Skip to main content

Sister Isabel Smyth

Sister Isabel Smyth worked in teacher training for 20 years, and has been engaged in inter-faith work for a further 20 years.

As a young nun, she was sent to study at Lancaster University – famous for its multi-faith approach to Religious Education. Meeting people of other faiths was a life-changing experience. Isabel had become deeply involved in the work of a trail-blazing Church of Scotland Deaconess, Stella Reekie, who set up the first interfaith group in Scotland.

Isabel Smyth portrait

On her return to Glasgow in the early 1970s, Isabel joined the staff at Notre Dame College of Education, but was determined not to limit herself to life within her own community.

Through her work with student teachers, and as the founding CEO of the Scottish Interfaith Council, Isabel has dedicated her life to helping people of different faiths to find a new way to live together.

She is Honorary Lecturer in the Centre for Interfaith Studies at Glasgow University and the Scottish Catholic Bishops Associate Secretary for Interfaith Relations. She has provided a safe space where difficult questions - including questions about gender justice – can be asked.

All religious traditions have, at some time, endorsed violence against women, so you have to learn first to live well within your own tradition, before you can question another’s.

- Sister Isabel Smyth.
Isabel Phiri portrait

Isabel Phiri

As Deputy General Secretary for Public Witness and Diakonia at the World Council of Churches, Isabel Phiri is uniquely placed to bring local activism on justice issues to an international platform.

But her route to the stage has been costly. Isabel was introduced to gender justice discourse through the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians. In 1995, she experienced violent attacks from male and female students at the University of Malawi after presenting research findings on sexual harassment and rape on campus.

In the same year she was threatened with ex-communication from the Blantyre Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian for apparently inciting female staff to seek gender justice in the church.

However, she was voted Woman of the Year 1995 by the Nation Newspaper for breaking the silence in Malawi and bringing gender justice into public debate. A Centre for Gender Studies has since been established at the University of Malawi.

Prophetic theology has turned me into an activist for gender justice.

- Isabel Phiri.

Side by Side

Explore how you can stand up for gender justice.