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Letters & Op-Eds - 1990s

the earth times - the hague

Religion: Getting Involved

Frances Kissling

6 February 1999

In the run-up to the International Conference on Population and Development, significant efforts were made among governments, the United Nations, and NGOs to find new solutions to the challenges at hand. Particular attention was paid to international women's health organizations and advocates, whose criticisms of past population policies were certainly not integrated into theory or policy. Securing a place for the women in the health community was one of the principal elements achieved in Cairo. Unfortunately, no comparable effort has been made to involve the religious community in the UN policy process. This failure should be remedied. The Hague meetings are a good place to start this process of welcoming religion into the process, because many religious people will be here, taking part.

That reaching out to religious groups has not happened can at least in part be blamed on the false belief that religion is the archenemy of the ICPD and of reproductive rights. The fact is that many religious people including Roman Catholics and Muslims- most often conceived of as hostile to women, believe that Cairo's Programme of Action articulates values that resonate with moral sensibilities common to the world's faiths. A statement issued last month by a group of religious leaders including Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants noted that the principles stated in Chapter Two of the Programme of Action are consistent with four moral norms--equality justice, freedom, and respect that are at the core of the world religions.

The calls in the Programme of Action are for gender equity and equality and for the eradication of poverty will require fundamental social transformation. This level of change can be made much more swiftly with religious collaboration, and in fact it might be impossible without it. The religious community, too, can help create and maintain the political will to live up to the ICPD's principles and commitments. Religions speak to huge constituencies of adherents, who look to their spiritual leaders for guidance on leading questions of the day, including the moral and ethical principles surrounding issues of women, sexuality, and reproductive health. We can be sure that the conservative religious voices will make their contribution to the process. We must do everything we can to ensure that progressive religious voices have a welcome place as well.

This article appeared in the 6 February 1999 edition of The Earth Times.