hen we talk about the status and treatment of women worldwide, we’re not just indulging in “academic speculation about rights in the abstract,” Ganoune Diop said during a January 26, 2021, keynote address to more than a thousand attendees drawn from both the United Nations (UN) community and many faith-based organizations.
Diop is director for Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and the Secretary General of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA).
In his presentation, which provided a thematic framework for the day-long event, Diop said that within many contexts, women “disproportionately suffer the tragedies of human existence.”
“Women are often the prime targets and victims of wars, genocides, human trafficking, domestic servitude, and slavery,” he said, “all adding to the toll of insecurities prompted by the multifaceted reality of gender inequality.”
Diop cited a list of statistics highlighting the lopsided impact on women of many social inequalities and harms—from denial of access to education to the prevalence of child marriage and sexual abuse to different forms of economic marginalization.
A key to addressing these tragic realities, Diop said, is to recognize that within many social and cultural contexts, women have long been denied recognition of their full humanity. This denial has led to what Diop called one of the “overarching and deepest obstacles” to improving the plight of women worldwide—the legitimization of gender-based violence.
“Domestic violence, societal violence, the horrors of human trafficking, all disproportionately affect women and girls and reveal the dark side of humanity,” Diop said.
The themes highlighted in Diop’s presentation were explored throughout the day during panel discussions and question-and-answer sessions with the audience. According to organizers, the goal of the event was not just to shine a spotlight on current realities but to begin a dialogue — between governments, international bodies, faith groups, and other civil society groups — about ways to collectively confront these challenges.
The UN event was the seventh annual symposium in a series focused on the role of religion and faith-based organizations in international affairs. The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists has been one of several co-sponsors of the gatherings, which are intended to amplify the voice of faith groups within the international community and to foster greater collaboration on shared goals. Previous symposiums have focused on issues such as religiously motivated violence, refugees and migrants, and humanitarian funding.
Although usually held in person at the UN building in New York, the symposium this year took place virtually. It attracted participants from North America and across Europe, Asia-Pacific regions, Africa, and the Middle East.
In an interview following the symposium, Diop said that it’s important for Adventist voices and perspectives to be heard within the international community. “Events such as these, undertaken in cooperation with other organizations, are not about negating differences between groups,” Diop said. “Instead, it’s a chance to highlight the unique contributions the Adventist Church brings to the table; how our biblical convictions about the innate dignity and worth of every person — as sons and daughters of the Creator God — drives our global advocacy for fundamental human rights.”
Diop also noted that the theme of this years’ symposium fits well with the Adventist Church’s ongoing work — through health care, education, humanitarian care, and spiritual witness — to elevate the status and treatment of women around the world. For more than a decade, various Adventist organizations, including the General Conference women’s ministries department and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, have joined together to promote a global initiative called enditnow, which continues to call for an end to violence against women and other vulnerable members of society.
Other speakers at this years’ UN symposium included Azza Karam, Secretary-General, Religions for Peace; Alice Nderitu, UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide; Anwar Khan, president of Islamic Relief Worldwide; Laura Janner-Klaus, former inaugural Senior Rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism; Ibrahim Salama, Chief, Human Rights Treaties Branch, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); Alison Kelly, UN representative for ACT Alliance; and Liberato Bautista, Assistant General Secretary, United Methodist Church-General Board of Church and Society, and President of the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO).