Katherine Marshall, senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, discusses the role of women of faith in peacebuilding, focusing on the challenges and opportunities of strengthening women’s abilities to work for peace in both religious and secular capacities, as part of CFR's Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call series.
FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. As a reminder, today’s call is on the record and the audio will be available on our website, www.cfr.org.
We are delighted to Katherine Marshall with us to talk about the role of women in peacebuilding. Professor Marshall is a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, where she leads the Center’s program on religion and global development. She also serves as a professor of the practice of development, conflict and religion at Georgetown. From 1976 to 2006, she held a wide range of assignments at the World Bank, many focused on Africa.
And from 2000 to 2006, her mandate covered ethics, values, and faith and development work. As councilor to the World Bank’s president, Professor Marshall also worked extensively on eastern Africa and Latin America, and has been involved in many taskforces and issues, among them addressing leadership issues, conflict resolution, and the role of women. She recently co-edited a volume with Susan Hayward titled, “Women, Religion, and Peacebuilding: Illuminating the Unseen.”
Katherine, thank you very much for being with us today. I thought it would be great if you could give us an overview of the status of women in global peacebuilding efforts, and the challenges that remain to fully integrate women into those religious and secular peacebuilding campaigns.
MARSHALL: Excellent. And thank you all for joining. This is an important topic, with a fair number of landmines, to use an inappropriate analogy. And it has been fascinating to explore it. I thought I would start with the story of the background of the recent book. It began really in USIP. And I’m very sorry that my co-editor, Susan Hayward, is traveling and we simply couldn’t find a date when we would both be here. But within USIP, there’s a department that focuses on gender issues and on women in peacebuilding, and another that focuses on religion and peacebuilding.
So the focus on women clearly is responding to the extraordinary and continuing exclusion of women and women’s agendas from much peacemaking and peacebuilding. And this is reflected in Security Council Resolution 1325, 15 years ago, that focuses—that is the focus of many meetings, strategic plans and so forth. But everyone, I think, is well-aware that progress has been awfully slow and there’s still very few women at the negotiation tables and women’s agendas are very rarely central in the post-peace agreement era.
USIP also has a department on religion. And again, religious actors are still relatively rare in negotiations and in peacekeeping operations. It’s rather piecemeal. There’s an increase because people are increasingly conscious that religion is so often a factor in today’s conflicts. It is often seen as the problem, but at the same time, and sometimes even in the same situation—for example, Nigeria—religion is treated as—is seen as a proxy for other causes, particularly political manipulation, but it might be land as well.
The bottom line here is that the roles of religion and thus religious actors are very complex. But in the religion department, men predominated, mostly older men, because of course they are, in most religious traditions, the leaders. So what we were seeing was essentially a Bermuda Triangle, space where all disappears in scholarship and in practice, when women who come from a religious perspective and work for peace are involved. So USIP and the Berkley Center and the World Faith Development Dialogue, which I head, decided to engage in a project that would deliberately look at this territory, this Bermuda Triangle, and try to bridge the divides that have kept people away from it.
So the—we knew that there were gutsy and determined women. And we knew that many of them had religious links. We knew that religion was important for women and women are important for religion. We were also quite conscious as we started about the unease of many secular women when religion is concerned, and the unease of many religious women about the ways in which they see secular women and feminist movements. So that was the backdrop. So the project basically involved two international meetings, many interviews. And some of you who are on the line are the subject of some of our interviews. And we also commissioned papers.
And I note, with sadness, that two of the women who’ve been part of the project have died. One was Dekha Ibrahim, a remarkable Muslim peacemaker from Kenya, and Bilkisu Yusef from Nigeria was part of the stampede during the Hajj just a few weeks ago.
So the project focused on women’s roles, women inspired by religion, meeting parts of communities, some of them ordained, but more often not, clergy. And we looked first at certain traditions of Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Hindu, Buddhist, and then at various places, so Aceh, Israel, Honduras, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mindanao in the Philippines, and Nigeria.
