Carter Center tackles women, faith and human rights issue at forum

The Carter Center and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights will tackle the role that the faith community plays in furthering the rights of women around the globe.

The forum, “Mobilizing Faith for Women: Engaging the Power of Religion and Belief to Advance Human Rights and Dignity,” will be held Friday and Saturday at the center.

Key issues to be addressed include family law and norms, violence against women, access to health care, child brides, human trafficking, access to education, impact of war and political and economic participation.

“I think one of the most pervasive and unaddressed aspects of human rights violations is against women,” said former President Jimmy Carter.

In a 2009 speech to the Parliament of the World’s Religions meeting in Australia, Carter said every generic religious text encourages believers to respect essential human dignity, “yet some selected scriptures are interpreted to justify the derogation or inferiority of women and girls, our fellow human beings.”

Experts say while women’s rights and human rights are inextricably tied together, their gender puts them at greater risk of violence, poverty and poor health than men.

Human rights activists and religious leaders from around the world are expected to attend the event, which is by invitation only but will be available for viewing online. Viewers can also go to the Carter Center website and pose questions, which may be selected for response.

Scheduled participants include Zainah Anwar, founder of Sisters in Islam and Mussawah, which advocates for equality within the Muslim family; Laurie Zoloth, incoming president of American Academy of Religion; Cardinal Monsengwo, archbishop of the Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and Sister Simone Campbell, of Nuns on the Bus.

One goal of the conference is to appeal “to a global audience, instead of pointing at one culture or one country,” or one faith, said Karin Ryan, director of the Carter Center’s Human Rights Program. The forum will affirm the importance of religion and acknowledge how influential it is but also give people ideas and the opportunity to network, she said.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis broke with traditional and drew the ire of some conservative Catholics when he washed the feet of two women during the Maundy Thursday Mass at a youth prison.

Yet women still cannot be ordained priests in the Roman Catholic Church or hope to be pope.

Violence also continues to be a global issue. Thirty-five percent of women worldwide have experienced rape or physical abuse, most of it committed by a partner or spouse, according to the World Health Organization.

Topics include human trafficking, domestic violence, reform of family law and economic participation.

“We want to give girls and women the same opportunities in life,” Ryan said.

Carter agrees.: “I think we are slowly seeing the breaking down of some of these previously existing barriers and I think that’s a good sign.”

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