Rachel Tavernor, Side by Side International Coordinator
The UN Commission on the Status of Women is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Annually, the Commission brings together representatives of UN Member States, civil society organisations and UN entities, to discuss the progress and gaps in the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the key global policy document on gender equality.
Christian Aid is a founding member of Side by Side, which is a growing global faith movement for gender justice, rooted in the work of national chapters. Eighty-four per cent of the world’s population self-identify as members of a faith group. Faith actors play an important role in the formation of people’s values, norms of acceptable behaviour and life roles. Consequently, faith actors occupy a unique position to make transformational and sustained progress towards gender equality.
While it must be acknowledged that faith actors can be part of the problem of gender injustice, underpinning discriminatory practices, they are increasingly becoming, and seen as part of the solution. Members and chapters from across the Side by Side faith movement have been working together on our advocacy for UNCSW. This year, the priority theme, and the focus of the discussions, is ‘Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and empower of women and girls’.
The importance of faith actors
Firstly, faith actors can contribute to building a value basis, which includes an inclusive approach based on human rights and equal access to social protection. Secondly, faith actors are also advocating for governments’ responsibility to provide effective, and inclusive, social protection. Where governments fail to provide social protection, faith actors can, and often do, fill the gaps with important interventions.
The important role of faith based organisations was recognised in the UNCSW 62 Agreed Conclusions. To build on this success, Side by Side will be working with members from Nigeria, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa, to amplify the role of faith actors, given their influence in respective communities, in enabling the right to social protection and stepping in when the state fails to deliver.
From 11th March – 22nd March 2019, Side by Side will be hosting a series of events, with many partners, including the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD).
Side by Side, as co-lead of the gender equality and empowerment work-stream, has been instrumental in coordinating a Side Event on ‘Unlocking the Power of Faith-Based Partnerships: Enabling the Right to Social Protection’ and a roundtable discussion on ‘Faith, Feminism and Human Rights Frameworks’. Both events are co-sponsored by the Danish, UK and Canadian governments, and will be an opportunity to amplify the role of faith in advancing gender justice.
A growing movement
Side by Side, after many regional consultations in Brazil, Nairobi and Zimbabwe, celebrated their international launch at the UNCSW61. Two years later, the movement has grown and is now rooted in 12 countries around the world. Together we are working towards a world where we are free from cultural and interpersonal systems of privilege and oppression, from violence and repression based on gender. So that gender is seen as gift rather than danger, a source of life and hope rather than oppression or fear.
In the words of Faustina Nillan, Global Side by Side Steering Group member from Tanzania, who will be attending UNCSW, ‘If in my country we are free from gender inequalities but other countries are tied in these inequalities, we are not free at all. We have to make sure that all people, in this world, are free. I want to call my sisters and brothers from all over the world to stand together for gender justice’.