in Africa and its impact on children’s rights, access to higher standards of living, and national brainpower. Nonetheless, I hope that my time at the Temple of Understanding will be a time of growth, reflection, and empowerment to continue asking questions and pursuing answers.
My name is Amparo Nieto. I am 18 years old, and I am from Argentina. This year I’ll be a freshman at Drexel University. I have always had a deep interest in the workings of the world. Since I was a kid, I liked to read the newspaper, even though, back then, I did not understand much of what it said. As years passed I began to understand, and with that, something clicked in my mind: I realized we lived in a world that was full of problems. That was when I realized that I could not stay with my arms crossed in the reality we live in. My goal in life is to work at the United Nations, and this internship is the first step to accomplishing this. I hope to gain a perspective on many different issues: ecological, religious, political, racial, and so on. I hope that after these four weeks I will be a different person with more knowledge and more experiences. I believe that in order to help the world we must first become global citizens and that this internship will help me with that.
I am currently deeply interested in the Rohingya situation in Myanmar. This conflict represents one of the biggest issues in the world: religious persecution. I hope that I can gain more insight on this conflict, try to come up with ways we can stop this crisis, and see how we can help future generations to be more understanding toward different religions.
My name is Joel Punwani, and I am nineteen years old. I come from many different places — I have three passports, I’ve lived in five countries, and parts of my family come from at least seven nations. If asked where I’m from, though, my short answer is London, the great city to which I always return. I first became interested in the UN through Model UN, which I’ve done and loved since eighth grade, going to ten conferences representing countries from every continent on issues of every kind — from the Central African Republic on Malaria prevention to Vietnam on the South China Sea. This fostered a greater interest in international relations, which I will be studying at University, and development. Though I’ve since gained interest in other aspects of governance, the UN remains my first passion, and to work and intern there with the Temple of Understanding is a wonderful opportunity. I hope to research a topic around the current rapid and ongoing urbanization, one of the most momentous changes to the state of humanity in history, and especially how it ties in with sustainable development, as most of the world’s greatest cities are now in developing states, and will continue to be so in the future.
My name is Ariana Rodriguez, and I am a junior at The College of New Jersey from Cranford, New Jersey. My biggest motivation for wanting to work with the Temple of Understanding at the United Nations is because I one day hope to work at the United Nations as a human rights lawyer. Many of my life experiences have led to this goal; I have traveled and have taken International Law classes that have opened my eyes to some of the struggles women face, and I cannot stand by without action. I am a part of a social justice-oriented community service scholarship at my college that has driven me to seek change on a larger scale. I am very passionate about all social justice issues, but particularly those of race, gender, and identity. My current area of particular interest is the ways in which we can remedy the inequalities women face around the world whether it be because of their race, gender identity, religion, or sexuality. I hope to incorporate these issue areas into my research for the summer and ultimately compile in-depth research on the medical and social inequality women around the world face, as well as the steps we can take to make a more inclusive world.
Hi, my name is Chris Toward and I have just finished my first year at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, where I study International Relations. I first became interested in the work of the UN through my travels to countries where the UN has been involved in conflict resolution, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina. I have built on this and learnt more about the UN over the past few years, both at Sixth Form College where I studied the UN from different perspectives in History, Geography, and Politics and now at St. Andrews where I have researched and discussed the role of the UN in international affairs in greater depth. I am unsure what specific issue I will focus my summer research on, but I anticipate that it will be based around the UN’s role in conflict resolution, especially the part it plays in harmonising relations between specific ethnic and religious groups. I am excited to be interning with an NGO that specializes in this.
I heard about the Temple of Understanding internship through a previous intern who is studying my degree in the year above at St. Andrews. I knew immediately that spending time at the UN would be a worthwhile and exciting way to spend a month of my summer, so I seized the opportunity and applied!
