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5 Ways You Can Save Lives on World Water Day

Image Courtesy of World Bank Photo Collection

By Brian McLaren and Susan Barnett via On Faith

Water is the one symbol shared by all faiths, so it may be surprising to learn that this sacred gift can also be one of the deadliest things on earth.

Here are five things to know about water — and five simple ways you can make a difference:

1. Water is health.

Look no further than the Ebola crisis for a tragic reminder of just how difficult it is to contain disease without clean water. People in contact with the infected and deceased, especially family members in many villages, couldn’t even wash their hands.

The lack of access to safe water and sanitation causes 50 percent of under-nutrition and fills 50 percent of hospital beds in developing countries. The global water crisis is the leading cause of death of children under the age of five, killing more kids than malaria, AIDS, and TB combined.

Think about the billions of dollars spent fighting HIV/AIDS and malaria. Then realize that the absence of safe water and sanitation means immune-suppressed people living with HIV/AIDS must take their medication with dirty water — ,and no sanitation increases breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

What can you do?
Support WASH — WAter, Sanitation, and Hygiene. Every faith and denomination engages in global health and development work — and from farming and nutrition to maternal/child health and education, success relies on access to safe water and sanitation. Support your faith-based development organizations, and let them know that WASH needs to be a priority in all the good work they do.

2. Water is education.

More than half of all primary schools in developing countries don’t have adequate water, and nearly two-thirds lack adequate sanitation. That means students gets chronically sick and miss a lot of school. One third of school children suffer from intestinal worms from unsafe water.

Though we’re seeing an increasing focus on the importance of girls’ education, without water, many girls must skip classes to help their mothers carry heavy cans of water for their families, sometimes for miles every day. Many drop out of school entirely once they hit puberty because the lack of separate sanitation and washing facilities is humiliating.

The best way to turn a child into a dependent and impoverished adult is to deny her an education.

What can you do?
Get your kids involved. More than 400,000 students in 800 schools across the U.S. have already made a global impact working with H2O for Life. When a small village in Kenya told a schoolteacher that it was desperate for clean water, middle school teacher Patty Hall introduced the idea to her students in Minneapolis. After they learned about the global water crisis and their own water consumption, her class tried to raise a small amount of money to help the village school get water and sanitation. It turned out to be far easier than they thought — this village now has a permanent source of water all year round and H2O for Life was born.

Since 2007, students across the U.S. have supported over 600 WASH projects, helping over a quarter million students just like themselves — in Africa, India, the Caribbean, Central and South America. H2O for Life has all the free tools and support you’ll need.

3. Water is safety.

Without access to latrines, many women and girls dare to relieve themselves only under the cover of darkness. Their organs can be damaged and nighttime trips to secluded fields put them at nightly risk of violence and sexual assault.

What can you do?
In honor of World Water Day (March 22 each year) designate one spring week at your house of worship as “World Water Week.” Feel free to adapt A Sermon for World Water, and encourage your clergy to deliver it. Share it from pulpit to pew on your website and weekly bulletin.

Water doesn’t have to be serious all the time. Have fun — challenge your congregation to drop a coin in a bucket every time they flush the toilet or turn on the faucet. Faiths for Safe Water has free and fun ideas that help families lower water bills while helping raise funds for those without.

4. Water is equality.

Women and girls can spend up to 60 percent of each day walking to collect water, sometimes along desolate and unsafe paths. It’s a heavy, backbreaking burden that keeps women, families, and whole villages in poverty.

What can you do?
Have a child in Sunday school? Download a free faith-based curriculum that engages children in service learning around water and faith.

5. Water is peace

Peace cannot be achieved when some have plenty and others don’t have something as basic to life as water. Conversely, conflicts have been averted when access to water is negotiated. The world is facing a global water crisis, including in parts of the U.S., and it is only going to get worse without our intervention.

What can you do?
For faith leaders interested in lending your voice on behalf of water for all, please contact Faiths for Safe Water founder Susan Barnett at susankbarnett@gmail.com.

* * *

Our faith voices are the voices of hope. The global water crisis is going to affect us all. Who better to take the lead on behalf of all of God’s children than us?


Brian McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, blogger, and networker. He began his career as a college English teacher and then spent more than 20 years as a pastor. He has written more than a dozen books, including “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?” and “We Make the Road by Walking.” He is an initiator with the Convergence Network.
Susan Barnett is a former award-winning network news producer; she continues to produce documentary films and is a strategic media and communications consultant to nonprofits, working at the nexus of media, the faith and moral voice, and social justice. She is founder of Faiths for Safe Water and Impact-Communications.

 

Mourning the Passing of Tonya Frichner, Heroine of Indigenous Rights and Parliament Women’s Task Force Advisor

©Marilu Lopez Fretts/Four Directions Media

It is with heavy hearts the Parliament shares news of the February 14 passing of Tonya Frichner. A Monumental Figure in the Indigenous’ Rights Struggle, Frichner spoke at the 1999 Cape Town and 2009 Melbourne Parliaments, and recently began serving as an Advisor to the Parliament Women’s Task Force.

