Preventing Gender-based Violence: The Role of Religious Actors #CSW63

Report by Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative

On March 22, 2019, the final day of the CSW, I attended a side event on “Preventing Gender-based Violence: The Role of Religious Actors.” It was co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Botswana and Finland to the United Nations, the UN Interagency Task Force on Religion (co-stewarded by the UN Office for Genocide Prevention, UNAIDS, UNFPA, UN Women), and the ACT ALLIANCE.

From the event description:

“The interactive discussions will assess the specific contributions of faith-based and faith-inspired actors, when partnering with governments and UN system entities, to deal with diverse forms of gender-based violence. The conversations aim to contribute to the wider discussion and mobilisation around the implementation of the landmark ‘Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes.'”

The room was full, indicating the high level of interest in this topic. Mr. Dieng, United Nations Under-Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, opened the session via video. His exemplary work is documented with video and written statements available.

Muslims for Progressive Values President Ani Zonneveld spoke on hate speech and her work on empowering reform of education in Muslim societies. She suggested that rather than investing in funding travel to international speaking opportunities for high-level men, the same funds could bring youth to advocacy training camps for better net result.

The rights of LGBTI individuals were brought up as part of the commitment to leave no one behind. It is no longer acceptable to allow religious or cultural attitudes to infringe on the basic human rights of all. The event was sponsored by the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG) and co-sponsored by UN WOMEN, UNFPA, UNAIDS and ACT Alliance.

I was honored to attend an earlier expert consultation, part of this line of work on preventing genocide, entitled “Preventing Polarization, Building Bridges and Fostering Inclusivity: The Role of Religious Actors” held in NYC earlier in March. This brilliant session brought academics and religious actors to the table, and a publication is planned.

A previous session focused on religion and ultra-nationalism. The dedication and effort of Simona Cruciani and others working on this initiative are phenomenal.

#CSW63 – Report on the 2019 Commission on the Status of Women

Report by TOU UN Representative Grove Harris
63rd Commission on the Status of Women, 11-19 March 2019

The Temple of Understanding’s events at CSW63 were well-attended and brought a heart-centered attention to the work.

Systemic Commitment Towards Peace, Justice and Transformation

The singing of Kristin Hoffman lifted spirits and encouraged our speakers to move right to the core. The synergies between speakers Eileen Llorens, calling for a debt audit and justice for the people of Puerto Rico, and Katherine Power, calling for personal practices of peace that inform action, fed the audience. We were gratified by the number of young people present and respect the voice of one participant who called out those who want to simply turn over the world’s problems to the younger generation. We all have to stand and own our parts and work for change.

Katherine Power, Eileen Llorens, and TOU Executive Director Alison Van Dyk

 

For inspiration, check out Imagine a Puerto Rican Recovery Designed by Puerto Ricans. There is also current New York Times reporting on unequal treatment and the reconstruction challenges still facing Puerto Rico, which include hunger, lack of medical care, and damaged bridges and other infrastructure:

“Puerto Rico was in financial distress and had crumbling infrastructure before Hurricane Maria, and many residents complain of government malfeasance that exacerbated the storm’s impact, echoing criticism from Washington. But Puerto Rican leaders say the delay to the Vieques hospital and thousands of other stalled projects is a reflection of unequal treatment from the White House and Congress, which last week failed to pass disaster relief legislation because of a dispute over how much money to send the island.”

 

 

The Fifth Annual Interfaith Service of Gratitude and Remembrance

The service of remembrance was a sorely needed time for the community to come together in spirit. We at the Church Center lost many colleagues in the tragic airline crash in Ethiopia, and while our work and the CSW can be hectic, ultimate concerns call us to stop and pay attention to the losses in our midst. We also heed the practice of gratitude, which co-exists with grief. Music and prayerful remembrances of individuals who have passed on, recollection of our connections to the Earth, and honoring of all of our mothers, helped us join together for an hour of peace.

Conversations on Social Cohesion: Stories of Women, Faith, and Leadership

It was an honor to join this group of women in speaking from the heart.

