Joint Ecumenical Statement by Action by Churches Together – ACT Alliance (ACT), Commission of the Churches in International Affairs of the World Council of Churches (WCC), and Lutheran World Federation (LWF) to the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women
As networks of Churches and Christian faith based organizations working for decades in humanitarian response and human rights-based development in over 130 countries, we call for an end to gender inequality and injustice. Our faith inspires us work to address the needs not only of the body but also of the mind and spirit, honoring the fullness of humanity. We also extend into the most rural areas that are often out of the institutional reach of national governments. We welcome the Commission’s acknowledgment that the specific challenges of women and girls living in rural communities must be addressed in order obtain gender justice for all. These challenges must be particularly addressed in line with the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030 to ensure that those most marginalized, such as rural women and girls, are not ‘left behind’.
Working with Faith Actors to End Harmful Practices
United Nations mechanisms such as the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), show that a number of customary laws and the misuse of religious practices beliefs threaten progress, particularly concerning rural women and girls’ rights, even within countries that have ratified treaties and committed to implementing human rights standards. For example, in Sierra Leone, up to 85 percent of the population uses customary law as part of the formal and informal legal system. Moreover, civil unrest in a country can weaken formal justice systems; in such situations, the population might resort to traditional dispute settlement mechanisms, which complicates and may preclude the assurance of the rights of women and girls, particularly in rural communities.
Acknowledging that these customary and traditional practices are rooted in convictions, values and beliefs, the importance of deliberately involving religious leaders of different faiths cannot be overemphasized. Such leaders play critical and influential roles within society and people of all age groups in communities rely on them for guidance on many matters. As such, working with faith based actors has the potential to bring lasting and sustainable change to end harmful traditional practices including female genital mutilation/cutting and child, early and forced marriage.