My name is Alessandra Viatore. I was born in Rome on February 13, 1999. Since I was a child, I have had the opportunity to travel and learn about other people and cultures. During my travels and experiences abroad, my curiosity and my interest in knowing and understanding life in different countries has been growing. At the same time, I have been in touch with very difficult realities, which have also influenced me, and have encouraged me to prepare myself to give my contribution to world peace. My experiences, the countries I have visited, and the people I have met, with their difficulties and their happiness, have motivated me to start my studies in International Relations. I believe in the work that many international organizations are doing in maintaining international peace and security, and I believe that to develop friendship among nations, while promoting and encouraging respect for human rights, is superb.
This is why I am so excited to have the opportunity to do an internship with the Temple of Understanding. I am sure that experiences of this type can change the professional future of many young people. For me it is important to prepare myself to be a good professional, but it is also very important to prepare myself as a person, without losing the principles and values that my family has given me. The opportunity that the Temple of Understanding is offering will help me to grow, personally and professionally, and an experience like this will help increase my knowledge and allow me to receive suggestions and ideas that can help me in my international studies and that may focus my mind for a future career. Particularly, I am very interested in learning more about religious understanding, which is clearly one crucial aspect of peace building. In recent years, we have been seeing an increase in tension, fear, and misunderstanding about Islam. There is also a link with the topic of women, which I am also extremely interested in. During my experiences with the Temple of Understanding this summer, I would like to delve deeper into root causes and possible solutions for peace through interfaith understanding and through developing leadership in young people.
My name is Monica Weglarz and I am an eighteen-year-old from northern New Jersey. I never realized how fortunate I was until I spent the summer in the Dominican Republic volunteering in a makeshift medical clinic. Through an organization called Unidos para la Salud, I had the opportunity to travel to Santo Domingo to help administer medication, assist with dental care and hand out school supplies to impoverished people. We converted an empty gymnasium into a facility of sorts dedicated to triage, dentistry, and pharmacy. While working in the pharmacy department, I read prescriptions and then distributed the appropriate medication. I connected with some people, learning their stories, dreams and goals. Through this experience, I realized I am blessed to have the luxuries that surround me back in the United States: a loving, nurturing home; the opportunity to conduct my own research and study; a steady supply of food and clean clothes. I took for granted and assumed I was entitled to all these things. I was wrong.
Through the smiles on the faces of the palomos, I experienced a new type of happiness that comes from helping others: love in action. This joy sparked a new desire within me. One day, I hope to work with the UN to bring humanitarian aid to suffering and impoverished communities internationally, especially the victims of genocides. As an intern with the Temple of Understanding, I am particularly interested in human rights, specifically the conflicts in Iraq and Syria where these innocent individuals are stripped of these rights. In both of these countries, ISIS has worked to exterminate the Yazidis, Shiites, and Assyrian Christians in mass genocides. With my time at the UN, I want to make a tangible difference in these anguished people’s lives.
My name is Abigail Young, and I am an 18-year-old girl from Pelham, New York. When looking for summer internships, I knew that I wanted to do something along the lines of what I hope to study in college: international relations, diplomacy, and languages. I was particularly intrigued by the Temple of Understanding because it works so closely with the UN, and I think international organizations like the UN are crucial to promoting peace among different societies and cultures. Upon finding this internship, I knew that it was the perfect combination of many of my interests: international relations broken into smaller segments like women’s initiatives, environmental activism, and more. This brings me to my interests regarding justice issues that I hope to study this summer: I would be very much interested in delving more into the topic of women’s initiatives. I was co-vice president of the Women’s Empowerment Club at my school, and one thing that we tried to place a strong emphasis on was bringing light to women’s issues around the world. I think this program would be the perfect medium through which I could continue my attention to these issues. I would also be interested in studying ecological justice, because environmental issues do not only concern the environment itself, but the people living on the land, the policy surrounding environmental initiatives, and what role the environment plays in the global community. I look forward to learning more about any and all global issues this summer, and I have no doubt that this will be an unforgettable experience!
The Temple of Understanding joins colleagues in horror over the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the travel ban targeting Muslims. This is so outrageous that we all need to voice our objection to the court’s blatant Islamophobia. We agree with dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor that this is “motivated by hostility and animus toward the Muslim faith.”