TOU Executive Director Alison Van Dyk commented, “It was heartwarming to hear women in leadership positions being so forthright about their experiences of being ignored, put down or belittled by unwanted advances. As someone in a leadership position I agree that we can no longer accept this behavior as the norm. We must speak out more forcefully about our right to be acknowledged and call out all unacceptable behavior towards women worldwide.”

Our colleague Jillian Abballe from the Anglican Communion posted on Facebook afterwards, “This doesn’t feel like an event. This feels like a witness to the stories of amazing, powerful faith-full women, that I am so grateful to work with, to walk this path with, to dream with, to shake things up with. I feel healed by this conversation.”

Together, we can end “business as usual” and pursue transformation.

CSW63, March 2019: “Social Cohesion: Stories of Women, Faith, and Leadership”

More details on the speakers at these sessions is available here.

Outcomes

The TOU attended many more sessions during the CSW for solidarity, inspiration, education, and collaboration. Resources and links are in this complementary blog post. We offered support to those civil society members advocating during the proceedings inside the UN.

Our colleagues at WILPF, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, reported on outcomes of the CSW in detail, explaining that:

The Agreed Conclusions represent a step forward in identifying and removing barriers to women’s and girls’ access to public services. The Conclusions contain notably stronger language on the need for increased investment in social protection, public services and sustainable infrastructure to support the productivity of women’s work, including in the informal economy.

Though discussions varied widely, the civil society movement and Member States joined together in their call for:

  • acknowledgement of the synergies between and among sectors;
  • a holistic, intersectional, and intersectoral approach to peace-building and security;
  • and a recognition of the implementation of such approaches as a precondition of sustainable peace. 

Member States highlighted concrete initiatives as clear and concise frameworks for the implementation of an integrated approach to economic and social development at both national and international levels. Examples of these initiatives include: the National Social Protection Policy in Zambiathe Social Cohesion Fund in Morocco, feminist international agendas, like France’s Feminist Foreign Policy and the 100% ODA Plan of the UAE.

 

And of course there is much more on Twitter:

#CSW63 WRAP-UP: SOCIAL PROTECTION AS KEY TO #MOVETHEMONEY FROM WAR TO GENDER EQUALITY AND PEACE

 

#CSW63 Wrap-Up: Resources

Collected by Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative

The Commission on the Status of Women in NYC is an incredible opportunity for connecting with others doing advocacy around the globe. So many of the sessions offer truly inspirational resources and are crucial for the systemic transformations we need. From systemic survivor-centered approaches to ending trafficking in sexual exploitation, to critique of the Vatican, to art as a form of healing, to an overarching strategy to meet the Sustainable Development Goals within planetary boundaries, to the concurrent environment assembly in Nairobi, incredibly diverse efforts to reshape our world in more just and sustainable ways are happening.

Sex Trafficking

Our colleagues at Mercy International Association released Inherent Dignity: an Advocacy Guidebook to preventing trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and to realizing the human rights of women and girls throughout their lives.

This work gets at the systemic causes and promotes transformation. Listening to survivors is key to their systemic approach, which was beautifully demonstrated at their session at the CSW. Their advocacy guide, available in its entirety online, is a comprehensive and accessible tool to move us forward towards ending human trafficking.

From the forward:

A human rights approach to trafficking means that all those involved in anti-trafficking efforts – from law enforcement agencies to victim service providers – should integrate human rights into their analysis of the problem and into their responses. This approach requires us to be rigorous in considering, at each and every stage, the impact that a law, policy, practice or measure may have on women and girls who have been trafficked or are at risk of being trafficked. It means embracing responses that empower and protect. Critically, it also means rejecting responses that risk compromising rights and freedoms. A useful example of this risk is the still-common practice of detaining women victims of trafficking in shelters. While there may be good reasons to seek to protect trafficked women from further harm, denying adult victims their right to freedom of movement in this way is not in keeping with a human rights approach.