So what were some of our major conclusions? The first, of course, and this is not surprising to anyone who’s focused on issues for either women or for religion, is that it’s widely varied, and the roles that the women play that we were looking at are very different. The ways in which religion comes into the picture are also very different. And we were constantly reminded by participants, even as they sort of ventured into what makes women’s roles distinctive, of the dangers of essentializing, in other words assuming that women as a lump are somehow different. So that was always an issue.
But one theme, and this is reflecting in the title of illuminating the unseen, was this theme of invisibility. That women were, first of all, often excluded and not valued, but they were also were simply not seen and not respected for what they were doing. That’s true within the religious traditions, within academia, within NGOs—many NGOs, and within the policy world.
So just to give you some—an aperitif of some of the findings, and I hope we’ll discuss them during the discussion, one thing we found was that many women look at what peace involves quite differently. So they have a broader definition of peace. So for example, Ella Bhatt, from India, who started SEWA, the Self-Employed Women’s Association, would describe her work as peacebuilding because there’s so much conflict in the roles of these women. And in Israel and Palestine, many women who are working at the community level see their work as peacebuilding. It’s clearly not the kind of negotiations that people often see as peacemaking, but it is part of this broader sense that building peace is a permanent exercise that involves all society. And many of the women had a strong focus on process and on inclusion, including others. And that complicated the discussion in many ways.
The second is that this invisibility matters. Interestingly, for some, it’s positive because women are able to pass unnoticed. The Battle of Algiers example of women who were able to get through barriers even because of dress, but mainly because people don’t pay attention to them, that that’s strategic invisibility that can be important and can be an asset. And some women seek invisibility, whether it’s from modesty, which is a characteristic of some religious women, or because it helps them to do what they want to do. Women also sometimes, because they’re not formally part of leadership structures, have more flexibility. And they may be able to engage better than others, than men who hold formal positions. However, we should be very clearly that this—we do not see this invisibility as the best path, that it obscures the work that women, means they don’t get money, means they don’t get recognition, they’re not role models, et cetera. So illuminating the unseen is the basic theme.
We also were quite concerned by the divides in many places between feminists and religious women. This varies from place to place, but for some secular women’s groups, they have seen religion as a thoroughgoing problem for gender, for women’s rights, that patriarchal religion opposes women’s rights. And likewise, many religious women have found their image of feminism, and particularly Western feminism, as something that is almost anathema as opposed to religious values and institutions. But such stereotyping is wrong-headed and damaging. And one of the objectives is to build bridges.
Another observation that was reinforced by many of these cases is that religious conservative discourse and various patriarchal tendencies are so often linked to subordination of women. And those religious paradigms do need to be challenged and changed. And there is exciting work going on led by women from many different traditions to reinterpret and re-understand their religious teachings and principles. So a key priority is to engage and listen to women’s religious voices and to acknowledge their leadership intellectually as well as practically, and also to address some of the cultural obstacles to women’s engagement, that include, for example, women’s silence in meeting where clerics speak, as well as the cleric’s inability to hear what the women say—a tendency that we’re all familiar with.
I think that we did conclude, notwithstanding the dangers of the essentializing pitfall and risk, that many women do bring special gifts to task of peacebuilding, gifts that are much needed, and that religiously linked women with their communities, their passion, their insight into what’s happening at communities bring a great deal that can and should be highlighted. An example clearly is in the area of trauma healing and in reconciliation. But it is also very clear that many peace agreements neglect women’s agendas, whether it’s the basics of childcare, of care of orphans, of health, of education—issues that obviously are not women’s issues, but which do tend to fall into a lower priority if there aren’t advocates there pushing for them as practical measures that look to the future. The issue of links to youth are obviously very important to understanding what the grievances are, what the anger is that fuels disputes.
So just a few—let me give you just three conclusions or implications, ideas for the future. The first is that the work that we’ve done is just the tip of the iceberg. We need to look much more at different traditions—for example, the peace traditions, many protestant traditions, Baha’i, Zoroastrianism, and many other traditions which offer a tremendous amount of wisdom. Secondly, we need to look at the networks that need to be built, the sort of tools that can support women. So that does include, as I said, networks and many others activities. So research awards, grants. And finally, the priority that I think almost everyone agrees on whose been thinking about these issues, is that what we really want is to find ways to hear and to support the remarkable and very diverse women—whether they’re nuns, or Muslims, or mothers, or grandmothers—women who really do look to their religious traditions and communities, and who are working actively and passionately to resolve conflicts and to build peace.
So thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you, Katherine, for that. Let’s open it up now to the group for questions and comments.
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)
We’re currently holding for questions.
Our first question comes from Michelle Benstman with Harvard Business School [CORRECTION: Harvard Divinity School].
Q: Hi. I was wondering if you would be willing to give us a couple of specific examples of the way in which religious women you’ve studied have reached across lines of differences, in spite of tense environments, and how we might generalized these strategies and apply them a bit more broadly, if at all if we can?
MARSHALL: OK. Well, there’s a wonderful example from Israel, where Muslim women, with support from Jewish feminist organizations and others working in a small community, have really exemplified what we often hope for in development projects, which is hearing the voices of people on the ground and helping them to do what it is they want to do. So it started very small, with outside financial support but also sort of moral and administrative organizational support, with a very remarkable woman leading it, a Muslim woman from the community. And it’s sort of mushroomed into training and eventually even the women got involved in politics. So it seems to demonstrate that despite all the tensions—and it’s survived intifadas and all sorts of other problems in Israel. And the women worked with friendship and understanding and honesty across these many barriers. So that’s one example.
Another example is in Mindanao in the Philippines, where this women’s monitoring force has women from many different religious traditions, notably, of course, Muslim, Catholic and some evangelical. And this group of women have sort of broken through the barriers that have kept women out of peacekeeping forces. And they go out and they go between warring groups, work with the military, work with the local political leaders, and so forth. And they work together as a group sort of addressing any issues that come up, one by one.
There are other examples. I think from Bosnia-Herzegovina the examples are interesting. And during the various phases of a very tense period in Honduras, you have another set of examples of very different women, including indigenous groups, traditional religion, Catholic, evangelical, traditional Protestant, et cetera, all finding various ways to work together, not always in perfect harmony, but at least with a willingness and an openness to reach out.
I think in some of the interviews too we have wonderful statements from women about the—sort of the way they approach issues, the way they state it. And one person who comes to mind is Dekha Ibrahim, who I had referred to, who really was a remarkable woman who expresses her commitment with—at the village level to hearing all sides of a conflict, which got her into mediation and conflict resolution within her community, and then beyond that peace discussions at the level of Kenya and of also of the Horn of Africa.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question or comment.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Tereska Lynam with Oxford University.
Q: Hi. Thank you so much for bringing this question. Kind of along the line of Michelle from Harvard Business School’s [CORRECTION: Harvard Divinity School] question in terms of implementation strategies, but building on this a little bit more, in terms of your next steps, you said we need further studies on peace and religion, and then you also want to look at networks to give more research awards and grants. My experience as both a theologian and a businesswoman, is that studies are really easy to ignore. If you don’t want to look at something, you just don’t look at it. And I think that that’s been one of the problem that in academia women have had, is that we write all these amazing studies and do talks like these, and then the men just ignore them because they can. To that—kind of along that same vein, research awards and grants are fantastic, but they’re also slow in coming and often you don’t get nearly the amount of funds that you need.
So I’m thinking about women, like my friend Alison Thompson, who’s actually a medic from Australia who works around the world in crisis management, so she was very big with Hurricane Katrina and then Iraq while here in the United States. She was huge with the Haiti earthquake. And currently she’s now in Syria helping—I’m sorry, in Greece, helping Syrian refugees acclimate. And I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit more about the action women can take right now without waiting for academics to get onboard. Thank you.
MARSHALL: I share your frustration with the uses of research. We do know, though, that there really is just too little known about what women are doing, because they have been invisible. So having documented case studies, for example, teaching case studies that feature women, including women who come from religious perspectives, are useful. In terms of women who are at the front lines really working on issues, we’ve been asking ourselves and asking them what it is that they need. And one response, and it’s one that is easier to discuss briefly than it is to implement, is to have stronger networks. So you do have some interreligious networks, for example Religions for Peace, which is a global interfaith organization, has a Women of People, which is really a network of networks.
