H.E. Mr. Vuk Jeremic, Sisters and Brothers,
It is an absolute honor to be here at the United Nations to mark World Interfaith Harmony Week – as a woman, an interfaith leader and a global citizen. It is also an honor to stand here as the Chair of the United Religions Initiative, a grassroots interfaith network for peace and justice. which is active in 83 countries. We applaud the leadership of His Majesty King Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in proposing, the observance of World Interfaith Harmony Week and indeed the UN General Assembly for its wisdom in establishing it.
As the Secretary General indicated in his message for World Interfaith Harmony Week, never before has the relationship between religions been of such pressing importance for the future of our world. In this pursuit, each of us will recognise the essential need for dialogue between different religions and traditions – not only the dialogue of words, but also the dialogue of constructive engagement to address the unique opportunities and urgent challenges of our time.
Over the last decade, we have seen an enormous growth in interfaith activism. And yet, the world is almost daily shattered by violence in the name of religion. Religious fanaticism too often, is the source of violence and destruction. On January 10th, the United Religions Initiative lost a beloved youth trainer, Irfan Ali, in sectarian violence in Quetta, Pakistan.
The human identity continues to be compartmentalised in the name of caste, gender and religion. But our diversity does not have to divide, rather we must nurture the flame of unity to ensure the transformation of our planet into a safer, healthier and more just one.
As an interfaith leader, I am working to advance the positive impact and cooperation among faith, spiritual and indigenous traditions towards developing solutions to complex social problems, especially conflict.
Religiously motivated conflicts around the world undermine the very principles of peace that our faith traditions teach. As people of faith we must focus on conflict transformation and engage in constructive change initiatives that go beyond the resolution of particular problems. We see this in Uganda, where the peace of 2010, whilst welcome, brought a flood of former combatants and other displaced persons back to the country. This also brought numerous battles over land claimed by someone else. The engagement of members of the United Religions Initiative has already brought several formerly fractious factions to the negotiating table, and assisted ongoing efforts to build relationships of trust within the region.
As a woman, I work to promote the leadership and participation of women in building a culture of peace. Women comprise over half the global population. Tragically, we are overrepresented as the victims of wars and other forms of violence perpetrated by men. We are vastly underrepresented in the governing bodies that make decisions about war and peace, and about the allocation of the human and financial resources of their nations. It is also worth noting that while women often comprise the majority of the faithful in religious communities, men most often hold the power.
At the United Religions Initiative we recognize that women’s experience and wisdom are critical to peace building and community development. In India we are working with women-led Cooperation Circles in an ongoing campaign to end female infanticide and promote empowerment of the girl child.
To help fulfil the vision of World Interfaith Harmony Week, and, indeed, the goals of the United Nations, isn’t it time to strengthen our efforts to support the leadership of women at every level of human society?
As Aung San Sun Kyi said in her videotaped keynote at the Fourth UN World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995:
For millennia women have dedicated themselves almost exclusively to the task of nurturing, protecting and caring for the young and the old, striving for the conditions of peace that favour life as a whole...Now that we are gaining the primary historical role imposed on us of sustaining life in the context of the home and family, it is time to apply in the arena of the world the wisdom and experience thus gained in activities of peace over so many thousands of years.
Is it not time to pass the UN resolution for a 5th Global Women’s Conference in 2015 to address new and emerging issues affecting women and girls since the Beijing Conference in 1995? And it isn’t time to redouble efforts to prevent the types of violence that women are subject to? The brutal gang rape of a young woman in New Delhi sent shock waves across the world. As shocking as that story was, there are so many rapes and acts of violence against women around the world that never get reported let alone garner media attention.
We must lend our voice to the restoration of dignity for women, to securing their rights under international law and to ensuring their economic empowerment. We must stand together to prevent women and girls from being used as tools of war. The Protection, Participation and Promotion of women is paramount, regardless of religion, colour or creed.
As global citizens, let’s continue to engage the whole of mankind in making our world a safer and harmonious one.
I would like to close with a pertinent quote from Sai Baba,
There is only one religion,
the religion of Love.
There is only one language,
the language of Heart.
There is only one caste,
the caste of Humanity.
There is only one God,
And He is Omnipresent.
Blessings to you all. May peace prevail on Earth.
Kiran Bali, MBE, JP
URI Global Council Chair