The trafficking of women for sexual exploitation is a global wrong that implicates us all. But like so many challenges facing our fractured, troubled world, it is not amenable to a quick, technical fix. More than money or expertise, an end to the exploitation of human beings for private profit requires moral and spiritual leadership – it requires us all to stand up and say “this is wrong, this must stop”.

From 1.5:

Survivors of trafficking report that they were victimized from childhood to early adulthood, making them prey to traffickers. Their opportunities for decent work were severely limited, as were the supervision and support provided by their families, their safety at home and in the community, and their education. These precursors to trafficking all reflect a more sinister and structural oppression in which girls and women are made vulnerable to predators. Understanding systemic victimization over the life course is key to a holistic and preventative approach to human trafficking.

 

Catholics for Human Rights

Another CSW parallel event featured a panel of powerful speakers, a coalition of Catholics for Human Rights. It was followed by an afternoon forum for further discussion on abuses, harm reduction and healing. According to their press release, they discussed

the central role the Holy See has played in obstructing any progress by the CSW in many areas of human rights, including in sexual and reproductive rights, and how the Holy See as a religious body exceeds their powers at the CSW and at the UN. In part, this is manifested by not complying with treaties related to the treatment of women and children, as well as to condemning and denying rights of those the committee is dedicated to protecting, from women and children to LGBTQ people.

 

Gender and Science, Technology, and Innovation

A side event on Gender and Science, Technology, and Innovation: UN Initiatives offered a panel of women speakers on topics such as investing financially in women and encouraging women to register patents, on employment pathways such as “African Girls Can Code,” and on other ways that women need to “redesign the table” rather than simply sue for inclusion. At that session, Chantal Line Carpentier of UNCTAD mentioned an important strategic report about our way forward to sustainability, written for the Club of Rome, October, 2018. The report lays out four pathways – “same,” “faster,” “harder and smarter,” and finally simply “smarter,” a much more compelling option.

Transformation is Feasible: How to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals within Planetary Boundaries

Excerpts from the executive summary:

This is the world’s first study – to our knowledge – on how to optimally achieve all SDGs within all PBs through an integrated Global System Model. We find that a piecemeal approach to attaining the goals sets up trade-offs and conflict among goals. The pursuit of each and all SDGs is necessary, but not sufficient to succeed in the longer run, and potentially even counterproductive. A transformational approach to SDG achievement is needed. The elements of this transformation are presented in our scenario 4) but further analysis and modelling are needed to support the necessary changes worldwide.

It seems necessary to implement transformational and extraordinary policy changes, in order to achieve near full success of SDGs within PBs. These policies need to go well beyond the conventional policy toolbox. …

2. Transformative change is possible, through five strategies that seem to be powerful ways to reach most SDGs within most PBs. The five measures are:

1) accelerated renewable energy growth sufficient to halve carbon emissions every decade,
2) accelerated productivity in sustainable food chains,
3) new development models in the poor countries,
4) unprecedented inequality reduction, and
5) investment in education for all, gender equality, health, family planning.

The choice is the simplest way we have found to achieve all SDGs both social and environmental. They represent five “leverage points” to intervene in the globally interconnected geo-bio-socio-economic system. Together, they are capable of shifting the global system onto a new path in the decades ahead.

Women, Girls, and Families

Not all sessions are as rigorously intellectual; blessedly, for example, there was a parallel event on art as a tool for self-esteem and healing for girls in Rwanda and Haiti.

The Temple was also present at a strategy session with UN Women, where we learned of their forthcoming edition of Progress of the World’s Women (June 2019) which will focus on the theme of “Families in a Changing World.” Note that it is families plural, which indicates a feminist perspective that there are diverse forms of families, all of which need respect and support. It is anticipated that the data shows about 25% of families are currently in the “nuclear” model. Other family forms include single-headed households, multi-generational families (more than two generations), and family structures impacted by migration.

