Tapping into the Potential of Women of Faith as Peacemakers

Religions for Peace 10th World Assembly logo(21 August 2019 | Lindau, Germany) Religions for Peace hosted a historic special session “MENA Women as Peacemakers” to highlight the crucial and irreplaceable role of women as agents of change and peace across the globe, with a specific focus on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. With religious identity becoming a de facto fault line for both intra-national and cross-border hostilities, this new coalition brought together women of faith leaders from Sunni, Shia, Christian, Jewish and other traditions to serve as a high-level multi-religious mechanism for advocacy and action to resolve conflict, advance sustainable development and protect the environment in the region and internationally. The same cohort travelled to Amman, Jordan earlier this month symbolic common action before its official launch at the RfP 10th World Assembly. The delegation met with Syrian refugees and members of the host communities in the city of Zarqa to show their solidarity and support and their multi-religious commitment to action for the common good.

The Conversationalists included Honorable Meherzia Labidi Maïza (Sunni) [First Vice President of the Constitutional Assembly in Tunisia; Honorary President, RfP]; Honorable Layla Al-Khafaji (Shia) [Elected Member of Political Bureau, Alhikmha Movement; former member of Iraqi Council of Representatives, Parliament; Member of RfP International Women’s Coordinating Committee]; H.E. Ambassador Houda Ezra Nonoo (Jewish) [Former Bahrain Ambassador to the United States], and H.E. Minister Nabila Makram (Christian) [Representative, Middle East Council of Churches].

Hon. Labidi Maïza discussed her twenty six year history working with RfP.
She said,

“Conflicts may be conflicts of ideas, so I learned how to build peace through legislation, peace through constitution, peace through the protection of minorities and citizenship, through democracy. From my experience with Religions for Peace, I learned, not only how to “Welcome the Other,” but how to understand their stories and to give them to human rights. Women are equipped for peacebuilding because they have
the empathy to understand hardship and discrimination. They have the capacity to speak with others without taking away their voice.

Ms. Layla Al-Khafaji discussed her experience under the regime of the Ba’ath party of Saddam Hussein where her family was labelled as anti-regime and targeted by violence. While attending engineering school, her brother was executed, and she was questioned every few days. She was imprisoned for eleven years and watched twenty five women imprisoned with her face execution. The Ba’ath party released her to appease rebels in 1991.

Ms. Layla Al-Khafaji escaped to Canada and continued her advocacy of human rights and the exposure of the
cruelty of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Sh e returned to Iraq and was elected to the first parliament in 2006, pulled by her moral imperative to elevate the voices of the women imprisoned with her who faced execution. She
said, “Our suffering in this world will not stop. But through this suffering, we can have our voices heard.”

RfP recognizes that MENA women of faith have the unique potential to build confidence and advance peace across the region.

The Special Session was conducted so that Assembly delegates could witness the women holding an intimate conversation – exchanging ideas, thoughts and experiences – organically building upon one another. The moderator, Rt. Rev. Bishop Petra Bosse-Huber [Bishop for Ecumenical Relations and Ministries abroad, Evangelical Church in Germany; Co-Moderator, RfP] moved the conversation to ensure a six-way conversation. Bishop Bosse-Huber included the Assembly participants by opening to their comments and questions.


MENA Women's discussion - 10th World Assembly