The Know Your Neighbor: Multifaith Encounters campaign of the Islamic Networks Group writes:
This decision sets a dangerous precedent by upholding a government policy directed against adherents of a specific religion — a policy that targets Muslim-majority countries for religious discrimination. [link]
They call on the interfaith community to increase interfaith engagement, dialogue with our neighbors, engagement with Muslims and their faith, and coming together to uphold our values, including respect for “the principle of justice, religious liberty, and equality in word and deed.”
Valarie Kaur, Esq., founder of the Revolutionary Love Project, writes:
History will remember this decision as among the most shameful rulings in the history of the Supreme Court: It upholds a ban that indefinitely separates U.S. citizens from their Muslim families. It sends a message to the world that America will discriminate against entire groups of people based on their faith. It emboldens the Trump administration to continue policies that enact cruelty, racism and xenophobia toward immigrants and refugees at the border and our airports. [link]
She reminds us to reach out, march, vote; Breathe and Push.
URI Community Responds to Supreme Court Travel Ban and offers ways to resist:
The best way to resist the harmful, isolating effects of fear and division is by reaching out and making a human connection. We suggest taking actions, such as:
- Reach out to comfort a friend or colleague from a community targeted by this ban.
- Raise your voice on social media.
- Join with others in your community to demand policy change and show public support for Muslim families.
From Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative:
I have enjoyed meeting some awesome activists from Puerto Rico who are organizing a historic citizen’s debt audit. Puerto Rico is crippled by debt, some of which is illegal, and all of which needs to be transparent in its sources, expenses, and uses.
Organizers write that “Citizens debt audits have been conducted in over 18 countries, including Brazil, France and Argentina, and these audits have produced concrete results without government participation. “
Their brochure lists irregularities and illegalities, including violations of the constitution, conflict of interest, excessive profiting, false representation, omission of risk factors and lack of legal authorization.
“Many PR creditors are hedge fund and US financial speculators, who bought bonds cheaply for as little as 5 cents but insist on a total re-payment – some for a return of investment of 1,900%! These are abusive profits for unscrupulous speculative investors in exchange for our public services.”
The video on their website is powerfully inspiring. with diverse citizens calling for debt audit NOW.
The debt crisis, which includes “harsh austerity measures to ensure payment for a legally dubious public debt”, is a human rights issue, as is the environmental pollution, exploitation and privatization.
It is my privilege to listen to courageous women tackling systemic problems, and my responsibility to share their model towards real change, and the request to support it.
Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative:
As always, this year’s CSW was intense and complex. The Temple of Understanding’s sessions were highly successful, and we anticipate sharing video from the panel in the near future. A hallmark of the Temple’s spiritual work is joining heart, body and mind, and learning deeply from the wide array of international speakers inside and outside of the UN.
Dr Veena Adige, our panelist from India, described CSW62 as follows:
The Kaleidoscope of the thousands of women who attended the CSW62 revealed that women the world over have similar problems, solutions and thinking. The energy, the excitement and exchange of ideas can be transformed into a better world for all. Though women who live in rural areas are at a higher risk of being left behind, the 50-50 in 2030 can soon become a reality. I saw that there was no discrimination among the delegates, there were instant friendships made, business contacts fixed and future plans made. There was laughter in the cafes in the UN but pin drop silence during the sessions. Temple of Understanding certainly paved the way to better understanding of people and situations. I enjoyed the whole program.
TOU Executive Director Alison Van Dyk reported that:
There were two main concerns from women around the world at the CSW parallel events this year: the persistent practice of FGM [female genital mutilation] and the trafficking of young women. What I heard in workshop after workshop was like a déjà vu of the UN Woman’s Conference in Beijing in 1995 but with the uncomfortable realization that things have gotten worse, not better. It is criminal that women are still being subjected to the dangerous practice of FGM and that worldwide, women have to put up with a nightmarish situation of sexual abuse, condoned and coordinated by a cartel that is lethal and spans the globe. Non-profit organizations are valiantly trying to stop these horrific conditions, but their work feels like a mere drop in the bucket. The question we have to ask ourselves is: why has this gotten so out of control?
