Women play vital roles in development and peace-building. As governmental, non-governmental and faith-based organizations commit to Sustainable Development Goals, the importance of engaging women is obvious. Yet despite intellectual and theoretical agreement, glass ceilings are not breaking quickly and completely enough — in particular in religious leadership. Faith activists, leaders and faith inspired organizations have irreplaceable roles to play in achieving the SDGs’ vision. And yet, when world religious bodies and multilateral organizations invite religious leadership, they include too few women. This panel convened top women leaders to consider honestly how, together, they are challenging and breaking that stained-glass ceiling.
Dr Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture, at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and Coordinator/Chair of the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Engaging Faith-Based Organizations for Development moderated the session pushing the speakers deeper into their insights and challenges to empower and inspire women and men in the audience to take up the challenge of breaking their own stained glass ceilings.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji shared the many challenges that come within her own tradition about often being the only women on the stage for major faith based gatherings and how it is a source of great resilience and joy for her to be the example that can inspire other women to break the stained glass ceiling. She explained, “”It is important for us to realize that as we worship the Goddess, so there must be respect for and a place for women in the world of religions. And in situations that are not currently changeable, that are so deeply ingrained in the culture as to be currently intractable, my spiritual path is to make space for these moments and utilise them to connect deeply to the ‘I’ that does not need someone else’s appreciation or recognition or approval to occupy my space on planet of Earth. The challenge and the gift is knowing when each is the appropriate response.””
Audrey Kitagawa, incoming Chair of the Parliament of World’s Religions, President of the Light of Awareness Spiritual Family, Canon Sarah Synder, Archbishop of Canterbury’s Adviser for Reconcilation, Joyce C Dubensky,CEO of Tanenbaum, a globally recognized organization known for its innovation in combating religious hatred and advancing respect for people of all beliefs and Dr. Katherine Marshall, senior fellow at the Washington DC Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, and executive director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue shared their stories of resilience and resurgence. The powerful session of successful, powerful women leaders in the field of religion who are respected in their respective careers and faith traditions gave great hope to everyone to rise above these challenges and keep moving forward to be the change.