Report: Women of Faith Could Help Curb Extremism, Religious Conflict

Women of faith have the potential to curb religious extremism and reduce the role of religion in conflict, says a new report from Catholic aid agency Progressio.

The report, "Faithful peace, peaceful faith," by Jane McGrory, was released Wednesday and suggested that religious women can offer a moderating voice.

"Women of faith tend to represent religion's 'human' face and to maintain a distance from its power politics. From this position, they have great potential to enhance the contribution of religion to peace, and to mitigate its role in violent conflict," the report states.

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Women of faith also regard challenging patriarchy and the promotion of gender equality as a vital part of the peace-building work.

"Patriarchy allows the subordination of women and is a form of structural violence," according to the report.

McGrory compiled her report using first-hand accounts from more than 20 women of faith, including Christians from across the denominations as well as members of other faith communities.

She argued that women of faith are well-placed to reduce the role of religion in conflict by challenging religious chauvinism, a term she uses to define those who uphold the truth of their own religions while failing to respect other religions.

"Religious chauvinism is a major factor behind conflicts over religion and in the way that religion is used to inflame conflicts of a political nature," said McGrory.

McGrory also believes that their faith in the Divine makes women uniquely equipped for peace-building work.

"Faith teachings and understandings of justice and humanity provide a moral lens that help women to recognize injustice. Faith offers a frame of reference that assists women in identifying something as 'wrong,'" she argues. "The importance of this is fundamental; it is not possible to challenge an injustice that we are not aware of or able to see. The moral lens that faith provides is crucial in prompting women of faith into action."

Fredrika Korain, a lay Catholic woman and human rights activist in Papua, said in the report, "To be active in our faith means that we are able to use our Gospel values as a mirror in which to view conditions in society, and to struggle to bring about change."

Faith not only helps women to see injustice. It also motivates them to work for change, the report adds.

"Challenging injustice and working for a better world are seen by many as the very essence of what it means to be a woman of faith."

Paddy Meskin, President of Religions for Peace, said in the report: "Our faith is about making choices, not being bystanders."

The McGrory went on to state that working for peace and justice was regarded by many women as one of the best ways to put faith into action and demonstrate their love for God.

"Whether religious or lay, women of faith tend not to distinguish between their work, their faith and their worship. Each flows into and sustains the other," the report states. "Faith, life and activism are inseparable."

Faith also gives women "an extraordinary sense of commitment" stemming from "inner resolve, rather than an expectation of rewards or power."

Faith is "the source of remarkable commitment and determination, and gives women of faith the strength to keep going, even when difficulties appear insurmountable."

Women of faith also regard working for peace as an extension of mission and God's work on earth.

"It has a sacred quality and is a way of giving expression to their love of God. This often translates into a strong sense of voluntarism, being of service to others and working without expectation of reward," says McGrory.

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