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Women’s crucial role in achieving interfaith harmony and social well-being

By Ms Lazzat Ramazanova, Deputy Chairperson of the Presidential National Commission on Women Affairs and Demographic Policy of the Republic of Kazakhstan

Despite many efforts to progress women equality agenda globally, there is a lot more that yet needs to be done. While promotion of gender equality in business, politics and social sectors often makes the headlines, one area that is rarely considered is equality in the sphere of interfaith work, religious dialogue and in connection with this is the contribution of women to conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

Religion has historically been more associated with men. This is unsurprising given that for years women have struggled to gain equality in all areas of life — from the home to the workplace, and especially in positions of leadership. Yet religion plays a significant role in the lives of women. In the United States alone, 86% of women are affiliated with a religion, with 63% saying that religion is important in their lives.

Women can play a significant role as peacemakers, supporters of nonviolence and tolerance, and contribute to interfaith harmony and dialogue between different cultures and civilizations. An International Peace Institute study of 182 signed peace agreements between 1989 and 2011 found that when women are included in peace processes, there is a 35 percent increase in the probability that a peace agreement will last 15 years or more.

Evidence indicates that female participants in peace processes are usually focused less on the spoils of the war and more on reconciliation, economic development, education and transitional justice – all critical elements of a sustained peace. Yet, despite these positive statistics, women are often excluded from formal peace processes.

Between 1992 and 2019, women constituted, on average, 13 percent of negotiators, 6 percent of mediators, and 6 percent of signatories in major peace processes around the world. In this regard, it is important to note that Kazakhstan adopted its first National Action Plan on UN Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security agenda in December 2021.

It is therefore vital that societies promote the inclusion of women in efforts to build bridges between communities and countries, particularly those with varying religious beliefs and ethnicities.

On 14-15 September, Kazakhstan will host the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. While the event will primarily focus on the role of faith leaders in the socio-spiritual development of humanity in the post- pandemic period, one of the sections of the Congress is dedicated to the contribution of women to the well-being and sustainable development of society.

The objective is to find ways for religious leaders to make and consider proposals on promoting the role of women. This year’s Congress will be significant with several high-ranking religious leaders are expected to attend, including Pope Francis, Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel David Lau, and Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef, as well as many other spiritual leaders.

This level of participation creates an important opportunity to facilitate the creation of a global atmosphere of peace and tolerance.

Over the last few years Kazakhstan has made significant efforts in promoting gender equality in society with positive results. Women make up 48.1 percent of the workforce in the country and 48.9 percent of workers. Women are highly represented in businesses. The number of women-led businesses increased by 9.1 percent over the year and reached 625,100 companies by the end of 2021.

The number of female entrepreneurs under 29 also increased by 37.2 percent and reached 88,700 people. Women’s entrepreneurship contributes about 40 percent to the country’s GDP. The progress achieved to date showcases the importance and meaningful contribution of women to the economy.

There is, of course, room for improvement. For example, in terms of gender pay gap men earn 21.7 percent more than women in similar sectors. Nevertheless, the government of Kazakhstan has made the promotion and protection of women a top priority. Last year, President Tokayev signed a decree “On further measures of Kazakhstan in the field of human rights”, which includes the elimination of discrimination against women.

The discussion of the role of women at the upcoming Congress is very much in line with the government’s priorities.

Kazakhstan is also home to more than 100 ethnicities and representatives of 18 religious groups. Such level of diversity of the country has encouraged us to convene the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which has been held in Kazakhstan since 2003.

As the role of women in society continues to expand and gender equality becomes a greater goal, it is important to ensure that women are also able to play a key role in interfaith work, as well as in peacebuilding and mediation.

To resolve many of the current global challenges, including geopolitical crises and ongoing conflicts, it is necessary to utilise the skills that women possess. While just one event will not solve this issue outright, the upcoming VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions will contribute to consolidating efforts in achieving progress in eliminating gender imbalance in religion and developing new ideas and recommendations on expanding the role of women.

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