And there are other conscious efforts to have what I think is absolutely essential, which is moderated networks. In other words, if someone in Afghanistan needs to know how somebody ran a workshop or how they solved a specific problem with procurement, or how they answered a challenge from a military source, or whatever, that that person would be able to look for someone to put them in touch with, in other words really a moderated network. A lot of women do seek funding and they’re frustrated, as everyone is, by the grant-writing process and its vagaries and foibles. So helping these women to be in context with people who want to help them, there is—I’m sure you’re familiar with Peace Direct that really tries to do this, that looks at grassroots organizations and individuals.
But the problem is that it is such a large field, there’s so many people coming at this from so many different angles that I think that there is a real merit in trying to understand the whole of it, to highlight successful cases, to learn from cases that have not worked as well, to try to translate some of the very broad ideas, like women’s agendas at the peace table, into something that’s a bit more concrete and that will allow people to support those women who are able to be at the front.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)
Our next question comes from Ruth Messinger with the American Jewish World Service. Excuse me, Ms. Messinger, your line is live.
Our next question is from Egon Cholakian with Harvard University.
Q: Hi there. Good evening, everybody. Very much appreciate your focus on the networks topic. It’s imperative that you have a network and it’s imperative that you have a network that is linked. And as you indicated, you have a network of networks. With that same structure in mind, the question that arises from my own experience in peace negotiations, conflict negotiation in war zones, you’ve got to have an ontology. And you mention that from the outset of your discussion, how the definitions varied remarkably on what is peace, what constitutions those definitions and so forth.
And unless you have that ontology that’s somewhat uniform, that can be embraced by everybody from Afghan, to Latin America, to elsewhere, that becomes a crippling effect. I don’t care how strong the network is, you’ve got to have a language that is fungible, to some extent. And is that built into your model, or is that something that you’ve not dealt with as of yet? And let me add one further question. In the conflict climate, when you’re dealing with deadly warzones, there is a distinct ontology. And that’s the reason I have—perhaps I raised it.
MARSHALL: Yeah. I certainly see your point. And I’m acutely aware that in talking about religious issues, but also in talking about gender issues, and talking about development and peacebuilding, people feel often quite passionately about the terms that they use and the universe that they reflect. This goes way beyond the issues of women, obviously, and religion, which are two of our three parts of the triangle that we’re dealing with. I know, for example, that there are many different methodologies that people see, use, and follow in peace negotiations.
I have to admit that I subscribe a bit to the Franklin Roosevelt view that he apparently in a speech he never gave said that when you’re in a crisis, pull any lever. And I’m not at all convinced that there is any single methodology, any more than there is any single definition or framework of knowledge that will work in all different parts of the world, across religious traditions, et cetera. So I think that it’s very important, and a lot of training courses and a lot of discourses do try in the first instance, to get some clarity about what you’re talking about.
What do you mean by peace? Are you in fact talking about everything that has to do with thriving communities, social cohesion, forgiveness, conflict prevention, dealing with extremist views, dealing with mental illness, dealing with everything else? How do you want to limit the scope of what it is that you’re talking about? Remember that we are talking about many different disciplines. We’re talking about psychology, history, political science, theology, anthropology, and so forth. So from that point of view, I do personally have a great deal of respect for these different perspectives. And I’m very confident that we can and must learn from very different ways of looking at the kinds of problems that we’re facing in the world today.
I think a lot of the training courses that—or seminars that bring people together, even women who are incredibly busy and really caught up in the drama of something that threatens lives and cultures and everything else, often do find great solace and comfort with being together with others and exploring the ontology, exploring the different ways that people understand what it is that they’re trying to do. I do find much less focus and concern about definitions in these groups than you might think. In other words, people are pretty practical about trying to come to grips with what it is that someone brings in terms of experience more than the framework, including the religious framework, that they come from.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Ruth Messinger with American Jewish World Service.
Q: Can you hear me?
MARSHALL: Yes. I hear you, Ruth.
Q: Katherine, can you hear me? I am on the phone. Can you hear me?
MARSHALL: Yes. Yes. Hear you.