  • Women’s Task Force Chairwoman and Parliament Vice-Chair, Phyllis Curott, says,” “She was an extraordinary and great-hearted woman, an Advisor to our Women’s Task Force and President and founder of the American Indian Law Alliance, an NGO in Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic & Social Council. She was an activist attorney who played an essential role in the campaign against the Doctrine of Discovery and so many more efforts on behalf of Indigenous peoples and women. Tonya was a great woman and her passing is a great loss. We will miss her wise counsel, her radiant presence but her spirit and inspiration remain in our hearts, and in the Women’s Initiative.”
  • The United Nations will hold an event in memory of Frichner later this year

 

Tonya Gonnella Frichner, Esq. Gowanahs, Snipe Clan name, a citizen of the Onondaga Nation, Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, Haudenosaunee. Ms. Gonnella Frichner, the eldest of eight children of Henry and Maxine Nolan Gonnella. A global indigenous leader and President and Founder of the American Indian Law Alliance (AILA), since 1989. AILA is a Non-Governmental Organization in consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Ms. Gonnella Frichner was a lawyer, activist and professor of American Indian history and law, Federal Indian Law, and anthropology and human rights for over twenty years. Ms. Gonnella Frichner taught at the City College of the City University of New York (CUNY) and Manhattanville College for eight years, as well as CUNY Hunter College and New York University. Ms. Gonnella Frichner also served as an Associate Member of Columbia’s University Seminar on Indigenous Studies.Ms. Gonnella Frichner, worked closely with global Indigenous leadership, as well as the Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee. She devoted her life to the pursuing of the right to self-determination, sovereignty, treaty rights, and individual and collective rights for Indigenous Peoples.Ms. Gonnella Frichner was appointed as the North American Regional Representative for a three year term from 2008-2010, to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), by the President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), an advisory body to the ECOSOC. In that position, her mandates included: human rights, economic and social development, environment, health, education and media. Ms. GonnellaFrichner was nominated by Indigenous Nations, Peoples and Non-Governmental Organizations to the position for her work in the international arena. During that time, Ms. Gonnella Frichner served as Vice-Chairperson as well as the Special Rapporteur for the “Preliminary study of the impact on indigenous peoples of the international legal construct known as the Doctrine of Discovery,” (E/C.19/2010/13), submitted to the UNPFII, Ninth Session, 2010. She has served as an active participant and legal and diplomatic counsel to Indigenous delegations in virtually all United Nations international fora affecting Indigenous Peoples especially during the drafting, negotiations and passage of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), overwhelmingly adopted in December 2007 (A/RES/61/295) by the UN General Assembly. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) sets the minimum standard for the survival, dignity and individual and collective rights of Indigenous Peoples globally.

Ms. Gonnella Frichner has received many distinguished awards for her service. Most recently, she received the Drums Along the Hudson award in June 2014, shared with the Honorable David N. Dinkins, the 106th Mayor of New York City. Other awards include the Harriet Tubman Humanitarian Award, the Thunderbird Indian of the Year Award, the Ellis Island Congressional Medal of Honor, the American Indian Community House International Service Award, the SilverCloud Singer Outstanding Service Award for advancing Indigenous Youth, the Ms. Foundation Female Role Model of the Year, which was shared with author J.K. Rowlings and others, The Mosaic Council, Inc. Visionary Award for Making a Difference, which was shared with entertainer Queen Latifah, the New York County Lawyers Association Award for Outstanding Public Service, the Ingrid Washinawatok El-Issa O’Peqtaw Metaehmoh – Flying Eagle Woman Fund for Peace, Justice, and Sovereignty Award, the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team Recognition, a City of Philadelphia proclamation in honor of United Nations Day and Ms. Gonnella Frichner’s work to “promote the rights for native people around the world,” recognition from the Temple of Understanding, recognition from the Beacon Two Row Wampum Festival, and the Alston Bannerman Fellowship.

Ms. Gonnella Frichner co-founded the Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, together with Ms. Tia Oros Peters (Zuni), Executive Director of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, and Ms. Esmeralda Brown, President of the Southern Diaspora Research and Development Center.

Ms. Gonnella Frichner served on several boards of directors including serving as the Chairperson of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, the City University of New York School of Law Board of Visitors, the Interfaith Center of New York, the Connie Hogarth Center for Social Action, the Seven Eagles Corporation, the Flying Eagle Women Fund for Peace, Justice and Sovereignty, the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, the Boarding School Healing Project, and the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team, the official national team of the Haudenosaunee since 1984. It is a Federation of International Lacrosse member nation and World Lacrosse Championship medalists. Ms. Gonnella Frichner authored a number of articles and papers on Indigenous Peoples and was working on two books, including an autobiography. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from St. John’s University of New York and graduated magna cum laude in 1980, she earned a Juris Doctor from the City University of New York School of Law in 1987 and a Doctor of Laws honoris causa from Colby College, Waterville in Maine in 2012.

In September 2014 United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon quoted Ms. Gonnella Frichner in his remarks: “A longtime indigenous activist and former member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Tonya GonnellaFrichner, once said, “Indigenous peoples all speak many different languages but in our meetings, we are speaking one language. Our relationship to Mother Earth is identical.”

Ms. Gonnella Frichner, 67 of Union City, New Jersey began her journey to her Creator on February 14, 2015 and is survived by her loving husband of 42 years, University Professor and Fashion Institute of Technology HerbFrichner, and their son Jason M. Frichner (Eva), Assistant Vice-President of Marketing for the Hanes Corporation. Ms. Gonnella Frichner is also survived by her sisters, Nannette Gonnella (Carol), Jacquelyn Gonnella Thomas, and Kimberley Gonnella Tobian (Brian); brothers, Henry Gonnella, Jr., Michael Gonnella, Thomas Gonnella (Lucia) and Christopher Gonnella; her beloved nieces, Betty Lyons (Tadodaho Sidney Hill) and Maya Thomas; nephews, David Tobian and Matthew Gonnella and several nieces and nephews. Ms. Gonnella Frichner held dear to her heart the AILA staff that supported her work, Chief of Staff, Murrielle Borst-Tarrant (Kuna/Rappahanock Nations) and Research & Policy Adviser, Roger Drew. She was predeceased by her father, Henry L. Gonnella in 1993 and her mother, Maxine Nolan Gonnella in 2003.

