By JoAnne Wadsworth, Communications Consultant, G20 Interfaith Forum
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On March 13, 2023, the G20 Interfaith Forum held a webinar on the sidelines of the UN Human Rights Council meetings in Geneva entitled “Webinar in Geneva: Conflict, Children, Climate, and COVID.”
Speakers included Katherine Marshall, Vice President of the G20 Interfaith Association, Senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center, and Executive Director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue; Ibrahim Salama, Chief of the Human Rights Treaties Branch of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Michael Wiener, Human Rights Officer at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Maria Lucia Uribe, Executive Director of Ethics Education for Children at Arigatou International; Sarah Hess, Technical Officer at the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ahimsa Fund; Dana Humaid, Chief Executive of the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities; and Faraz Hashimi, Member of the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities. W. Cole Durham, Jr., President of the G20 Interfaith Forum Association and Founding Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University, moderated the discussion.
Cole Durham began the discussion by introducing the work of the G20 Interfaith Forum and its unique positioning to open the door for input from religious communities in global processes, particularly through the G20 Summit. He also thanked all the speakers, expressing gratitude for the opportunity to spend time in Geneva, attend some of the UN Human Rights Council meetings, and speak to some of the experts in the area about key IF20 focus issues. He then invited each speaker to offer comments and recommendations in connection to the “Four C’s” of Conflict, Children, Climate, and COVID.
Marshall said the G20 Interfaith Forum’s meetings last December in Abu Dhabi, UAE were very focused on the issue of vulnerability in this time of crisis—and as the G20 was originally formed to deal with large global crises, the IF20 is now looking forward to its 2023 forum meetings in New Delhi, India in May to make further progress on these issues.
She emphasized that the crises of the day can’t be completely separated: climate is connected to debt, which is connected to refugees, which is connected to banking reform, etc., so the IF20 has evolved to look at issues from both specific and holistic, interconnected perspectives.
Marshall then outlined the “4 C’s” that currently make up the G20 Interfaith Forum’s central focuses:
- The COVID Crisis: Mental health, pandemic preparation, “where do we go from here?”
- Climate: COP28, rainforests, the energy crisis and urgent need for climate action
- Conflict: Its impact, implications, and resolution
- Children: The heart of what drives the IF20 to do its work; those most affected by the polycrisis and permacrises of today
Humaid focused her comments on children, highlighting that current crises have caused vulnerable people across the world to become the victims of large amounts of exploitation and suffering, and that children are even more disproportionately affected. She said that faith leaders and faith communities must act as guardians and protectors of children, focusing on three points:
- Increasing awareness of exploitation, violence against children, and trafficking
- Providing counseling to victims and their families
- Encouraging victims to submit reports to authorities
She said that relevant policymaking can be greatly informed and improved by the holistic firsthand experience and voices of faith leaders.
Maria Lucia Uribe
Uribe focused her comments on education in the polycrisis set off by COVID and conflict, and how that is affecting children. She said that learning poverty has increased from 53 percent to 70 percent in low-income countries since the pandemic, and that future loss of earnings with these children is calculated at $21 Billion, which concerns the GDP-focused G20. Despite the widespread acknowledgement of education’s importance, budgets for education worldwide have decreased by 14 percent since the pandemic. 222 Million children around the world live in crisis-affected countries, and 74 Million of those are out of school.
Uribe said that the interconnectedness and shared values of the India G20’s theme, “One Earth, One Family, One Future” is perfect for the IF20, as its role should be to help the decisions made by the G20 to be permeated by values and ethics in society. She presented four ways that faith communities can play a crucial role in preparing children and young people for the future:
- Religious institutions already play an important role in education, leading up to 25 percent of private education, with the Catholic Church being the third biggest educator in the world after India and China. However, there is some discrimination in this religious education that should be addressed.
- Religions play an important role in encouraging or discouraging education in a society, particularly for girls, and setting norms.
- Faith-sensitive psychosocial support and mental wellbeing efforts from the spiritual aspect are critical to addressing the pandemic’s mental health impact on children.
- Interfaith learning, ethics education, dialogue, and conflict resolution training are highly needed for children to prepare them for the future in this increasingly polarized, nationalized world full of hate speech and discrimination.
Salama focused his comments on the perceived role of religion and FoRB (Freedom of Religion or Belief) in the Human Rights arena, and how to make those relationships more effective. He said that the role of religion has always been suspicious and misunderstood in the arena of Human Rights—or, at the very best, seen only as FoRB.
His office and the Faith for Rights Framework are trying to shift that outlook, however, he said that in order to make true progress on these crises, we must link the dots between disciplines. Instead of only connecting faith to FoRB, we must talk about how faiths contribute to and protect children’s rights, how religious pluralism helps diversity, etc.
“We must connect the dots between what exists instead of trying repeatedly to reinvent the wheel.”
Wiener went through each of the “Four C’s,” highlighting snapshots of their linkages to the Faith for Rights Framework as examples that the IF20 could imitate or get involved with.
- Conflict: Faith actors can very concretely and effectively talk about the impact of policies on national levels. They can reduce incitement to hatred, shine the spotlight on minority issues, and advocate for minority rights.
- Children: A big study was recently conducted by Arigatou International and UNICEF, utilizing Faith for Rights, looking at concrete actions on the ground for children. For example, there was an initiative in Cypress where the 18 commitments of the Beirut Declaration on Faith for Rights were translated into Greek and several other languages to be used in grassroots issues.
- Climate: Faith-based actors have put an emphasis on “intergenerational climate justice,” where listening to the voices of children is of utmost importance. In the online course “Religions, Beliefs, and Faith for Rights,” one of the most engaging sections involves interviews with teenagers talking about climate justice.
- COVID: A global pledge of faith-based actors to address COVID-19 together with the UN was facilitated, creating a significant impact.
Hess focused her comments on health and how it is inextricably linked to many of the crises of today. She said that fragmentation is a real danger at all levels and within all disciplines, and that interconnectedness is the way forward.
“Health is one of those common objectives around which we can coalesce as a global community so we aren’t chasing our tails in our own silos.”
In order to avoid fragmentation and make effective, interconnected partnerships that build constructively around common objectives with faith systems, Hess said that there is a need for internal learning on the faith community as a system within secular organizations. The “faith system” is more than faith leaders and followers—it’s education, health services, social support, mental health support, etc. The G20 could take this up and take it forward, benefiting from that internal learning.
On the global scale with large global organizations and nations, there are understandable conflicts of interest. Perhaps we just need to use the ingredients, not the boxes they’re typically packaged in, and work from a different angle in order to avoid these conflicts of interest.
We need to keep working together in a very organized, coordinated way so that we have strong recommendations to send out to policymakers.
These simple efforts to try to build and encourage a more sophisticated and thoughtful understanding of the “religious system” are critical. The institutions and people of this world of religion have important contributions to make to the global debates. There’s a need for better understanding of religion and a willingness to come to grips with the complexity of it all.
This conversation has been very helpful—but it shouldn’t stop here.
A recent minority artist contest and its resulting exhibition has helped shed light on the plight of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. We have until mid-May to submit things to the second edition of this contest. It gives us and the world the possibility of speaking with and learning from minorities, including religious ones.
Maria Lucia Uribe:
These external forums are where better ideas form because there’s less conflict of interest, but we must still proceed to get these ideas to decision-makers. How do we engage local governments, who may be more willing to speak about issues of religion? They should be at the table with us. So should UN agencies. We must make a strategy where key critical religious leaders with influence take advantage of entry points into government discussions.
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JoAnne Wadsworth is a Communications Consultant for the G20 Interfaith Association and acting editor of the “Viewpoints” blog.