Our colleagues report on successful negotiations inside the UN. Using “family” allows for diversity and is generally much broader than “the family,” which implies a stereotypical nuclear family. This was a huge win in the negotiations. Conservative groups also reported success because sexual orientation language was dropped from the outcome document. Multilateral negotiations are battles of strategy and compromise.
The experience of coming to CSW is empowering for many women. Louisa Eikhomun, the Executive Director of Echoes of Women in Africa, writes in detail of her experience, and commends Women Thrive Alliance for making it possible for grassroots women to attend and raise their concerns.
Photos by Grove Harris
The NYC March for Our Lives on March 24, 2018 was huge, lively and both festive and serious. So many young people, and people of all ages, came together affirming life and demanding change in the U.S. gun culture and laws. Many called for a ban on assault weapons for civilians.
I spoke with a veteran watching on the side of the march who was dismayed to see the NRA characterized as a terrorist organization, although he agreed that their marketing tactics were problematic. He thought the polarized communications on both sides needed to be toned down. In this age of social media tweets, texts, and massive personal data harvesting and manipulation, we still need to talk to people one on one about our differences of opinion.
–Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative
All photos by Grove Harris.
Temple of Understanding, Parliament of the World’s Religions,
NGO Committee on the Status of Women, World Peace Prayer Society,
International Federation of Women in Legal Careers,
United Religions Initiative, and United Methodist Women invite you to attend
The Fourth Annual Interfaith Service of Gratitude and Remembrance
Friday, March 16, 2018, 6:00 PM
Church Center for the United Nations, Chapel
777 United Nations Plaza, New York
The Temple of Understanding presents
A 62nd Commission on the Status of Women Parallel Event
Monday, March 12, 2018, 8:30 – 10:00 AM
Armenian Convention Center
630 Second Avenue, Guild Hall, New York City
Women of Faith Speaking to Structural Change:
Empowering Rural Women
This panel will address systemic problems and solutions that impact rural women and their urban counterparts. Access to education, to decent food, to land and other resources, including safety and respect, profoundly impact women’s enjoyment of human rights. The roots of sex trafficking, of violence against women, and the threats to (and murder of) women frontline human and environmental rights defenders are “cross-cutting” concerns; the panel will focus on solutions and solidarity.
Panelists reflect from their diverse faith perspectives on root causes and systemic change and on how their faith sustains their social justice work.
- Donna Bollinger – Executive Director, RFP-USA
- Dr. Veena Adige – Advocate for Education for Rural Girls, India
- Dr. Angela Reed, RSM – Coordinator, Mercy International Association: Mercy Global Action at the UN
- Grove Harris, MDiv – Moderator and respondent, Temple of Understanding
- Temple of Understanding
- United Religions Initiative
- Mining Working Group
- Religions for Peace USA
Dr. Veena Adige is a journalist who worked as Assistant Editor of an English newspaper and later as Associate Editor of a fortnightly English magazine. She currently freelances for several magazines and newspapers. She is the author of four books and six ebooks.
She holds two Bachelor’s degrees in Science and Mass Communications, two post graduate degrees in Public Administration and Linguistics and a Doctorate in Philosophy.
Deeply interested in women and children, she works with an English medium unaided school in a rural area near Mumbai, India, which caters to children of seven villages around. The school has 430 children, forty percent are girls. She is on the committee of the school and organizes social and extracurricular activities for the children, and participates in the meetings where decisions regarding the school are made. She organizes free medical (dental and eye camps) programs for the children, has initiated an activity whereby the children of the school interact with the senior citizens of an Old Age Home nearby. Also she visits the rural areas often to meet the people whose children are in the school to find out the difficulties, the problems and the challenges they and their children face. Through the school efforts go on to develop women, especially the rural girls. The school lays stress on giving the girl child opportunities for growth and development, making her equal to her urban counterparts.