Q: OK. Thank you. Katherine, this is phenomenal. And I wasn’t on for the first five or 10 minutes. But I was wondering whether you are a repository for more stories about places where women are doing peace work and are doing it from a faith-based context, because it seems to me that, as you suggested, that it’s an area where not nearly enough of the examples are known or paid attention to. And those of us who know examples might—and the world might benefit if we could sort of send you more examples and more models, and you could start sort of adding to the numbers that exist.
MARSHALL: Well, first, I think that’s a splendid idea. And it is one of the areas we’d like to develop, whether it’s in a website—and there are some places where that happens. So Peace Direct is one I happen to have been looking at this morning, but there are some others.
The place that we have them at the Berkley Center at Georgetown University, which is our sort of core website, is in a series of interviews with individuals, which are quite long. They’re written. Most of them are six to eight pages. And they do have the stories that women tell, often with their motivations and their—what you might call their faith journey. In other words, what role answering this very complex question of what does religion or your religious beliefs and teachings have to do with the way you operate and the way that your life has moved? We have a couple of wonderful interviews with you, Ruth, which I think are very inspirational.
Another one that comes to mind is with Scilla Elworthy, who is a—has an absolutely remarkable story of what she has done and how she has come to it and the very different phases in her life. I always am fascinated by Mary Catherine Bateson’s book, “Composing a Life,” how many women have really lived different phases of their life to a point that it makes a composition, as opposed to something linear. And Scilla is a wonderful example.
Another one is Rama Mani, who’s an Indian-French woman who has been deeply involved in conflict situations—the Horn of Africa, across Africa, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, et cetera. But she’s now focusing on drama and using drama as a way to promote dialogue and discourse. So there are about 50 of these interviews with women. Sister Joan Chittister. We have one—Denise Coghlan, who is a remarkable Australian nun working in Cambodia for the last 15 years. The Nobel Peace Prize for land mines actually sits in her office in Cambodia.
So I think adding to these interviews, and any nominations people have I would love to receive, even though it does take about nine or 10 hours to do each one of them, so it’s not something we can do lightly. It has to be done well. But I think we also are looking a lot at teaching case studies. And it would be wonderful to find a few of these stories and these—the lessons that come from them to turn into teaching materials.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
Q: I will be in touch with you offline. Go ahead.
FASKIANOS: Thanks, Ruth. Let’s go to the next question or comment please.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Peter Vander Meulen with Christian Reformed Church North America.
Q: Hi. This is Shannon Jammal-Hollemans. I work with Peter.
I was wondering, in what ways have you observed women in religious communities navigating the tension of working for change in institutions that are steeped in patriarchy? For example, in the U.S. we have a number of religious institutions advocating for religious freedom to the detriment of women’s rights like access to health care. How have you seen women at work in situations like these?
MARSHALL: Well, that’s a good question. And the chapter in the book—there are two chapters, one on Catholicism and the other on Islam, which address these questions, I think, in very sophisticated ways.
Again I would point to some of the interviews. The one that comes to mind is with Sister Carol Keehan, who heads the Catholic Health Association, who has been a strong advocate, despite considerable opposition from within her faith tradition, for the Affordable Care Act; Maggie Barankitse, Marguerite Barankitse, in Burundi, who, I fear, now has fled Burundi and is either in Rwanda or Belgium because of the threats to her life that are part of the ongoing conflict.
When you talk to her about the ways in which she deals with the Catholic hierarchy, what emerges is a story of courage and creativity and just a constant return to what these women, and, of course, their men, who you would say the same of, but these—how these women see the basic principles of their faith. And that is their anchor. That is their compass, their guide. And the ones who make the most remarkable difference come back to that all the time, and they’re able to navigate sometimes even within very difficult situations.
Now, what that doesn’t speak to is the stories that might have been; in other words, the remarkable women who might have been more successful in achieving peace in some of the dreadful conflicts in the world today but who’ve been unable because of formal hierarchies, because of prejudices and so forth, to do what they might have done. And, of course, that’s part of the objective of telling these stories and of identifying both the positive potential and the obstacles. Part of the objective is to try to bring in more of the potential talent of what people would be able to achieve.
It’s interesting, looking at a lot of the conflict-resolution programs. I don’t actually have the data. This is all anecdotal. But I hear quite often that there are good majorities of women in the graduate programs that focus on conflict resolution. So there’s clearly a very strong interest by women.