Donations can be made to the American Indian Law Alliance to carry on Tonya’s important work. For more info on donations email aila@ailanyc.org.

To express sympathy please visit ballweg-lunsford.com

 

Parliament Representative Sara Rahim Delivers Keynote Address to United Nations for World Interfaith Harmony Week

Youth Representative of the Parliament to the United Nations DPI NGO Ms. Sara Rahim delivers the youth keynote speech on the occasion of World Interfaith Harmony Week at the special event of the President of the General Assembly on February 6, 2015. Fellow keynote speaker Under Secretary-General of Communications and Public Information Cristina Gallach looks on as Rahim addresses this year’s United Nations theme for World Interfaith Harmony Week, the role of Multi-religious Partnerships for Sustainable Development. (Photo by Transdiaspora Network)

Special Event of the President of the General Assembly on the occasion of World Interfaith Harmony Week

World Interfaith Harmony: Multi-religious Partnership for Sustainable Development

6 February 2015, Trusteeship Council Chamber

Ms. Sara Rahim, Representative of the Parliament of the World’s Religions

 

Your excellencies,

UN Under-Secretary General,

President of the General Assembly,

Ladies and gentlemen,

And distinguished guests.

 

Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim.

 

Thank you very much. I am humbled and grateful for this opportunity to celebrate World Interfaith Harmony Week with you and thank the President of the General Assembly for bringing us all together. As a young person addressing this special event, I am obliged to pay tribute to all of the wisdom and experience that is present in the room today. We come from a variety of faith and philosophical backgrounds, and we are here together to support one common idea. That idea is that we can use interreligious cooperation and understanding as a vehicle to improve our communities working towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

As UN Youth Representative, I bring my greetings from the Parliament.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions, which gave birth to the interfaith movement at its initial gathering in 1893, is holding our next Parliament in Salt Lake this October 2015. Ten thousand people from 10,000 networks, over 80 countries and 50 different religious and spiritual traditions will come together to share, learn, network and celebrate. This year’s Parliament theme “Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity: Working Together for a World of Compassion, Peace, Justice, and Sustainability” aligns with the heart of UN World Interfaith Harmony Week. It is a global call to action for our faith and non-faith networks.

Too often, religion is misused as an instrument for division and injustice, betraying the very ideals and teachings that lie at the heart of each of the world’s great traditions. However, at their best, religious and spiritual traditions shape the lives of billions of people in wise and wonderful ways. When our diverse communities work in harmony for the common good, there is hope that the world can be transformed.

2015 not only marks the first US Parliament in over 20 years, but also the transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals. These 17 SDGS are set to help shape the Post-2015 Development Agenda in a more tangible, feasible way. The role of our faith and spiritual communities is crucial towards building sustainable partnerships that can help implement these goals into reality.

All of us in this room must invest to make that a reality.

How has faith personally been a part of my life?

I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up as a first generation Pakistani American Muslim. Like many other children of immigrants, I saw my parents work tirelessly to create a better life for their family. My faith and culture are an integral part of who I am – they have shaped my values and impacted the way I see the world and interact with others.

For the first 10 years of my life, I never found myself at odds with my Muslim identity. Going to the mosque was a normal part of my day, as routine as going to school or playing with my friends. However, the first time my reality was challenged was a day that will be etched in all our hearts and minds: September 11, 2001.

I remember waking up that morning and getting dressed for school. At the time, I was attending an Islamic school and was in 4th grade. As usual, I watched the TV playing in the background, and it was then that the first plane crashed into the tower. It seemed like nothing more than a tragic accident. I was unable to process what had occurred, and went to school as usual. Soon after, I knew that something was not right. A second plane had crashed into the building, and the group claiming responsibility was “Muslim”.

To grow up as a Muslim youth in a post 9/11 America has forced me to re-evaluate what my own faith means to me. In a way, my faith itself had been hijacked, and the Islamophobia that plagued our nation following the tragic events could not allow for my complacency. I realized that the only way to challenge those very stereotypes that breed at that level meant putting myself out of my comfort zone.

Upon graduating high school, I decided to experience life in the Arab Muslim world for the first time, and I received a merit-based scholarship from the U.S. Department of State to serve as an intercultural ambassador between the U.S. and Egypt in Cairo. During that summer, I witnessed interreligious cooperation on a global level for the first time. Coptic Christians and Muslims worshipped and lived peacefully, side-by-side, during a time of civil unrest.

Beginning College that fall, I sought a new way of looking at my faith identity. I became involved with the interfaith organization on my university’s campus, and met like-minded individuals who were inspired by their faith or their philosophical tradition in order to improve their communities.

My Muslim faith is my call-to-action and inspires me to serve my community, just as much as my friends’ beliefs inspire them to give back. This common thread of service is something I have come to realize as one of the most powerful tools to build those bridges. In parts of the world that suffer from religious or social conflict, there is the potential to invest in societies and use the existing diversity as a catalyst for change, rather than division. This comes through the process of voicing one’s values, engaging with others across traditions, and acting on those shared values to improve society.

As our communities move forward with implementing the SDG’s in 2015, I believe that multi-religious partnerships can create lasting outcomes that we have been unable to tangibly reach or measure before. The Executive Director of United Nations Population Fund once stated, “People are the center of Development.”

More often than not, we forget the inherent link between human rights and development.

Historically, faith groups have led the way towards building collective community action.

From Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement
to Mahatma Gandhi during Indian Independence
to Nelson Mandela during the fight against Apartheid
to the faith leaders that are currently mobilizing their communities in Ferguson, Missouri:

All of these interfaith leaders before us have shown the power of mobilizing on shared values and taking action. Interfaith groups can continue to pave the path towards community building in a way that ensures that all voices can be a part of the conversation.

Tapping into the potential of our youth and women is another crucial element of successful community development. It is imperative that we bring the voices of young people and women to the table, so that they can be a part of the solution.

Her Excellency Ambassador Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of United States to the United Nations, stated that encouraging civic society to work more closely with government would require an outcomes-driven process. The need for setting measurable, concrete goals for the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda is dependent on focusing on peace and global governance as a basis for development.

Passing just laws and creating credible institutions is one of the most sustainable ways to improving development. I envision this as a means of tapping into multi-religious partnerships and collaborating across multiple sectors. The issues that our countries are facing cannot be viewed through a single lens. Access to education impacts the health outcomes of women and youth, which can in turn affect the socioeconomic growth of our communities. The interrelatedness of these critical issues must challenge us to think of new partnerships in innovative ways.

Similarly, we cannot deny the role of young people towards creating action and wanting change. One of the biggest root issues that plague our global community is the lack of outlets that young people have to voice themselves and create those changes. We must help develop civic society so that young people have channels to properly voice their concerns and demand systematic reforms from their local institutions. Young people are interconnected, multilingual, and globalized. Our communities must ensure that we are investing in local, youth-driven initiatives for change. Young people have the answers, and they can be a part of the solution.

As someone who is passionate and deeply committed to building community impact through interfaith partnerships, I encourage all of us to tap into the youth in our networks.

The development community, particularly interfaith and faith-based organizations, must continue to think in innovative ways to collaborate across sectors and be inclusive of all minority voices.

During the 1999 Parliament in Cape Town, Nelson Mandela stated: “No government or social agency can on its own meet the enormous challenges of development of our age. Partnerships are required across the broad range of society. In drawing upon its spiritual and communal resources, religion can be a powerful partner in such causes as meeting the challenges of poverty, alienation, the abuse of women and children, and the destructive disregard for our natural environment. We read into your honoring our country with your presence an acknowledgement of the achievement of the nation and we trust in a small way that our struggle might have contributed to other people in the world. We commend the Parliament of the World’s Religions for its immense role in making different communities see that the common ground is greater and more enduring than the differences that divide. It is in that spirit that we can approach the dawn of the new century with some hope that it will be indeed a better one for all of the people of the world.”

I hope that World Interfaith Harmony Week will serve as a call to action for all the voices in our communities, including youth, women, and minorities, to work towards sustainable development.  May all faith, non-faith, and spiritual traditions commit to seeing the best in each other and working collaboratively across all sectors as we move forward with our Post 2015 Development Agenda.

Thank you very much.

Parliament Representative Sara Rahim to Deliver Youth Keynote Address to UN for World Interfaith Harmony Week

Parliament Representative Ms. Sara Rahim Will Address the United Nations for World Interfaith Harmony Week on February 6, 2015.

You are invited to attend this special program convened by the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations in cooperation with the Committee of Religious NGOs:

World Interfaith Harmony Week Multi-religious Partnership for Sustainable Development

Apply for Passes:

Special grounds passes to the UN Headquarters in New York City will be issued upon availability Tuesday, February 3.  

Click Here to Request a Pass Today >>

World Interfaith Harmony Week Multi-religious Partnership for Sustainable Development
Presented by the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations

February 6, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. EST
This event will be webcast on UN.org- Finalized Program TBA | Tentative Program as Follows

Opening Session:

  • H.E. Mr. Sam Kahamba Kutesa, President of the General Assembly of the United Nations
  • H.E. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations
  • Dr. William F. Vendley, President of the RNGO Committee at the UN
  • Ms. Sara Rahim, UN Youth Representative of the Parliament of the World’s Religions

Panel Themes:

featuring distinguished speakers TBA:

Interfaith Collaboration for Post 2015 Sustainable Development Agenda

Partnership to Strengthen the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals

The 2015 World Interfaith Harmony Week Observance of the United Nations is convened by the Office of the President of the General Assembly in cooperation with the Committee of Religious NGOs.

Co-Sponsors include the CONGO Committee on Spirituality, Values and Global Concerns – NY | Global Movement for the Culture of Peace | NGO Committee on Sustainable Development | Spiritual Caucus at the UN | The Values Caucus at the UN

Read the United Nation World Interfaith Harmony Week Resolution Here

The United Nations observance of World Interfaith Harmony week celebrates its fifth year in 2015. $50,000 in prize money sponsored by King Abdullah of Jordan is dedicated to winning entries promoting peace across the world. Submissions include performance, organizing, and just about anything interfaith.

To learn more and to enter this global peacebuilding competition click here. 

How the Interfaith Community Can Advance the UN’s Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda

Ms. Sara Rahim and Mr. Tahil Sharma secure their grounds passes to the United Nations Headquarters in NYC as representatives of the Parliament of the World’s Religions at the 65th Annual UN-DPI NGO Conference in August, 2014.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions UN-NGO Representatives affiliated to the United Nations Department of Public Information say attending the 65th Annual UN-DPI NGO conference in New York City August 27 – 29, 2014  was a great opportunity for the interfaith movement to build relationships with other NGOs invested in advocating for the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda.