The school was started as just a preprimary school when children had to be literally coaxed into coming to school, and it is now a full-fledged school, the first batch of SSC students (Tenth standard) appearing for their Board Exams in March 2018. She was in the committee when the school was in the preprimary stage and was conducted in the ground floor rooms of a hospital. Now the school building is a three storied one with more than four hundred students. Dr. Adige brought out two school magazines called EXPRESSIONS in 2016 and 2017 (as Editor), which give the activities of the school in detail.
Dr. Adige was responsible for starting a Children’s club in Nagpur, the only one in the world to have more than 25,000 children as members which is mentioned in the Limca Book of Records.
She has written several articles on women and children and participated in discussions, programs relating to them and was on the panel of child adoption when she was in Nagpur. She researched extensively on social worker Baba Amte who gave home to leprosy affected people and physically challenged ones when leprosy was a dreaded disease and has won several awards like the Magsaysay, Templeton, besides Gandhi Peace Prize, Padmabhushan, Padmavibhushan etc. And wrote a book on him for which the Ph.D degree was awarded in 2017 by the Zoroastrian University.
Dr. Adige’s husband, formerly a top executive, is also now in the field of social work and the school management. Her children are well settled. Her daughter lives in the USA and son lives in Mumbai, each with their families.
Donna Bollinger, Executive Director of Religions for Peace USA, has more than two decades of nonprofit leadership and development including faith based work in 36 countries. Born in rural western North Carolina, Donna has lived on the East Coast from Miami to Boston, as well as in Mexico, Morocco, and Switzerland. Working and living with those of diverse faith and cultures created a passion for religious liberty that welcomes those from all faiths and traditions to engage in dialogue and grow in mutual respect, understanding, and common vision. From grassroots community organizing to participating in White House consultations, Donna is comfortable in and understands the need for action and involvement from the local to the national level. Her demonstrated commitment to interfaith understanding and cooperation combined with a Master of Divinity and experience in financial management and grant acquisition has prepared her to fulfill the mission and needs of Religions for Peace USA.
Early in her career Donna served as a staff member for the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA and then the Ecumenical Gathering of Youth and Young Adults based in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of the World Council of Churches. Here in the United States, Donna has worked extensively with Haitian, Hispanic, and Hmong communities. She has used her background in education and community development to address the challenges of public health, economic development, and interfaith cooperation.
Born and raised in the rural south, Donna served as a delegated to the White House Consultation on RAW – Rural American Women. With a commitment to the issues and needs of Rural Women both in the USA and abroad, Donna created and built Native Grace, a fair trade resource and retail center promoting just wages, the rights of women and children, and economic development.
Donna is a graduate and merit scholar of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees with honors in education from East Carolina University.
Grove Harris, MDiv is an eco-justice and religious diversity educator and advocate who brings diverse grassroots perspectives to an international agenda. She currently serves as Representative to the United Nations for the Temple of Understanding, where she has developed justice initiatives related to food sovereignty, human right to water, interfaith education, and women’s initiatives in the context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.
Grove was Consulting Producer for the short film Roots of Change: Women, Food Sovereignty, and Eco-Justice (2016), in which she is featured along with other speakers on women’s initiatives and food justice. Her past positions include Program Director for the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions and Managing Director for the Pluralism Project at Harvard University. Her Master of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School (1996) incorporated studies of organizational development and business management into the study of religion and ethics.
Dr. Angela Reed, RSM is the current Coordinator at the Mercy International Association: Mercy Global Action at the UN Office. Dr. Reed is a graduate of RMIT University’s School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, in Melbourne, Australia where she completed her PhD on Human Trafficking. While living in the Philippines, her research focused on giving voice to Filipino women who had been trafficked for sexual exploitation. Over the years she has integrated her professional background in education, social work and theology to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to research, service provision and public advocacy. Her primary research interest is on gendered violence and in particular human trafficking.