Interfaith Climate Advocacy at UNEA

At the same time as the CSW in New York City, the 4th United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) took place in Nairobi. Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, the acting Director-General of the United Nations Office in Nairobi and Executive Director of UN Habitat opened the session:

“The theme of this Assembly – ‘Innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production’ – is both timely and relevant. Changing today’s unsustainable consumption and production patterns, including through innovation and creative approaches, is essential if we are to succeed in tackling the mounting environmental challenges facing our world.”

You can review her statement and those by other opening plenary speakers, regional and political groups, and national statements online.

The interfaith presence was strong through our colleagues on the Parliament’s Climate Task Force. The TOU has been consulting with the Climate Task Force as it gains in strength.

 

TOU at the 2019 Commission on the Status of Women #CSW63

The Temple of Understanding presents
A 63rd Commission on the Status of Women Parallel Event

Tuesday, March 12, 2019, 10:30am
Church Center for the United Nations, 10th floor
777 United Nations Plaza, New York

[DOWNLOAD FLYER]

Systemic Commitment Towards Peace, Justice and Transformation

This interactive panel will focus on pragmatic aspects of women’s empowerment and sustainable development. Speakers include Puerto Rican women working towards a citizen’s audit of the debt, a chaplain working on ratification of CEDAW in the US, and a former guerrilla now grandmother speaking on personal practices of peace. All aim to equip communities and individuals to create justice and transformation, with a focus on gender justice. Inspiration and perseverance are fostered by song and solidarity. We conclude by offering multiple avenues for engagement.

Speakers include:

  • Eileen Llorens and colleagues, activists for a Puerto Rican citizen’s audit
  • Katherine Power, spiritual practitioner for peace
  • Rev. Dionne Boissière, Chief Steward of the Church Center at the United Nations
  • Kristin Hoffman, musician and peace activist
  • Grove Harris, MDiv – Moderator and respondent, Temple of Understanding

Co-Sponsors

  • Temple of Understanding
  • Servicios Ecumenicos para Reconcilliation y Reconstrucion (SERR)
  • Loretto Community
  • Religions for Peace-USA
  • United Religions Initiative (URI)
  • Feminist Task Force

 

Biographical Information

Eileen Llorens is an activist in Puerto Rico working collaboratively with many women on projects such as the citizen’s debt audit.  She is also passionate about health care.  She will speak in person, along with her daughter, and colleagues will be included via Skype.  We are reaching out to NYC-based Puerto Rican activists to join the session to help build solidarity for this essential justice work.

 

Katherine Power uses her very public inner journey from the politics of rage toward the practices of peace to lead us in expanding our own vision.  Her practices guide us beyond our repetitive head-to-head struggles into all the ways that new things come into being and old orders are passed away.

She did not set out to be a terrorist. As a student activist, she moved from protesting the war in Vietnam to waging guerilla war to overthrow the government. A bank robbery undertaken to finance this “revolution” resulted in the murder of Boston police officer Walter Schroeder. After fleeing and living as a fugitive for 23 years, she surrendered to authorities in 1993, pled guilty to armed robbery and manslaughter, and served six years in prison.

Katherine Power’s current spiritual work arises from Buddhist texts and Christian hymns, from a Muslim preacher and Jewish ritual traditions, from the indigenous and the postmodern, from rhododendron flowers that spoke and from ancient tales, from science, myth, archetypes, wisdom traditions, and the lived life.

 

Rev. Dionne Boissière serves as the chief steward of the Church Center at the United Nations, where she ensures that the Church Center provides sacred space, worship, hospitality, community services and a forum for partners and civil society to engage in transformative education that seeks to empower and build the things that make for peace.

Rev. Boissière is the first woman of African Descent to hold this significant position in the history of this New York ecumenical and inter-faith landmark. CCUN exists to expand the ecumenical community’s capacity and access to the United Nations in order to bring greater voice to the broad moral and ethical concerns of the church in international affairs, peacemaking and global advocacy. Owned and operated by United Methodist Women, it is the home to over 50 denominational offices, religious and secular non-governmental organizations that are commissioned to liaison with U.N. officials and governmental delegates.