“How A Global Ethic Can Contribute to the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda: An Intergenerational Discussion” paired the Parliament’s UN Youth Representatives Ms. Sara Rahim, and Mr. Tahil Sharma, in a workshop with members of the Parliament UN Task Force and co-sponsors exploring how activism for the SDGs can be enhanced by civic society. This process is achievable through the promotion and understanding of foundational documents on Human Rights including the Global Ethic, the Earth Charter, the Charter of Compassion, and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

The Panelists Representing the Parliament and Co-Sponsoring Institutions:

  • Dr. Kusumita Pedersen, Chair of the Parliament UN Task Force, Parliament Trustee, and Co-Chair of the Interfaith Center of New York
  • Monica Willard, Representative of the United Religions Initiative to the UN, UN NGO Committee Co-Chair
  • Rev. Father John Pawlikowski, Parliament Trustee
  • Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti, Parliament Trustee
  • Sr. Joan Kirby, The Temple of Understanding
  • Ms. Sara Rahim, Parliament UN Youth Representative
  • Mr. Tahil Sharma, Parliament Un Youth Representative

Connecting institutional and grassroots advocates, the UN-DPI conference format includes plenary speakers, workshops, and panels equipping thousands of participants with new strategies. In proving the value of face-to-face networking opportunities, assemblies like this serve to enhance sustainable action by smart approaches to allocating human and other resources directed toward the UN’s Development Goals.

Tahil Sharma and Sara Rahim reported and reflect below on their experience presenting and participating in workshops and plenaries paying special attention to five takeaways the interfaith community can use to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda:

The first three observations come from Sara Rahim:

“We have a duty to be bold. That is what people want. That is what the world needs.” – Ms. Susana Malcorra, UN Chef de Cabinet UN-NGO 2014

Between August 27-29, Tahil Sharma and I attended the 65th Annual UN DPI/NGO conference held in New York City, which drew in over 2,000 NGO representatives from over 117 countries. Earlier this year, we were chosen to serve as the Parliament of the World’s Religions Youth Representatives to the United Nations.

These past few months leading up to the conference, we brainstormed ways in which we could share our experiences with the greater civic community. We submitted a workshop panel that would explore how a Global Ethic could contribute to the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and were thrilled to be notified that we had been selected to present at the conference with trustees of the Parliament and like-minded interfaith bodies.

On August 27, Tahil and I quickly registered for the first day of the conference and made our way through UN security. In line, I met dozens of NGO representatives from around the world, who shared with me their field of work and what inspired them to attend the conference.

While this conference would clearly focus on the role of civil society and key global issues, I wondered how it might be possible to increase collaboration among interreligious groups. Faith-based organizations were certainly leading grassroots initiatives in their local communities, but how could we take that one step further? During the Opening Session, I observed several main themes that resonated with me regarding the role of interfaith at the UN.

1. “People are the center of development” – Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund

Refocusing efforts towards protecting people’s dignity is crucial, as we often forget the inherent link between human rights and development. Interfaith groups can continue to pave the path towards conflict resolution and community building in a way that ensures all voices can be a part of the conversation. As expressed by Dr. Osotimehin, focusing specifically on women and youth can help achieve universal goals of poverty reduction and education. I see an opportunity for interfaith groups to continue to advocate for women and youth as part of their initiatives.

2. The Importance of Setting Concrete Goals

Ambassador Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of United States to the United Nations, stated that encouraging civic society to work more closely with government would require an outcomes-driven process. The need for setting measurable, concrete goals for the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda can combat the criticism that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are too abstract and intangible. Powers also recommended focusing on peace and global governance as a basis for development. Passing just laws and creating credible institutions is one of the most sustainable ways to improving development. I personally recognized this vision, as it aligns with Parliament’s mission to mobilize faith leaders in their communities towards creating a peaceful, just, and sustainable world. Interfaith work is not just a ‘feel good mission,’ but it also has the potential to measure impact and offer tangible results.

3. Inclusion of the Disabled, Indigenous, and Youth

Ms. Maryanne Diamond, Chair, International Disability Alliance, assessed that persons who live with disabilities, 80% of whom are in the developing world, severely lack access to education, healthcare, and other basic resources. She offered a major critique that the previous MDG’s lacked inclusivity of disabled and indigenous populations. One of the biggest outcomes of this conference would be the revision and inclusion of minority groups into the agenda. Of these minority groups, I saw the role of youth as a major key player towards development. Tahil and I both recognized our own experiences in which interfaith had been a tool to mobilize people of all backgrounds towards a common goal. The NGO community, particularly interfaith and faith-based organizations, must continue to think in innovative ways to collaborate across sectors and be inclusive of all minority voices.

Tahil Sharma observes points 4 and 5: 

4. Building Community through Forgiveness

The Representatives at the NGO conference represent great diversity across fields of expertise and demonstrate profound willingness to make a difference in the world. This point was addressed in a special keynote at the Permanent Mission of the United States to the United Nations by Ambassador Elizabeth M. Cousens who resides on the UN Economic and Social Council and serves as an Alternate Representative to the UN General Assembly. With fellow representatives being as young as 14 years old, showing an amazing ability to tackle major subjects, refute claims and develop productive dialogue with the ambassador, an important point on how the eagerness of the coming generations to foster change was taking place. The ambassador herself made note of this: “We need your voice, your ideas, and your insistence about what matters… You need to hold our feet to the fire in making sure that we count it.”

This proved the vitality of the kind of inter-generational conversation we would emphasize in our workshop about the creation and implementation of influential documents like the Charter for Compassion, the Earth Charter and the Global Ethic of the 1993 Parliament. Several individuals across cultures, faith traditions and ages must participate in making these paths for change to make the impact which can really matter.