Through this intimate knowledge of the women’s lived experience, Dr. Reed co-edited the book I Have A Voice: Trafficked Women – In Their Own Words and proposed a new paradigm, the “life course” approach. She recommends a preventative approach to human trafficking in which 17 “optimal life course conditions” (OLCCs) are taken into account for protection, promotion, and development, in an effort to strengthen individuals and help make them less vulnerable to being trafficked. She has presented her research and developments at conferences; workshops; public lectures; UN events; embassies; and keynote addresses, including “What is the OLCC Approach, and how does it relate to efforts underway to prevent human trafficking” at a one-day workshop to begin formulating a comprehensive action-framework to prevent human trafficking organized by Catholic Relief Services and the Centre for Civil and Human Rights, University of Notre Dame.
Prior to her research, Dr. Reed was a part time lecturer for the Master of Social Work courses at RMIT University and coordinator at a women’s safe house in Melbourne, Australia. She managed ’Mercy Care” a women’s safe house for 7 years where she encountered many women and children who were experiencing violence and abuse. Additionally, Dr. Reed was awarded with a Vincent Fairfax Ethics in Leadership Fellowship in 2008 where she was one of fifteen Australian leaders chosen from business, government, and community.
In 2015, Dr. Reed took up a role as Resident at the UN MIA Global Action office in New York and was appointed a three-year position as the Coordinator at the UN Mercy Global Action office in March of 2017.
Legal Mechanisms to Eradicate Poverty & Achieve Sustainable Development
Side event for the UN’s 56th Commission for Social Development 2018
February 7, 2018
Presentation by Grove Harris, Representative to the United Nations, Temple of Understanding
Thank you for the invitation to join this panel.
So much is interconnected in all the sustainable development goals, and the eradication of poverty requires efforts on many fronts. My colleague Winifred Doherty has laid out efforts within the UN over years, with treaties and agreements. Our convener Denise Scotto has affirmed the value of action from all. We each can act, and act now. All of the Temple of Understanding’s work contributes towards a common welfare where we all have enough.
Ecological Justice is crucial – we all need clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and health free from chemical affronts, including pesticides.
Food Sovereignty speaks to local control over agriculture and food, including seeds and methods of production. We call for a shift towards earth-centered politics and economics, and collective restraint of corporate exploitation.
The Human Right to Water requires an ongoing struggle to protect and increase community control and prevent exploitation and privatization of water, a common (and sacred) good.
Interfaith Education is important to regain curiosity and respect for our neighbors, and counter the “othering” that impoverishes our communities, our psyches, and our world.
Peacemaking, which practically defined requires food, water, and health, is crucial for ending poverty. War only profits the arms manufacturers, and it devastates communities and the environment.
Women’s Initiatives are essential, as women are much more likely to be impoverished, along with their children, and gender justice can begin to redress this, for the good of the entire community. Poverty brings intense vulnerability and is systemic.
How can we get at the heart of systems and act for real change?
- We need to break up concentrated wealth.
- We need to focus on community flourishing.
- We need to get much smarter about “partnerships.”
- We need to protect frontline human rights defenders.
- We need to act, aligning our spirit, our hearts, and hands.
We need to break up concentrated wealth.
The concentration of wealth into the hands of the very few is strangling the opportunities of communities. Redistribution is key, through creative changes in the system. Some examples (U.S. based) provide some hope for real change:
How about free higher education? In California, this could be funded by reinstating the state’s estate tax on wealth over 3.5 million. This idea has been put forth by Chuck Collins in Common Dreams.
How about reclaiming the markets for debt? The Occupy Movement has been buying up medical debt for pennies on the dollar, freeing people with major illness from devastating debt burdens, and then asking them to contribute towards freeing the next person. Can we do the same for educational debt? What about Puerto Rico, where one man in Boston bought up most of the country’s debt for pennies on the dollar, investing for “profit” (in this case greed) rather than shared prosperity?
How about holding corporations responsible for contributing to climate change? For example, New York City is suing the top five oil companies to recoup damages from super storm Sandy, holding them responsible for climate impacts and their prior knowledge of environmental damage. NYC is also moving to divest.
How about holding governments responsible? Youth are suing the U.S federal government in courts – and winning – over their right to a future without environmental degradation, and government’s neglect in not protecting that.