 

Kristin Hoffmann is a Juilliard-trained multi-instrumentalist, with a transcendental ability to take audiences on a journey of deep awakening to Spirit.  Her music has been heard on major record labels, film and television, and she has performed throughout the world, collaborating with creative luminaries on projects ranging from individual albums to grand symphonic productions.

A strong advocate for peace and ocean conservation, Kristin has appeared internationally at environmental concerts and conventions: TEDx San Francisco, The Emoto Peace Project concert in Tokyo, the Unity Earth global event series, at the signing of The Fuji Declaration, and with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. In August 2016, the symphonic version of her “Song for the Ocean” was performed at Sydney Opera House by a choir of 800 Australian children. Kristin is the vocalist and keyboardist for the acclaimed show, BELLA GAIA, a multimedia theater experience created in conjunction with NASA.  She is an inductee of the group Evolutionary Leaders and an active board member of FIONS (Friends of Institute of Noetic Sciences). “My goal is to spread love, light, peace and awareness into the world through the vehicles of music and energetic frequency.”

 

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.

 


The Fifth Annual Interfaith Service of Gratitude and Remembrance

Friday, March 15, 2019, 4:00 PM
Church Center for the United Nations, Chapel
777 United Nations Plaza, New York

 


Conversations on Social Cohesion:
Stories of Women, Faith, and Leadership

Tuesday, March 19, 2019, 12:30pm
UNFPA 5th Floor, Orange Cafe
605 3rd Avenue, NY
RSVP by March 15 to karam@unfpa.org


 

TOU at the 2018 Parliament: Full Schedule of Events

Please join the Temple of Understanding at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions for programs featuring our staff and UN colleagues, as well as environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva.

 

Religion and the Work of the United Nations
Friday, Nov. 2, 2:15-3:45pm, Room 714A

The United Nations is made up of member states, agencies, civil society, and business partnerships. Religion is considered part of civil society. In this session, senior UN staff and longtime Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) representatives will discuss various aspects of how the world’s religions relate to the UN system. The topics will include religion and development, the sustainable development goals (SDGS), gender equality and women’s empowerment (SDG 5), peace, climate change, the environment, migration, and more. To conclude, the participants will be left with ways to be involved and the tools of the UN to serve their local community.

Speakers

  • Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Lopa Banerjee, Director, Civil Society Division, UN Women
  • Liberato C. Bautista, UN Representative, General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church
  • Bruce Knotts, Director, Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO)
  • Denise Scotto, Attorney at Law & International Policy Advisor, FIDA/FIFCJ UN Representative
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Forging Alternatives to the Culture of Consumerism and Violence
(Temple of Understanding–India)
Friday, Nov. 2, 3:15-4:00pm, Room 605

Awareness of the richness and diversity of world cultures, faith communities, and religions is vital in the age of globalization. This project would help to forge strategies and lines of action to create better relationships between peoples; encourage understanding of how people appreciate the multiple identities akin to a garden with variety of flora and fauna, fragrances and hues. At the root is holistic, and all-encompassing detailed view of reality at every level of existence, from Individual to Family, Society, Nations and the Globe. Humans need to understand the intrinsic principle of harmony and appreciate the virtue of healthy co-existence in creation.

Speakers

  • A.K. Merchant, Executive Secretary, Temple of Understanding India Foundation; Trustee, Bahá’í Community of India and Lotus Temple in New Delhi
  • Vivasvat Chauhan, Dara Shikoh Centre for the Arts
  • Larkin Cleland, 2018 Summer Intern, Temple of Understanding
  • Alison Van Dyk, Executive Director, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Are Our Stained Glass Ceilings Cracking Yet?:
Women and Leadership in the World of Interfaith
Saturday, Nov. 3, 12:15-1:45pm, Room 718A

Women play vital roles in development and peacebuilding. As governmental, non-governmental and faith-based organizations commit to Sustainable Development Goals, the importance of engaging women is obvious. Yet despite intellectual and theoretical agreement, glass ceilings are not breaking quickly and completely enough – in particular in religious leadership. Faith activists, leaders and faith inspired organizations have irreplaceable roles to play in achieving the SDGs’ vision. And yet, when world religious bodies and multilateral organizations invite religious leadership, they include too few women. This panel convenes women leaders to consider honestly how, together, we can break that stained-glass ceiling.

