Speech: “The agenda of creating a planet 50-50 cannot come true if religion, religious leaders and faith actors remain outside the conversation”—Lakshmi Puri

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the launch of the International Partnership for Religion and Sustainable Development Platform


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Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like begin by thanking the Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN for hosting us and making this event possible.

I thank our partners and co-conveners for coming together and making the launch of this initiative possible. I especially recognize the leadership of UNFPA in the Inter-Agency Task Force and the role played by Ms. Azza Karam in supporting this work.

I would also like to thank our co-lead on this work stream, DIFD, we look forward to collaborating closely with you on this.

I thank the Partnership for religion and International Development Secretariat for the effort already invested in this and for taking on the great responsibility of providing us with a space to look into.

Moving forward will be no easy task, but it is certainly a critical one for us.

Power of religion: 

According to a Pew Study conducted in 2012, eight out of ten people in the world profess to a particular faith. With religion still occupying such a central place in peoples lives, it compels us to recognize that religion has the needed potential to harness and mobilize all sections of society for the social and cultural transformation called for by the UN’s human rights, peace and security, humanitarian and sustainable development agenda, and the Gender Equality Compact that is now prioritized within these thanks to our efforts in the last five years.

Deconstructing the patriarchy: 

“Religions are powerful creators of social fact. And it’s not merely facts they create, but a binding emotional knowledge that these facts are sacred truths.” Nicholas Wade.

We need to harness this power of religion to create the new social fact of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Unfortunately, so far in many societies we have misconstrued religious teaching which justifies the “naturalness” and “sacred nature” of the patriarchy in which men are viewed as superior to women, discriminated against, there is gendered division of labour and roles and gender stereotyping, harmful practices like child marriage, female genital mutilation and violence against women justified in the name of religion.

It is time for that to be revisited, it is time for us to re-examine religious teachings and laws, with the aim of generating new narratives about the role of religion and faith in achieving gender equality. All based on principles such as equality before God, mutual respect, tolerance, and compassion.

Interfaith platform

Religion must support gender equality and women's empowerment. The agenda of creating a planet 50-50, an equal world for men and women will not and cannot come true if religion, religious leaders and faith actors remain outside the conversation on achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Gender Equality Compact: 

The international community has placed the goal of achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls as central across all normative gains achieved over the past two years; at the helm is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which has a standalone goal on gender equality and women's empowerment as well as having gender related targets across 11 of the other SDGs, with CSW60 committing to its gender-responsive implementation.

Gender equality and women's empowerment is interlinked, if not at the center, of all our work streams. We must recognize the linkages that exist between women’s rights and empowerment and other spheres, such as education for example. We cannot have one, without the other. We know that when women are educated and empowered, society benefits. We have lower maternal and child mortality rates, boys and girls stay in school longer, and more money is reinvested back into households. This all leads to poverty reduction and stronger economies.

The value added of this platform would be to develop the religious narrative that supports this argument in all its facets and interlinkages and that between women's right to physical integrity, autonomy, security and safety, to economic empowerment and right to decent work and productive employment, participation, voice and leadership.

UN Women’s Strategy:

Faith actors are critical in dismantling structures and practices that promote inequality; as such, UN Women is in the process of developing its own strategy on “The Role of Religion in Advancing Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment” which aims to better understand and engage faith actors, organizations and institutions at all levels of our work: normative, programmatic and advocacy with the goal of achieving transformational gender equality.

Value of the platform:

A space to develop a much needed religious narrative that places women at its center and recognizes their agency as well as their particular needs as related to the various issues under our purview. But it not just simply about that:

Norm setting:

This platform should advance the narratives of gender equality—rooted in the ideals of faith and human rights as well as address harmful practices against women and girls. These narratives must not only be employed on the local level among communities but should also be translated so they are also able to influence policy and legislation on the national, regional and global level. This Platform should seek to influence key UN processes.

Movement building:

This platform is about planting the seeds of a movement that brings together faith actors and gender equality activists armed with both human rights obligations and moral persuasion and supported. Faith actors, feminists and social justice movements are forging new partnerships at all levels. This is an effort to overcome the barriers, misunderstandings, between faith and secular actors to tap into the rich possibilities for collaboration within, inter, across and outside of faith.

Knowledge and advocacy:

To share best practices, tools and resources between faith and development communities.

Mechanics/Modalities of the Platform:

Digital Platform:

We are looking towards the PaRD secretariat to provide a digital platform for us to build and grow this online community where the members of the platform can exchange ideas, have discussions and share resources. Member states - from the north and South, governments, faith leaders and groups including women faith leaders, women's civil society leaders and young women's and men's organizations will join forces. Media will be engaged.

How this platform works will be decided by its members but here are some ideas we would like to share with you:

  • We would like to see moderated discussions take place on a periodic and regular manner with the goal of having one yearly meeting for the platform.
  • We would like to see people coming together around thematic areas they wish to tackle, or perhaps grouping themselves as per regional priorities within a particular religion and on an interfaith basis.
  • We would like to see this platform develop its own advocacy tools and papers and media outreach.

Our vision for this platform, other than it being a forum for discussion, would be to become a digital library for resources, literacy tools and publications.

We would like to see the platform become a normative, advocacy and programmatic resource we can all draw on when advocating for a gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and of the gender equality compact as a whole.

This is an initiative to unravel the attempts made in past centuries to elevate discrimination against half of humanity and denial of their equal humanity to a sacred level. Instead, today, we begin a concerted effort to build a collective interfaith theology of gender equality and the realization of all women's rights as a God given, sacred and cherished value, ethics and morality.