My first example is a man who is legally blind, and arrived with a guide at his side for our workshop; his name was Takashi Tanemori from Hiroshima, and he is a hibakusha, or Atomic Bomb Survivor. Seeking revenge for the death of his family, he traveled to the United States for opportunity and suffered prejudice, discrimination and mistreatment for decades, even while discovering faith and service through Christian organizations. But in an instant, an epiphany of forgiveness and understanding made him turn his story become a force to educate and serve people. Dedicating his life to speak out against the struggles he experienced throughout his life, he describes his transformation and “how communication between people and countries is the answer to lasting peace throughout the world.” (Taken from his bio.) He spreads his message of understanding, love and forgiveness through lectures, poetry, art and through the writing of his own book, Hiroshima: Bridge to Forgiveness, having shared his message with thousands of people around the world. This same man who has experienced worlds of transition was the same man who commended the work that Sara, myself and the other panelists of our workshop dedicated ourselves to: creating bridges of understanding and respect. His sharing complimented our experience with his story and his message of compassion and clemency.

5. The Strength of Grassroots Advocacy

Another individual who caught my attention sprang from a social media interaction between Sara and fellow attendee, Syed Mahmood Kazmi, a college graduate from our age group, and a man who was leagues beyond my intelligence, capability and humility. A Kashmir, Pakistan native, he is dedicated to education and supporting marginalized and oppressed communities throughout South Asia. His work includes serving as an Emergency Response Team Leader in Pakistan Red Crescent Society providing First Aid and Search & Rescue. Additionally, Kazmi serves as an Intern at the Office of the Permanent Observer to the United Nations International Organization for Migration, New York. Proving to me that there is not any limit on the power in your stride to revolutionize the way we think and act. It was a privilege to associate with him, but his drive and grace also reminds me that my personal call to action must never be silenced.

The workshop and conference experience sent me home with a new energy to excel in my work, to inspire others, to educate communities about the world, and to ensure communities are provided what is needed to flourish and produce better lives. At certain moments, I thought my work with domestic communities lacked significance in the bigger picture, but people from all over the world proved our small actions are revolutionary. I have always known that lecturing, building community beds for organic vegetation to feed people, and building relationships between communities was the right thing to do, but now it seems like the normal thing to do. There is normalcy in instilling peace and stability in humanity.

All in all, the 3-day conference served as a platform for individuals, stakeholders, and NGO society to come together. This success was not just because of the number of people who participated in the event, but because all players came together to draft a powerful declaration to action. Our roles as interfaith leaders challenged us to think innovatively about how a Global Ethic could efficiently push for the Post 2015 Agenda. We found that there are multiple opportunities for collaboration in a way that moves from dialogue to producing tangible results. We walked away with not only a better understanding of what sustainable development means, but also how interfaith action can bridge the gap towards inclusivity and peaceful governance.

Parliament of Religions Calls Faith Communities to Actively Oppose War, Blockade of Gaza, Anti-Semitism & Islamophobia to Protect Israeli and Palestinian Lives

The Parliament of the World’s Religions grieves whenever violence and conflict flares, as is now occurring in Palestine and Israel. Grief, however, must not paralyze faith communities and the interfaith movement into silence and inaction. Instead, we are called to serve as moderating agents in the cause of sustainable justice, unconditional compassion, and enduring peace by raising our voices against those who seek the annihilation of their enemies.

The Parliament, therefore, asks religious and spiritual communities across the globe, and the interfaith movement specifically, to be vocal and active in:

    • calling both sides to end the war in an ethical manner, including the ending of the seven-year blockade of Gaza, with borders monitored by the United Nations to ensure safety for Israelis as well as Palestinians
    • asking world leaders to take concrete steps, with urgency, to ensure the freedom, self-determination, security, and equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis
    • calling the United Nations to ensure that both sides abide by international laws and human right accords in safeguarding civilians, with special attention given to children
    • requesting both sides to recognize the humanity of the other and to honor their sacred spaces

The Parliament of the World’s Religions encourages all faith communities and especially the interfaith movement to actively expose and challenge anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in their neighborhoods, cities, and in the public discourse. Let us be moderating voices and agents that will revitalize the dialogue and cooperation between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. This mission should be a part of our sermons, prayers, and civic action.

This statement was adopted by the Board of Trustees of the Parliament by a majority vote.

Women’s Task Force Suggests Gordon Brown’s Linking Together the Fight for Girls’ Rights

By Gordon Brown July 21, 2014

Gordon Brown, prime minister of Britain from 2007 to 2010, is a U.N. special envoy for global education.

Glory, Rejoice and Comfort. Three schoolgirls with unforgettable names. Three schoolgirls whose contribution to propelling girls’ rights onto the world agenda may yet rival what Rosa Parks achieved for U.S. civil rights a half-century ago.

One hundred days after Boko Haram’s abduction of Glory Dama, Rejoice Sanki, Comfort Amos and more than 200 other teenage girls from the Chibok school in northeastern Nigeria, their plight is inspiring a one-day worldwide vigil. On Wednesday, groups fighting for girls rights across the globe will come together to act as one, unveiling for the first time what could become the great civil rights movement of this generation.

Demonstrations on behalf of the missing girls will be mobilized in Pakistan by the girls’ education movement Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), in India by Bachpan Bachao Andolan, in Africa’s Francophone countries by theGlobal March Against Child Labour and in capital cities around the globe by the 500 teenage global ambassadors of A World at School.

Read More at The Washington Post

Parliament United Nations Task Force Forms to Enhance Relations, MDGs

Flags flying high at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.
Credit: UN Photo/Joao Araujo Pinto

The Parliament of the World’s Religions is dedicating a new task force to move forward since becoming a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) associated to the United Nations Department of Public Information (UN-DPI) in late 2013.

The newly-formed The United Nations Task Force of the Parliament is now meeting to explore ways that the Parliament can collaborate with other NGOs to carry forward its mission, and to more fully integrate the Millennium Development Goals into its work overall.

Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chair of the Board of Trustees, is encouraged by the potential of this new Parliament initiative stating,

 

The Parliament has high expectation in developing a deeper relationship with the United Nations since it is one of the important guiding institutions for humanity. The Parliament’s UN Task Force is just a first step in the right direction. We are also looking forward to working with other interfaith organizations at the UN to enhance our desire to have better Intra-Interfaith cooperation.

 

Excited for the work ahead, the Parliament announces those comprising the United Nations Task Force of the Parliament of the World’s Religions are:

Dr. Kusumita Pedersen: Co-Chair of the Parliament UN Task Force, Board Trustee
Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti: Co-Chair of the Parliament UN Task Force, Parliament Representative to the United Nations, Board Trustee
Rev. Dr. John Pawlikowski: Parliament Representative to the United Nations, Board Trustee
Rev. Phyllis Curott: Parliament Representative to the United Nations, Board Trustee
Ms. Sara Rahim: Parliament Youth Representative to the United Nations, St. Louis University Student
Mr. Tahil Sharma: Parliament Youth Representative to the United Nations, University of LaVerne Student
Dr. Aisha al-Adawiya: Founder and Chair of Women in Islam
Mr. Naresh Jain, Parliament Trustee Emeritus, Founding Member of Educare
Ms. Kay Lindahl, Parliament Ambassador Advisory Council Member
Dr. Mary Nelson (Ex-Officio), Parliament Executive Director
Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid (Ex-Officio), Chair of the Board of Trustees, Parliament of the World’s Religions

Dr. Kusumita Pedersen reflects that “between all its members, this task force has many years of varied experience of work in the NGO world connected to the UN.”

The Parliament supports the DPI in its aim of widening public knowledge of the UN, so watch this space for items about the UN and its multi-faceted work, and look forward to getting to know each of the Parliament Task Force members in the months ahead through profiles in our newsletter, features on Facebook, and activity reports.

Most recently, the Parliament Women’s Task Force was co-host of a parallel event to the 58th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women which was held March 3 – 15. On March 11,the gathering in New York City joined spirits world-wide for Remembering the Sacred Heart of Your Activism: An Evening of Prayer, Reflection and Inspiration convened by organizers Women of Spirit and Faith, Gather the Women Global Matrix, Millionth Circle, We Are Enough and United Religions Initiative, and more.

The Parliament as always shares a deep commitment to cooperation and commitment toward a just, peaceful, and sustainable world, and is gearing to offer many more opportunities to enhance work on these critical goals as 2014 continues.

The Power of Women as Agents of Peace

Rosalee Laws

Via Rosalee Laws for Women’s History Month , Parliament of the World’s Religions Ambassador 

I have had the pleasure of witnessing many women and women’s groups involved at all stages of peace work, from prevention to resolution. When I define peace work I mean it in a broad sense, not just the absence of war, but living honorably, dying in peace, having basic human needs met, and post conflict resolutions.

Amid 39 active conflicts over the last 10 years, few women have actually been at the table of peace negotiations. Out of 585 peace treaties drafted over the last two decades, only 16 percent contain specific references to women. Furthermore, around the world 1 in 3 women are subject to “non peaceful” or violent situations, including sexual and physical abuses.

Since it is quite obvious that women are very affected by “non-peaceful” situations, and they are 50 percent of this world’s population, isn’t it quite obvious they are a critical voice in the building of peace?

Inequality in Leadership Roles

It is time for women to come out of the shadows at the podium of peace.

It goes without saying, men tend to dominate the formal roles in the current peace-building process. Male peacekeepers, male peace negotiators, male politicians, and male formal leaders all take the spotlight. Power is unequally distributed between men and women and the majority of women do not have a voice in any local or national decision making processes. Such inequalities cause formal peacebuilding activities and policies to suffer from insufficient understanding of the diverse communities in which they are representing. Not including women in decisions making processes towards peace often means that female concerns are not addressed. Experiences and insights of both men and women during conflict and peace need to be represented in order to encapsulate all dimensions for holistic solutions.

The landscape of women’s participation has experienced significant change mostly in the area of awareness. All of us, men and women alike, have gender roles firmly embedded within us. The more we all try to pretend they do not exist, the less conscious we are of our own behaviors that promote inequality. Discussion of these issues openly is a first step to dealing with them and getting more women involved in the process of peace.

Getting Out Of Our Own Way

An effective message by female peacemakers overcomes conflict by refusing to kill the child of another mother.

Many women’s groups that are advocating their participation are siloed in existence to their peers. Most of the groups that exist have great broad ideas with lack of tactical implementation skills. Many current women’s movements and formal policies do not have established mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the progress of their work. Even at the international level, it is very upsetting to see how programs and policies lack in operational guidance, program implementation, data monitoring and evaluation, knowledge and resources. There is also a huge gap in knowledge for most organizations on how to harness technology resources such as social media that have the influence to mobilize millions all over the world in minutes.

The Women’s Leadership Ambition Gap

A bigger part of the problem is not just allowing women to come to the table, it is that women often themselves de-value their role as peacebuilders. So many women, despite their amazing achievements, feel like impostors and do not necessarily recognize the important roles they can play in both building peace and as leaders. Women need to recognize that within themselves they have attributes, valuable insights, and experiences, that NO ONE else has. Women embody the maternal gifts as caregivers, focus on the family, and resolving violence without conflict. Women of faith, in particular, are well suited for participation in peace efforts. They transmit peace values over generations and are already promoting critical values to the world.

