The first Women of Faith Conference initiates significant dialogue

African Union to collaborate with female religious Leaders

Written by Esther Pordon

From June 10 to 15, the first edition of the Women of Faith Conference took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This groundbreaking event brought together 25 female religious leaders from 13 African countries with policymakers to work on promoting freedom of religion and belief (FoRB) and strengthening women’s rights. For the first time, these women engaged in discussions with the African Union, resulting in unique and necessary cooperation agreements to enhance the position of African women and their religious rights.

The importance of this conference
Organized by JISRA, Mensen met een Missie, the African Council of Religious Leaders, and the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya, the significance of this conference cannot be underestimated. Women in many African countries face dual discrimination based on gender and religion. Additionally, many countries lack effective policy frameworks to make FoRB, especially regarding women and gender, a reality. While the African Union has made strides toward gender equality, a comprehensive FoRB policy focusing on women is still lacking. Female religious leaders play a crucial role in this effort.

Strengthening advocacy skills
This conference highlights the importance of interfaith cooperation and dialogue in promoting peace, and demonstrates the power of women fighting for their rights and religious freedom,” says Rick van der Woud, director of Mensen met een Missie. Throughout the week, the women participated in intensive training and workshops on lobbying and advocacy. By collaborating and learning from each other, these women are now better equipped to empower their communities and advocate for their rights.

Engaging with policymakers
The conference’s highlight was the visit to the African Union (AU) headquarters, where the women had a unique opportunity to directly express their concerns and recommendations to key policymakers. Sister Veronica from Nigeria described it as a historic event: “It was fantastic to see Women of Faith from different countries discussing issues affecting women with the African Union for the first time. This is so necessary, as women, and especially female religious leaders, play a vital role in peacebuilding and conflict resolution on the African continent.

Sister Veronica speaking at the African Union

Closer Collaboration in the Future
During the visit, there were extensive discussions on female genital mutilation (FGM), gender-based violence, and countering extremism, with significant results. The Women of Faith will now share information about conflicts, hate speech, and emerging violence in their regions as part of the AU’s ‘early warning system.’ They have also been invited to join FemWise and FemNet, key networks of mediators and AU experts.

Keagetswe Alex Kgotlaetsile from the AU’s Women, Gender & Youth department looks forward to a fruitful collaboration: “These Women of Faith have roots and influence in their communities, which we at the African Union need to translate in our policies into action and change.”

The JISRA project is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and coordinated by four international peacebuilding organisations: Mensen met een Missie; Tearfund UK and Tearfund Netherlands; Faith to Action Network; and Search for Common Ground, with support from technical partner Network for Traditional and Religious Peacemakers

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