How about shinning more light on the lengthy and slow work at the United Nations in Geneva towards an international legally binding treaty for corporate responsibility for Human Rights?
We need to focus on community flourishing.
Daniel Perell spoke of community flourishing in the opening statement he delivered on behalf of the NGO Committee for Social Development. Clearly, we must shift from individualism and defining success by profit for the few. Our individual struggles must be collective ones, ending poverty on a community basis, with goods and services circulating locally as well as nationally and internationally, in ways that distribute technology and leap frog towards more environmental sustainability, while supporting local strength and advancement. Cooperatives, credit unions, and community-based service delivery systems must be enhanced. Re-localizing agriculture is essential, along with other service provisions. For example, in the U.S. the crisis of care for dementia is beginning to be addressed by locally based, free caregiver support systems. There is great need, and so great opportunity, and it can be approached in collective, supportive, grassroots ways.
Access to world markets and goods, technology and capital essential for economic miracles must be tempered by human rights, by full cycle design and upcycling. Community prosperity is key, and governments must benefit from the prospering of business, not just subsidize that private prosperity. Protection of the risks of entrepreneurs and investors must be tempered – the most vulnerable suffer risks every day without protection. We need social systems where no one is expendable and protection is available to all, from investors to the most vulnerable.
Riki Ott, who served the Alaskan community after the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster, found herself very useful, with her academic training in oceanography and the accompanying patience for reports and intellectual work, to the community of fisher people. Her legal work brought financial rewards to the community, but those funds brought challenges of divisiveness and opportunity for some but not for all. Her ongoing work to bring oil companies to task for the risks they run that inevitably lead to catastrophes and costs born by the environment and communities includes reaching out to law students, to train them to bring cases against all businesses that have not follow the due diligence laws already on the books. Many do not have legally mandated emergency response plans and means in place. In this sense, legal remedy for poverty looks like holding businesses accountable to existing laws, and can include work against the dark economy and illicit avoidance of taxation, profiteering drug and arms trading etc.
Poverty is not strictly economic – it can be cultural. Lack of human compassion, of human touch, and of welcoming community are part of what drive isolation and economic insanity. People who survive eating sugar rather than real food, by being fed on advertizing rather than information or literature, shopping to fill holes in heart and soul, being driven to drugs rather than more balanced lifestyles, are impoverished. They are vulnerable to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, struggling without community solutions to problems that cannot be managed by individuals or nuclear families in isolation. We cannot face powerlessness alone, and in coming together with others we can discover some power and flourish in community.
Indigenous peoples are fighting around the globe to protect sacred lands and sacred waters. They honor their spiritual commitments and interconnectedness and resist in community. I watched live web cast of native people at Standing Rock facing water cannons at night in the freezing cold of winter, protecting their sacred waters, which also protected the entire watershed and the water used by everyone downstream. While these people may not have the means to afford material comforts, they have a richness that cannot be denied.
We need to get much smarter about “partnerships.”
There is much eager talk about partnerships to achieve the SDGs, and usually meaning between corporations and governments. There is very little discussion of the dynamics of partnerships and the differing interests and accountabilities of the parties. Corporations serve their shareholders via profit, and governments sometimes serve their citizens and other times serve their financial backers. In our interconnected world, none of this happens in a vacuum.
Dictionary definitions can lift up multiple layers of meaning.
Partner – one that is united or associated with another or others in an activity or sphere of common interest, especially a member of a business partnership or a spouse (emphasis added). Middle English, alteration of parcener. Partner implies equal status.
Partnership is a legal contract entered into by two or more persons in which each agrees to furnish a part of the capital and labor for a business enterprise, and by which each shares a fixed proportion of profits and losses. Mutual cooperation and responsibility is mentioned.
Parcener – (coparcener) one of two or more persons sharing an inheritance, a joint heir (emphasis added).
