Voicing Women’s Role in Inter-Religious Dialogue: A Note from Nairobi

Vice Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Islam (ISAIs) UIN Sunan Kalijaga, Wiwin Siti Aminah Rohmawati, MA became a speaker at the International Conference on “Religion and its Contribution to Conflict and Peace Building” in Nairobi Kenya on May 23-24, 2018. She had a privilege to attend The 2nd Tangaza Annual Conference on Sustainable Peace and Security in Africa (TACSPA 2). This is an annual conference held by Tangaza University College (TUC), a highly reputable Catholic university with widely international network and students coming from fifty countries across Africa and beyond. The conference itself was a big successful event accomplished through effective cooperation with both national and international institutions, including Umma University, Jesuit Hakimani Centre, Justice Africa, Malaika Foundation, CJPC, Civil Peace Service and Children’s Peace Initiative Kenya.

The conference was attended not only by academicians and researchers, but also religious leaders, particularly Muslims and Christians, and activists of interreligious dialogue and peacebuilding. There were 250-300 participants from different background of religions, ethnicities and nationalities such as Nigeria, Congo, Ethiopia, France, Germany and Indonesia. The topic of this year conference is “Religion and Its Contribution to Conflict and Peace Building”, divided into four sub-themes: interreligious engagement for peace and security; politicization of religion; decoding religious violence and extremism; religion as a force for peace and reconciliation. All of these are timely and relevant topics both for regional and global contexts. Many important issues and ideas were raised during the conference.

Based on her long engagement in Indonesia, she presented a paper entitled “Women’s Role in Interreligious Dialogue: A Comparative Study between Indonesia and Kenya”. Both Indonesia and Kenya are very diverse countries, particularly in terms of religion and ethnicity. Although constitutionally, Kenya is a secular state – unlike Indonesia, which usually is identified neither as secular nor theocratic state – religion is an important part of people’s daily life there. Moreover, patriarchal system is still strong in both countries, where women are dominated group, or subaltern in the term used by Spivak that subject to political, economic and cultural subordination, including in religious life. Women’s marginalization and under-representation are among the main problems immediately found in both countries. Not surprisingly, in most cases, women’s interest, role and contribution are invisible. Their voices are unheard, including in interreligious dialogue.

Against this context, she seeks to voice the women’s unrecognized role and contribution in inter-religious dialogue. In reality, both in Indonesia and Kenya, there have been strong initiatives from civil society organizations (CSOs) and religious institutions, where women play active role in interreligious dialogue, especially at the grassroots level. Accelerated by the development of telecommunication technology, internet, and other progress in a globalized world, important women’s movements are growing and expanding significantly. Besides, gender mainstreaming policies mandated by the law in both countries have opened the door to the creation of gender equality in the future. Women should seize their opportunity to make their voice heard. There are striking similarities on these aspects in both countries. However, unlike in Indonesia where the government has established long initiative on interreligious dialogue especially as facilitated by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, namely the Forum for Interreligious Harmony (FKUB), such initiatives are absent in Kenya.

In the context of women’s involvement in interreligious dialogue, Kenya has made a very significant achievement. Kenya Women of Faith Network (KWFN) was established in 2007 under the Interreligious Councils of Kenya (IRCK) as its umbrella organization. Kenya also has Ufungamano Forum with more than 500 members, over 35 percent of whom are women. Kenyan women’s role and voice are therefore represented meaningfully. On this aspect, Indonesia should learn from Kenya. Only when women are meaningfully engaged in interreligious dialogue, the purpose of creating a peaceful world for all in plural societies like Indonesia and Kenya it means for all men and women.

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