2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions Report

Report by Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative, and Alison Van Dyk, TOU Executive Director
 
The Temple of Understanding greatly enjoyed connecting with colleagues and friends at this year’s Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, Ontario. We are especially proud to have worked with environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva at her second Parliament. Dr. Shiva’s new book is entitled Oneness Versus the 0%: Shattering Illusions, Seeing Freedom (check it out via Spinifex Press or Amazon).
 

Executive Director Alison Van Dyk, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Board member
Laxmi Shah, and UN Representative Grove Harris, Toronto, 2018

 

Dr. Shiva first spoke at a Temple of Understanding event at the 2012 UN Rio Conference, and the TOU helped seed her work by bringing her to the Parliament for the first time in 2015. At the Toronto Parliament this year, she came as a major speaker in the Climate Change plenary. Dr. Shiva appeared on multiple panels and was increasingly warmly received, so that at her last session she spoke to a packed room. Her decades of advocacy and her passion for seed freedom and environmental justice helped Parliament participants move forward in their understanding of climate issues.
 
 

Highlights from the 2018 Parliament

Our colleague Joyce Dubensky of Tanenbaum has provided reflections on the Parliament of World Religions that include the full text of the plenary speech of Dr. P.L. de Silva, Director of the Institute for Strategic Studies and Democracy (ISSD). His talk entitled “Cultivation of Hatred” was offered as part of the Countering War, Hate, and Violence Assembly. Dr. de Silva writes of “Pope Francis’ condemnation of the sowing of hatred” and asks, “Aren’t those who cultivate hate culpable?” He suggests “the leading armaments countries… be condemned as war profiteers” and concludes that “reconciliation, faith and ethical leadership is what is most URGENTLY needed.”
 
The Parliament of the World’s Religions has posted short highlights of the Parliament as well as 13 full live streamed videos of major plenaries on their Facebook page.
 
 

The Temple of Understanding at the Parliament, 1993-2018

When the Parliament of the World’s Religions was launched in 1993, Juliet Hollister was invited to represent the Temple of Understanding as founder of the organization. Incorporated in 1960 and having been active at that time for over thirty years, the TOU participated in the Parliament as one of the oldest American organizations in the international interfaith movement.

Juliet brought a delegation of her board and staff to the 1993 gathering and walked in the opening procession of leaders of the interfaith movement. Rather than seeking special recognition for the TOU’s early contributions to the interfaith movement in the United States, Juliet’s position was as a kind of “Johnny Appleseed” of interfaith. Since, as she maintained, the job was “too big for any one organization,” she saw organizations like the TOU and Parliament as collaborating to spread seeds of dialogue, peace, and justice throughout the world.

Nelson Mandela, Cape Town, 1999

 

At the 1999 Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, the TOU organized a wide variety of programs and honored Nelson Mandela with a Hollister Award. By the time of the third modern Parliament gathering in 2004 in Barcelona, Spain, the TOU had launched an educational cooperative with eleven interfaith organizations called the Consultation for Interfaith Education (CIE). CIE sponsored a three-day symposium at the Parliament and featured Ela Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter and now a Hollister award recipient, as a speaker. Hollister Awards were presented to Dr. Hans Kung for his work on Towards a Global Ethic (a document articulating the ethical commitments held in common by the world’s religious traditions) and to Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan for his leadership in the interfaith movement representing Sufism. The event was capped by two stunning performances by the Taiko drummers. 

In Melbourne, Australia in 2009, the TOU again collaborated as part of the CIE on a one-day experiential process including a group mosaic art project and the sharing of Indigenous perspectives by Chief Oren Lyons and Chief Jake Swamp. The program ended with a workshop from a group of Indigenous Maori elders, who taught the use of animal postures in dance as a form of nonverbal communication. The day ended with an open invitation to all to view the finished mosaic project and experience a group dance circle.

Starhawk, Grove Harris, and Vandana Shiva, Salt Lake City, 2015

 

In Salt Lake City, Utah in 2015, the Temple of Understanding brought environmentalist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva to the Parliament, where many religious leaders were exposed to her work for the first time. The TOU also connected its work at the United Nations with its long-standing goals of interfaith education by presenting a panel on “Faith at the United Nations” that focused on the Sustainable Development Goals. Vandana Shiva joined our own UN representative Grove Harris and ecofeminist theologian Starhawk for a panel on community resilience around food and water justice.

In Toronto, Ontario in 2018, the TOU contributed panels on topics including ecojustice, climate change, and women’s leadership in interfaith, and we hosted Dr. Vandana Shiva at three of those panels. We were also pleased that our film Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women, and Eco-Justice was accepted for presentation in the Parliament’s film category. 

TOU at the 2018 Parliament in Toronto, Ontario

We started our interfaith work in Toronto a day before the Parliament by attending the Unity Earth Toronto Convergence, where our colleague A.K. Merchant from the Temple of Understanding–India spoke. This convening laid groundwork for mutual understanding and future events around the globe.

AK Merchant, Temple of
Understanding–India, 2018

 

Our first Parliament panel “Religion and the Work of the United Nations” included brilliant colleagues from our UN work, including Azza Karam, Denise Scotto, Levi Bautista, Lopa Banerjee and Bruce Knotts (not pictured).

“Religion and the Work of the United Nations” speakers, 2018

 

We were proud to support our youth representative 2018 TOU summer intern Larkin Cleland as he spoke on “Forging Alternatives to the Culture of Consumerism and Violence.” This session was sponsored by the India chapter of the Temple of Understanding and the text of Larkin’s presentation can be found here.

