Based on an Interview with Sofia Caseiro
Religious actors have an important contribution to make, not only to teach people about the theology of their specific religion, but also to show how to care for others. All religions connect with the idea of respect for others. The more I learn, the more I defend this. Religions have this responsibility to implement how you as a citizen should act towards others in society. If religions nail this objective, then they will be fulfilling their objectives
The religious leaders we see every week have an important influence on how we grow up. And if that person is conveying teachings of respect for others, and being an empathetic person with others, especially in respecting others’ views, then this is the basis for having a more peaceful society free of any violence, and allows the building of dialogue between differences. If I am from a religion and you are from another, maybe we have several differences in how we see our lives, but we have respect for each other, and we can build dialogue from there—and that is very important.
Respect for Refugees
In the case of refugees, there are a lot of faith-based organizations that are already helping. We have here in Europe refugee camps that are overcrowded, and many countries have shut down their borders because of the pandemic and are not admitting refugees. These refugees do not have space to practice proper physical distancing. They often do not have access to water or soap to clean their hands in efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. They are very vulnerable. This is a structural inequality that we are faced with and that I think we cannot ignore.
Back in 2015, when refugees started coming to Europe, everyone responded with, “We have to protect them! Let us receive them right now.” With time, the problem is out of the news cycles, and people are no longer attending to it. But the problem is still there. Maybe they will start to be attentive, maybe we can start pressuring our leaders to do more about it, not just telling us as Europeans to respect human rights, but actually doing something about it without being pessimistic.
We need to restructure. We also must act on what we say. We have a problem, in my opinion, with the “safe country of origin” rule. This is, in essence, a list of countries and if people come from a country from that list, they will be sent back. These countries are not safe most of the times, but we tend to ignore it because they are on the list. These lists need to be reevaluated often because the countries and the conditions are not always static. Their conditions are always changing, and we need to be very careful of where we are sending these people back to. Is it safe? Do we have conditions to protect them there? Probably not.
Respect for Equal Opportunity
One of my greatest passions is to talk about education and human rights education. Education is empowerment. For example, I always tell people about Malala and her thoughts on girls’ education and how a pencil and a professor can change the world. This is true because if you look carefully at the formal education system, we understand that it also needs a bit of change. We need to concern ourselves with what people must learn to be responsible citizens, to know where the opinions are of others, and to respect it, while having empathy for others.
If you are treated with respect, you will have respect for others and for human rights. I think it is important that we start to implement human rights education in school, so that we can have a more peaceful society. I know this is a utopian idea, but through this we can empower everyone. I had an experience when I was younger. In school, we learned about recycling; we took the issue to our parents at home. So, everyone started recycling because the kids told the parents; this is what you are supposed to do. Children are influencers. If they take home a lesson on human rights, how to respect others, how to understand the other’s views, how everyone has their dignity, we begin to see real change. Never underestimate the power of a child.
We need to change our behaviors and shift our economy not to think about money, but to think about social impact. We should learn how to create budgets for social impact and how we are going to direct the money for a sustainable social economy for all. Currently, we are all aware of the need for healthcare systems that are capable. We need the essential workers to be acknowledged. I hope there is a different perspective on our leaders after this pandemic. Maybe they will have learned something. Maybe we will get results that we were not expecting and are different from what they were before.
Respect for Each Other
We are living in a world now where we think we are all superheroes, and we don’t concern ourselves with people reaching their limit. People think that we still should go on because no one is doing it for us. No one has compassion; there is no empathy nor acknowledgement that you can be sick without being physically sick. We don’t concern ourselves with our mental health. We must start to acknowledge that we have limitations. Our employers should consider this and treat everyone in a more human way. Personally, I think this pandemic has shown that we are not treating ourselves, nor each other with a sense of humanity. We look at each other, not as human beings, but as productive machines. This has to change. Maybe this pandemic has shown us that. It has definitely shown us that no one is immune to whatever the world or elements throw at us.
We are all humans. We all have the same problems. We all have our defects. We all have our not so good parts. But we are alike. So, we must respect each other, and have respect for others’ views. It is not our background that defines us. It is not our faith. It is the individual.
Sofia Caseiro is a professor at Polytechnic of Leiria. She has worked extensively in the areas of human rights and gender equality. She is a group leader for the G20 Interfaith Forum European Task Force on structural inequality and refugees.
Edited by Marianna Richardson and Brayden Walters