Speakers

  • Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, President, Divine Shakti Foundation; Secretary-General, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance
  • Audrey E. Kitagawa, President, Light of Awareness International Spiritual Family; Founder, International Academy for Transcultural Cooperation
  • Sarah Snyder, Theologian, Cambridge Interfaith Programme; Director, Rose Castle International Centre for Reconciliation
  • Joyce S. Dubensky, CEO, Tanenbaum
  • Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding

Women of Faith Speak Out:
Towards Resetting the Global Moral Compass
Saturday, Nov. 3, 2:15-3:45pm, Room 718A

Four visionaries share their understanding of a Moral Compass as a metaphor for structural change. Their passionate action to reset the compass means to center on compassion and interconnectedness. Each presenter will speak to diverse strategies for structural change: recognition of all religious actors, not just official leaders (Dr. Azza Karam), protecting the diversity of living resources (Dr. Vandana Shiva), peace through diplomacy and justice (Venerable Dr. Chung Ohun Lee), and advocacy for women’s human rights through the United Nations (Lopa Banerjee). Their work lays out a blueprint for a world beyond greed.

Speakers

  • Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Vandana Shiva, Founder, Navdanya
  • Chung Ohun Lee, Founder, World Friends for a New Civilization (WFNC); Executive Director, UN and Interfaith Affairs of Won Buddhism International
  • Lopa Banerjee, Director, Civil Society Division, UN Women
  • Alison Van Dyk, Executive Director, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Vandana Shiva and Friends on Earth Democracy
Sunday, Nov. 4, 12:15-1:45pm, Room 701A

Earth Democracy is a call for people’s sovereignty over seeds, food, land, and water. Only by recognizing humanity’s relationship to, and its intimate place in, nature can there be a re-alignment of commerce to support life – human life and the life of the planetary ecosystem. Social justice and Earth justice are indivisible; there must be a shift away from cultures of domination and violence to cultures of justice, non-violence, and creative responses to the challenges faced by the global community. A new paradigm drawing on ancient traditional knowledge is required to get at the root causes of environmental degradation and address racism, sexism, colonialism, and genocide. The Earth Democracy movement provides an alternative worldview in which humans are embedded in the Earth Family, are connected to each other through love and compassion, rather than through hatred and violence, and ecological responsibility and economic justice replace greed, consumerism, and competition as objectives of human life.

Speakers

  • Vandana Shiva, Founder, Navdanya
  • Chris Peters, Grassroots Community Organizer; President and CEO, Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples
  • Heather Eaton, Professor, Conflict Studies, Saint Paul University
  • Teresia M. Hinga, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Santa Clara University; Founding Member, Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Seeds and Seedlings: Agents of Change
Monday, Nov. 5, 2:15-3:45pm, Room 701A

This session features a short, powerful 10 minute film, Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women and Eco-Justice, that includes women’s voices from India, El Salvador, USA, the United Nations Environmental Program, and the UN Commission on Trade and Development. We will then hear from women visionaries and accomplished change agents including Dr. Vandana Shiva of Seed Freedom in India. These leaders foster women’s empowerment as an integral pathway towards rejuvenating our soil, our food, our air, our psyche and our communities. Each will reflect on how their faith sustains their social justice work.

Speakers

  • Vandana Shiva, Founder, Navdanya
  • Alison Van Dyk, Executive Director, Temple of Understanding
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Interfaith Engagement: Past, Present, and Future
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 12:15-1:45pm, Room 701A

This interactive panel will explore the interfaith and interreligious movement. The first part will be a discussion held from the lens of what has been accomplished and why it still remains on the fringes of most major religious traditions. What motivates people of faith to engage with religious others? Why has such engagement not become mainstream? The second part of the discussion will focus on how do we deepen the interfaith commitment of those already engaged in the interfaith circle and how do we expand the circle? And what does the future hold for the movement in terms of opportunities and tensions?