Larkin Cleland, 2018 TOU Summer Intern

 

As part of the innovative Women’s Mentorship program, Lopa Banerjee spoke to a full room of younger attendees, which provided a more intimate setting for interaction. 

Banerjee said that human rights underpin harmony and prosperity, and now in a new world order, national interests are seen as if they are in opposition to global interests. Movements of faith can extend to political acts. The UN SDGs are defending human rights and morality, with social justice at the center. We can reclaim faith’s moral core and the UN’s moral core.

Lopa Banerjee speaking as part of the Parliament’s Women’s Mentorship program, 2018

 

We decorated the panel on cracking the “stained glass ceiling” that women face in interfaith leadership with color and focused on gratitude for those who have taught us and gone before in the work. The panel addressed obstacles, but focused more on kinship among women, including sharing diverse perspectives.

Are Our Stained Glass Ceilings Cracking Yet?:
Women and Leadership in the World of Interfaith, 2018

 

On our panel on women of faith speaking out, Dr. Shiva spoke of the immense concentration of wealth from large corporate mergers, so that approximately five men own most of the world’s agro-chemical industry. We must find courageous compassion and pursue caring for the earth as the highest religion; protection with love is a duty. 

Women of Faith Speak Out: Towards Resetting the Global Moral Compass, 2018 
Alison Van Dyk, Chung Ohun Lee, Vandana Shiva, Azza Karam, Lopa Banerjee

 

Chris Peters spoke as part of Dr. Shiva’s panel on Earth Democracy. As part of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, he presented a powerful “Platform for Action: To Do More Than Survive, Thrive.

Click for PDF in English and Spanish >>

 

Speaker Hugh Locke joined us for Dr. Shiva’s panel on seed freedom. He is co-founder of the Smallholder Farmers Alliance, doing innovative social justice work around “tree currency“. 

Hugh Locke at “Seeds and Seedlings: Agents of Change”

 

Speaker Grove Harris opened and closed the session on “Interfaith Engagement: Past, Present and Future.”

Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Donna Bollinger, Sari Heidenreich

 

And of course, there was time for “selfies”! Here Alison and Grove pose with plenary speaker P.L. de Silva.

Grove Harris, PL de Silva, Alison van Dyk

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

 

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:

#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

Women of Faith Speaking to Structural Change: Empowering Rural Women #CSW62

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.

Speakers include:

  • 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

Co- Sponsors

  • Temple of Understanding
  • United Religions Initiative
  • Mining Working Group
  • Religions for Peace USA

Biographical Information

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 – Presentation by Grove Harris

Legal Mechanisms to Eradicate Poverty & Achieve Sustainable Development
Side event for the UN’s 56th Commission for Social Development 2018
February 7, 2018

Denise Scotto, Esq., Attorney at Law & International Policy Advisor, FIDA/FIFCJ UN Representative; Grove Harris, MDiv, Temple of Understanding; and Winifred Doherty, UN Representative, Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd

 

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.

 

Legal Mechanisms to Eradicate Poverty, 2/7 in NYC

The International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA)
and
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!

Grove Harris, Denise Scotto, and Winifred Doherty

View PDF Flyer >>

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 NYC Women’s March

A Report on the NYC Women’s March, January 20, 2018
From Grove Harris, TOU’s Main UN Representative
_________

The 2018 NYC Women’s March started with those converging on the subway, where the city is doing its part to promote supportive roles for men.

Crowd control is part of any large scale march, with long periods of waiting as good times to socialize. I met participants ranging in age from two months to 97 years. Marching bands and creative, poignant signs along with warm weather supported the community take-over of the city streets.  

Kindness emerged as a fundamental value, and this year many men came to stand in full support of women’s empowerment.  Many made this a family event.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s words were lifted up, linking religion and social action.

Marching, as one type of activism, seems to be the new normal.

You can hear speaker Halsey’s poem “A Story Like Mine” on YouTube:

 

[All photos by Grove Harris]

Gendering Documentation: A Manual for and about Women Human Rights Defenders

Gendering Documentation: A Manual For and About Women Human Rights Defenders is a publication of the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (www.defendingwomen-defendingrights.org).

About the manual:

Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) around the world are fighting for freedom, justice and fairness. We are connected to many political movements, including, but certainly not limited to, working for the rights of women. We are engaged in strategic and creative political and social struggle. As defenders, we face bodily harm and threats, social condemnation and legal restrictions on our organizing. We are targeted for who we are and for what we do.

Yet, the experiences of women human rights defenders often go unnoticed, partly because of the very systems of inequity we are challenging. In both the global North and South, many with political, religious, military, familial and community authority try to stop our activism – and to keep us from making claims through sharing narratives about our experiences and ideas.

Gendering Documentation: A Manual For and About Women Human Rights Defenders challenges this silence.

Gendering Documentation: A Manual For and About Women Human Rights Defenders is designed for use by those who document and research already and those who want to in the future. It highlights, celebrates and encourages documentation as a politically motivated telling of women human rights defenders’ narratives. It helps readers to understand the circumstances and realities of WHRDs all over the world, from not being taken seriously as human rights activists, to the use of the ubiquitous tactic of physical and sexual assault to punish WHRDs’ activism.

This pioneering project rests in the ideas that WHRDs work with bravery and resilience, and that documentation of our experiences of both abuses and activism is critically important.For many, documentation is a courageous act of resistance.