The Elders is a group of international political and cultural leaders who, challenged by Nelson Mandela to speak truth to power, use their collective experience and influence in the service of peace, justice and human rights. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter writes about his work with The Elders in his book A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power:
We had an extensive debate when I presented my concerns about the adverse impact of religious beliefs on women’s rights to this group of fellow leaders and advisers in 2008, because they represent practicing Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus, and their faiths have different policies about the status of women. We finally decided to draw particular attention to the role of religious and traditional leaders in obstructing the campaign for equality and human rights … [The resulting statement asserted,] “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”
During their biannual meeting this year, several of the Elders participated in a town hall meeting at Oxford where chair Kofi Annan further identified their goals. Among them were a just and inclusive global community and freedom from fear. Equality–inclusiveness–in a just society isn’t about sameness. It’s about open access and opportunity for all without fear of retribution. We’ve learned, through such popular books as Half the Sky and the work of The Elders and many scholars, including Mormon academic Valerie Hudson, that marginalizing the talents and abilities of women is simply self-defeating. If we increasingly refuse to tolerate the inequitable treatment of women in our secular institutions, why, then, do we so readily accept it in our religious communities?
Last August, Ordain Women marked National Women’s Equality Day by joining with women and men of other faiths in a nation-wide fast for gender justice in religion. Called Equal in Faith, hundreds met virtually and in prayer meetings in Washington, DC and Salt Lake City to call attention to the belief that all will benefit when women pray, speak, teach, bless, lead and serve their congregations as priests, pastors, chaplains, preachers, rabbis and imams.
On Tuesday, August 26, Ordain Women, the Roman Catholic Women’s Ordination Conference, and Ordain Women Now of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod invite women and men of all faiths to mark National Women’s Equality Day by participating in a day-long social media campaign to highlight the need for gender justice in religion. We’re encouraging individuals to post photos and/or messages on social media that include the hashtag #equalinfaith and express their hope for religious gender equality. We will also launch the Equal in Faith website in preparation for an international, interfaith fast for religious gender equity on March 8, 2015, International Women’s Day.
Throughout the next few months, Ordain Women Regional Coordinators and interfaith coalitions will begin meeting regionally to plan for the March 8 Equal in Faith fast. The Salt Lake City meet up, for example, is from 7:00-8:30 PM on Tuesday, August 26, 2014, at the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple, 211 W 100 S, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101.
Religions significantly impact the broader culture, which means we all have a stake in this. Our hope is that interfaith events like the August 26 social media campaign and the Equal in Faith fast on March 8 will underscore our faith in the ability of religion to liberate rather than subjugate women and ignite a conversation about maintaining what we value in our religious traditions while transforming them into more inclusive, equitable and welcoming communities.