A group of thirty-five religious and political leaders, scholars and representatives of different relevant organisations met in Oslo 22-23 June 2008 for a workshop on “Women, Equality and Peace” addressing questions related to ensuring equal and balanced participation by women and to promote the role of women in global peacemaking efforts. The workshop aimed at extracting initiatives, policies and practices on both the political and religious sides that can be instrumental in ensuring equal participation of women by means of more effective involvement in the public arena.
This initiative is a joint undertaking by three organisations: The Foundation for Dialogue among Civilizations (FDC), Club de Madrid (CdM) and The Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights (OC). The workshop is co-chaired by former President of Iran, Seyyed Mohammad Khatami (FDC), and the former Prime Minister of Norway and CdM Member, Kjell Magne Bondevik (OC). This workshop was the third of three, and will provide thought and input for the forthcoming Tehran Conference on “The Role of Religion in Modern Time” to be held in the fall of 2008, and for the Policy and Practices Portfolio for Social Cohesion, being developed by the CdM and its partners.
The participants welcomed the adoption by the UN Security Council on 19 June of the Resolution 1820, noting that rape and other forms of sexual violence constitute a war crime and a crime against humanity.
The participants discussed and endorsed the ideas and intentions contained in this statement.
Among other propositions, the participants discussed the following:
- The struggle against discriminatory regulations and the promotion of participation of women in the public sphere have been a long historical process in the Islamic and the Western World. Strong resistance from several traditionalist positions were and are faced, but also increasing demands and expectations exist accompanying expanding knowledge and awareness.
- Key tools in the struggle to improve the conditions for women in different societies include: education, new legislation (like changes in the family laws), and implementation of quotas in order to improve representation.
- It is an unethical and unacceptable interpretation of religion when women are deprived of their rights in the name of religion.
- The examples of women as agents of change in decision making positions have been extremely instrumental in transforming old prejudices.
- Intra-religious dialogue and self criticism can provide dynamism to religious perspectives in relation to issues like gender.
- The role of women in development has been paramount throughout history but needs to be documented and emulated. There are several role models in the Abrahamic texts that could serve as inspiration at the social, political and religious level.
- Participation of women within religious communities is critical. Women should be given equal opportunities to participate on equal terms.
- The Millennium Development Goals could constitute common objectives for concrete action between different religious communities, the goal of gender equality (MDG3) needs more vigorous action plans.
- Women’s perspective should be promoted in inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogues.
- The provisions for security, justice and equality for women are found in the holy texts. There is a need to form policies and patterns for re-establishing these principles.
- Increasing women representation in Parliaments and other political bodies is an important step but the real results must come through effective gender policies, economic empowerment, and the change of patriarchal institutions and norms.
- Peace processes need to be inclusive, involving all stakeholders: civil society and political leaders, especially women leaders. Appropriate capacity building and training programs are essential tools to promote this approach.
- UNSC 1325 is an important step forward. It should be implemented through the creation of proper follow-up mechanisms, a monitoring implementation process and a coordination strategy with the different UN agencies and other international stakeholders. National action plans should follow.
- The importance of the reconciliation of family and public life and strengthening balanced family roles in a modern world is emphasized for woman and man alike.
To these ends, the participants committed to work effectively to:
- Confirm that religions uphold the removal of gender based discrimination and exclusion
- Promote initiatives to enhance the representation of women at all levels, including interreligious and intercultural dialogues
- Actively ensure the participation of women in religious life at different levels by equal standards.
- Promote fundamental rights like: equality before the law, equal opportunities and the freedom to choose.
- Call on religious and political leaders to promote gender equity and overcome those traditional practices that inhibit its realization.
- Ensure equal representation by women. The use of quotation can be an effective instrument to secure a certain percentage of representation.
- Encourage participation of women in all aspects of modern life, including through educational and training programs in financial management.
- Call on religious leaders to lead a strong and vocal opposition in their preaching against sexual violence, in conflicts as well as domestic violence.