What Would Big Change Look Like?

Big changes would happen if we first, could ensure that women play a key role in the design and implementation of peacebuilding activities and give them a confidence to do so. Second, we need to support and strengthen the already established women’s organizations that are currently working in their peacebuilding efforts. Finally, systems need to be established for enforcing and monitoring all efforts on a global scale.Women have such untapped potential to be effective participants, key-decision makers and beneficiaries of peace.

They must unravel the potential that exists within themselves to create a more peaceful world. Discovering their own voices. Find the courage to step up. There is a place for all women at the podium for peace.

Rosalee Laws, Ambassador, Parliament of the World’s Religions

 

Rosalee Laws is the CEO of R.O.S.E. a company that offers online development programs to business owners and organizational leaders. A passion for interfaith work that stems over a decade, Ambassador for the Parliament of World Religions and Founder of “women leadership” on reddit and the invite only “women in leadership” group on Linkedin. Rosalee has had experience in over 29 industries some of which include, working with the Secretary General at Religions for Peace, with United Nations entities, Disney Films, and the Associated Press. You can find out more on rosaleelaws.com.

 

 

Resources / Supplementary Information

The International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) (S.2982, HR. 4594). Amnesty International Issue Brief No. 2. March 2010.

United Nations Security Council, “Resolution 1325 Women Peace and Security,” (2000).

Posa, Swanee Hunt and Cristina, “Women Waging Peace,” Foreign Policy, no. 124 (2001): 38-47.

Anju Chhetri, “Women’s Intervention in the Peace Processes,” Nepal Samacharpatra, August 29, 2006.

UNIFEM, “Securing the Peace: Guiding the International Community Towards Women’s Effective Participation Throughout Peace Processes,” edited by Camille Pampell Conaway Klara Banaszak, Anne Marie Goetz, Aina Iiyambo and Maha Muna (New York: UNIFEM, 2005),

United Nations, Women Peace and Security (2002)

Lisa Laplante, “Women as Political Participants: Psychosocial Postconflict Recovery in Peru,” Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, v. 13 no. 3 (2007).

Jackie Kirk, “Promoting a Gender-Just Peace: The Roles of Women Teachers in Peacebuilding and Reconstruction,” Gender and Development 12, no. 3 (2004):

Madeline Storck , “The Role of Social Media in Political Mobilisation:a Case Study of the January 2011 Egyptian Uprising” 20 December 2011.

Report of the Secretary-General on Women’s Participation in Peacebuilding (A/65/354–S/2010/466)

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/audio/2014/feb/20/women-movements-force-for-change-podcast

Tahil Sharma and Sara Rahim to Represent Parliament at United Nations-DPI Youth Body

The Parliament of the World’s Religions was honored by receiving outstanding applications to represent us at the Youth Representative program of the United Nations DPI-NGO body for 2014. As the UN works to implement its post Millennium Development Goals agenda, these young leaders stand to implement action aligned to the Parliament’s mission of creating a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world.

We are pleased to announce the representatives selected are Ms. Sara Rahim and Mr. Tahil Sharma.

  • Sara Rahim

    Ms. Sara Rahim, will complete a double major in Public Health and International Studies from Saint Louis University this year. Sara’s passion for social justice expands to global health, interfaith, and refugee/migration issues. She has studied Arabic in Egypt, offered healthcare in Honduras, and spent a semester in Morocco, where she conducted a study on access to healthcare for undocumented sub-Saharan migrants. She later returned to Morocco to work with grassroots NGOs that focus on sub-Saharan female migrants’ health. On campus, Sara has spearheaded the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Challenge for the past two years, while organizing student interfaith programming. Off campus, Sara has interned at Interfaith Youth Core coaching students to be leaders of interfaith action, and she has worked in refugee resettlement at World Relief. In the future, Sara would like to pursue a career in global health and international development, with a focus on communities in conflict, and she hopes to use interfaith as a tool towards sustainable development. 

Sara reflects, “Throughout my undergraduate experience, interfaith has always been a tool to build bridges across diverse traditions and to mobilize my community towards action. In the future, I hope to continue to work with communities in conflict towards building those bridges and improving access to areas such as health and education. Being able to represent the Parliament at the UN will allow me to live my mission on a national platform and engage with like-minded leaders towards building a global ethic.”

Tahil Sharma

  • Mr. Tahil Sharma, a senior who will complete his B.A. in International Studies and Languages at LaVerne University in California.

Tahil Sharma is working to obtain his Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish, with emphases in Japanese and International Studies at the University of La Verne in Southern California. Serving as an interfaith activist for numerous years, he is currently employed as the Coordinator for the Center for Sikh Studies at Claremont Lincoln University, under the Claremont School of Theology. His work in peace and community service has named him a Newman Civic Fellow for working with local communities on issues related to discrimination and prejudice, as well as issues of food insecurity.

Tahil reflects, “getting the chance to go to the United Nations means that I can take part in changing the way diplomacy and foreign relations are dealt with in our day and age. The context of culture and religion play such significant roles in our society that not recognizing and respecting them would create misnomers for the identity of numerous people. Declaring the value and necessity of inter-religious amity and cooperation would mean informing and bring the world together for the greater good of humanity.”

Congratulations to Tahil Sharma, Sara Rahim, and to the next generation of interfaith leaders who are rapidly advancing the interfaith movement beyond limits.