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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 February 2019

Women can bring about a more tolerant future - but must be given equality first

Global Conference of Human Fraternity told that women should have a greater say in politics and religion

Dr Nabila Makram, Minister of State for Migration and Egyptian Affairs Abroad, speaks during an all-women panel discussion at the Global Conference of Human Fraternity. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Dr Nabila Makram, Minister of State for Migration and Egyptian Affairs Abroad, speaks during an all-women panel discussion at the Global Conference of Human Fraternity. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Women can play a crucial role in spreading a message of peace and tolerance across the world - but must be first be allowed to stand on equal terms with men, a leading Arab campaigner said.

Dr Fadia Kiwan, director general of the Organisation of Arab Women, said great strides have been made towards securing gender equality, but insisted more work still needs to be done.

On the first day of the Global Conference of Human Fraternity, a two-day event being held in Abu Dhabi, Dr Kiwan called for women to play a bigger role in politics and religion.

“The battle we are facing now is to fight exclusion of women in the political and religious sphere, and if we win this battle we will stand together, women and men, to empower human fraternity and win the battles we are facing worldwide,” said Dr Kiwan.

She said women are still being marginalised in "poor societies and war-torn countries".

She praised the UAE for successfully integrating more women in positions of power in the country, such as government and ministerial roles.

Dr Kiwan was one of five women leading a discussion on principles of human fraternity at the conference, held at Emirates Palace in the capital.

Dr Nabila Makram, Egypt’s Minister of State for Migration and Egyptians’ Affairs Abroad, said providing Arab women with leadership roles will help to encourage tolerance worldwide.

She urged Arabs living abroad to ensure their children are in touch with their roots, "because the values of tolerance are derived from our Arabic heritage".

Dr Makram exemplifies the progress that has been made in addressing the gender balance in recent years.

The post she now heads up was removed from the Egyptian cabinet only 20 years ago.

Reverend Maria Sol Villalon, pastor of the United Methodist Church in the Philippines, said female values of compassion and peace can be vital tools in efforts to improve life for people all over the world.

“It is the mothers and the women who teach values of love and peace and sharing, so in order to sustain peace and justice we should give women their space and their rights,” she said.

While she believes women are winning the battle for equality, there is a long road ahead.

From left to right: Reverend Kosho Niwano, Reverend Marie Sol Villalon, Dr Nabila Makram, Noura Al Kaabi, Dr Fadia Kiwan and Dr Grace Chung Lee at a panel discussion on the principles of human fraternity at the Global Conference of Human Fraternity. Chris Whiteoak / The National
From left to right: Reverend Kosho Niwano, Reverend Marie Sol Villalon, Dr Nabila Makram, Noura Al Kaabi, Dr Fadia Kiwan and Dr Grace Chung Lee at a panel discussion on the principles of human fraternity at the Global Conference of Human Fraternity. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“There are still a lot of things that need to be discussed and improved.

“Even in churches in the Philippines, women make up more than 60 per cent of the members, but when church leaders are chosen, they are not women."

A fixation with material gain is providing an unwelcome distraction from the problems facing the world, said Noura Al Kaabi, the UAE Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, who chaired the panel.

Materialism inspires people to have a greedy mind.

Reverend Kosho Niwano

“It is our obsession with materialism that is making us more oblivious to the real problems in the world, how can we teach the next generation to combat that?” said Ms Al Kaabi.

Reverend Kosho Niwano, president of Rissho Kosei-Kai, a Japanese religious movement inspired by Buddhism, warned of the dangers of having a materialist mindset.

“Materialism inspires people to have a greedy mind and when you can’t have what you want you become angry, and this anger can accumulate,” she said.

She said the answer is for people to become more spiritual.

“As spiritual people we need to think about how can increase spiritual value. unless we do that the future of humans will not be right.”

Rev Niwano said that religion has historically been the source of conflict - making it all the more important for religious to unite.

“That is why people of religion must provide a solution,” she said.

“So symbolically, having Christian and Islamic leaders coming together for a forum to engage with a wide audience sends a very important message to the world.

"Religion now has a different meaning, there are people working together to create positive change against conflict."

Dr Chung Ohun Lee, president of Won Buddhist International, a contemporary form of the religion, said children should be working alongside adults to share a message of human fraternity far and wide.

It is very important to give children the chance to build fraternity in co-operation with adults. children can promote the principles of fraternity.”

Updated: February 3, 2019 06:49 PM

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