(All excerpted from the American Heritage Dictionary – Fourth Edition, 2000)
Our business partnerships can be subject to the same abuses that marriage partnerships sometimes involve. Business needs more than capital and labor – all extractive industries take from the earth without replenishment. Natural resources are depleted – a common inheritance is taken from the public domain and misused as an invisible part of the model, for private profit.
Clearly there are large costs to be anticipated in negotiating major contractual partnerships, and globally a track record of dismal results from megaprojects and water privatization schemes. And the “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the American dollar does not protect our common inheritance of clean and accessible water, or clean air or clean soil.
Protect frontline environmental human rights defenders.
Legal mechanisms continue to be developed, and it is a cutting edge question as to how international human rights law can effectively protect frontline environmental human rights defenders. Note the diplomatic sentence on page 10 of the NGO Mining Working Group Water guide, “There are significant gaps in existing national and international legal frameworks for pursuing accountability against transnational corporations for human rights abuses.” We must remain cognizant that many front line defenders are making the ultimate sacrifice. For example, Berta Caceres of Honduras was murdered after numerous death threats for her work defending a watershed against a dam project. Her international recognition with a Goldman environmental prize did not save her life. And outrage over her murder did not save the life of others in her organization, murdered within the year.
What has been effective in this case has been the lobbying of the investors in the dam, who have withdrawn their funds. Hopefully legislation introduced in the US House will have some impact, prohibiting funds for Honduras police and military. H.R. 5474, The Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act is held up in committee; it outlines a set of measures and is available online. Similarly, a second bill H.R. 1299, March 2, 2017 seeks to protect front line activists and farmers who have been murdered defending their water and land.
The Women’s Major Group has developed a method of highlighting these tragic deaths at UN conferences. A group of women put tape over their mouths, and as the names of those murdered defending water and land are read, a woman pulls of the tape and says “presente”. This is an attempt to bring voice to the voiceless, and call for necessary change on violations of the rule of law. May all of us remember the impacts on the ground of the issues debated here at the United Nations.
I have colleagues in the room who regularly refer to their congregations around the globe to find out how they might usefully shine a light on human rights abuses. There are times when such attention might further endanger the lives of those on the front lines. There’s a useful manual about how to appropriately engage in solidarity. For those of us lifting up the stories of others, it’s about respecting their circumstances and their wishes, and not making the story about ourselves. We need to keep the focus our mutual concerns, which are the water and land and their preservation for this and future generations.
In conclusion, we are called to act.
We need to act, aligning our spirit, our heads, our hearts, our hands and our feet.
- Be alert to ‘fake’ language that covers over privatization that will benefit the few at the expense of the community.
- Use U.N. mechanisms to support calls for action at local levels.
- Lobby funders of development projects that are trampling on human rights.
- Fund effective interventions like self-defense training for girls and self-respect training for boys.
- Collaborate with those more in the know. Religious activists can work with local community experts and with global advocacy experts.
- Plan on grief, my own and others’. We need to support each other and understand that anger may be a response to grief.
- Align our values and passion with action.
- Welcome others to this work.
- Own our own vulnerability. Avoid rigid defenses, to be able to respond rather than react to ongoing assaults.
- Take Sabbath time, meditation time, and prayer time to help renew, refresh, and maintain clear focus.
- Each of us can own whatever privilege we have, and strategize about how to use it.
- Listen. Listen. To the Earth, to children, to the sacred. And to other people.
The International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA)
The International Federation of Women in Legal Careers (FIFCJ) invite you to a conversation concerning
Legal Mechanisms to Eradicate Poverty
& Achieve Sustainable Development
Wednesday, February, 7, 2018, 11:45am-1:00pm
UN Conference Room D
405 East 42nd Street, New York, NY
Overview & Moderator
Denise Scotto, Esq., Attorney at Law & International Policy Advisor, FIDA/FIFCJ UN Representative
Special Guest Speakers
- Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights NY Invited
- UN Women Invited
- Grove Harris, Main Representative to the UN, Temple of Understanding (TOU)
- Winifred Doherty, UN Representative, Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd
This is a side event for the UN’s 56th Commission for Social Development 2018.
ALL ARE WELCOME!