Speakers

  • Karen Hamilton, Faculty, Trinity College, The University of Toronto; Former General Secretary, The Canadian Council of Churches
  • Jaideep Singh, Co-Founder, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding
  • Donna Bollinger, Executive Director, Religions for Peace–USA
  • Sari Heidenreich, Regional Coordinator, URI–North America
  • Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Founding Trustee, Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations; Special Advisor, Religions for Peace–USA

Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women and Eco-Justice
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 6:00-7:00pm, Room 103A

The ten-minute film Roots of Change: Women, Food Sovereignty and Eco-Justice features women’s spirited calls to change our global direction. In this visually striking short film, women warn of the current realities and looming threats of food crisis, climate change, and corruption. Women’s leadership and ownership in local systems of food production are desperately needed-as is the collaboration of their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons. This leadership and ownership is what is meant by food sovereignty. This film features excerpts of speakers at the Temple of Understanding’s events at the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women.

Speakers

  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding

 

18-year-old Environmental Activist Kehkashan Basu to Speak at UN High Level Meeting

Report from UNFOLD ZERO:
 

Ms Basu, who is originally from United Arab Emirates and now lives in Canada, was selected by the President of the UN General Assembly to address the September 26 United Nations High Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament as one of the two representatives of global civil society. She states:

The nuclear arms race, in particular, should be halted and the $100 billion global nuclear weapons budget be redirected towards ending poverty, reversing climate change, protecting the oceans, building a sustainable economy and providing basic education and health care for all of humanity…

Instead, the nuclear armed States are squandering resources and keeping their nuclear weapons poised to strike. One mistake would cause a humanitarian disaster, robbing children and youth of their health and future, and maybe even ending civilization as we know it.
 
Ms. Basu was named as one of Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence for 2018 and was the winner of the 2016 International Children’s Peace Prize.
 

TOU at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions

The Temple of Understanding is thrilled to be presenting four programs, collaborating on another, and having our representative to the UN speak at still two more programs at the upcoming Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, November 1-7, 2018.

Our first program on Friday features our colleagues at the United Nations, for a more nuanced conversation following our introductory program last Parliament.

This will be the second Parliament where we have worked to bring Dr. Vandana Shiva, with her prophetic wisdom combining science and activism towards earth democracy. Theologian Carol Christ writes that Vandana Shiva “is telling women to confront ‘deceitful, dishonest, brutal power.’ She is telling women to teach those who rule the world how to live with nature, how to share, how to care.” (Read more: A Prophet in Our Midst: Vandana Shiva by Carol P. Christ) Women, as the majority of farmers in the world, need access to land ownership to protect localized agriculture from the devastating impacts of industrial agriculture.

Programs featuring Vandana Shiva and other stellar speakers include:

The TOU will also present:

Our UN Representative Grove Harris will speak during the following additional sessions:

Meet the 2018 Temple of Understanding Summer Interns!

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!

 

#CSW62 – 2018 Commission on the Status of Women

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. 

Our CSW speaker Dr Veena Adige with two generations of her family and executive director Alison Van Dyk. One secret to a good panel is gathering beforehand to share refreshments and get to know each other personally.

 

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.

 

Listening to women peacemakers, who struggle for lasting peace based on justice.

 

The Women’s Major Group (WMG) holds introductory and strategy sessions when so many women members from around the world are in NYC for the CSW.

 

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?  

 

The assassination of City Council member Marielle Franco of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil during the CSW brought home again the need to defend our women human rights defenders around the globe.

Listening to Emilia Reyes after her meeting with the Philippine Mission. We protested the listing of activists as terrorists, and the government listened.

 

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.

Good friends Sakena Yacoobi and Audrey Kitagawa after the memorial service. It’s so important to have time and space to share values, pain, memories and spirit.

 

Peaceful protest is a civil responsibility and an act of solidarity.

 

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

Interfaith Service of Gratitude and Remembrance #CSW62

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