There’s also a lot of interest in what might—what ranges from very broadly the sort of spiritual but not religious; in other words, a very strong ethical focus that is questing and that is looking for answers, all the way to people who are very specifically committed to a certain faith tradition, which gives them inspiration and community to do what they do.
Q: That’s very helpful. Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Mae Cannon with World Vision.
Q: Hello. I was formerly with World Vision. I’m ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church.
One of the things you’ve been talking about is how there’s been an increase in terms of the political process and the intersection of religious leaders in political attempts at peacebuilding. And some of that I’ve seen with, you know, the appointment of Shaun Casey at the State Department—and his department now has 30 staff—and then this new establishment of the NGO called Global Covenant for Religion with Jerry White and some others.
And I’m just curious. Where, in terms of gender and religion—like, what unique contributions do you think women have to offer at this intersection of religion and politics as it relates to conflict mitigation?
MARSHALL: That’s a good question and a tough question. Let me divide it into two parts. First of all, you’re right. In the United States, but also in a number of other countries, whether it’s Germany or Canada, Norway, the U.K., a number of other countries, there’s a conscious effort to try to address the issues of religious dimensions of violence and peace in a more professional and a more systematic way. And everyone’s doing it a little bit differently. But in general it is driven by this general awareness of the religious dimensions today.
And I think that there’s a lot being learned. And hopefully it’s not a flash in the pan. I’m very hopeful that it’s something that is a trend, as opposed to the rather erratic patterns that we’ve seen in the past.
I think another comment that is obvious to most of you but may be worth reiterating is that peace negotiations these days look awfully different than they did in, say, you know, the Congress of Vienna or even after World War I and World War II. In today’s asymmetrical conflicts, where there are so many parties, sometimes you’re not even aware of who the parties are to the conflict.
The peace table, as we imagine it, is a very different thing. And you have track one, which is formal government negotiations; track two, which is sort of civil society; and people talk about track one and a half, and people are now talking about track three, which I’m not even sure what track three means exactly. But the point is that there are all kinds of peace initiatives.
If you tried, for example, to map what’s going on even when religion is concerned with Syria these days, I think you would find it extraordinarily difficult to put together a clear picture of all the initiatives. Central African Republic, I looked at religiously driven efforts some months ago and found at least eight that I found just from my own networks and contacts.
On the issue of what women who are religious bring, I think you have to look at it in two different ways. I mean, we all, I hope, are convinced that having a diverse group, whether it’s on a panel or whether it’s at a peace table or whether it’s in the management of an organization, it benefits from diversity. And that includes men and women and other forms of diversity.
Women do bring often, in generic terms—in other words, in the aggregate, they tend to bring a difference in style. I believe that at my advanced age, that every woman is individual and different, but in the aggregate diverse decision-making bodies function differently. And very often you have, as I mentioned much earlier, more of a focus on inclusion, the empathy, the sort of instinctive concern with people’s welfare, even, you know, what they have to eat, their histories.
That’s not confined to women. But when you have a mix, my sense is you have a difference. But perhaps even more important, there are differences in the agendas, which vary from place to place, when you have women at the table. And to me the most dramatic example is when you get groups of religious leaders and you talk about women and children and maternal mortality and the care of orphans and you have a group of women—of religious figures, actors, that include women, you have a different level of passion and interest in those issues.
I mean, I know in the development business, which I was in for a long time, if you go into a community and you ask people what their priorities are, they’re likely to be different. So women, for example, for obvious reasons, may care more about water and having clean water because they have to carry it and fetch it, or about certain kinds of agriculture. The men may focus more on roads or they may focus more on certain kinds of jobs. The patterns of people who are involved in migration tend to be different, depending on gender.
So I think having men and women at the table clearly affects the agendas. And there are many cases—Aceh is one of them—where, when women were not included in the post-conflict administration, there were areas that simply fell off of the map completely and were not attended to that the women involved were convinced would have been, had there been women fully engaged in the post-conflict process.
Q: Thank you. That’s very helpful.
FASKIANOS: Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Negar Abeh (ph) with Baha’i of the U.S.
Q: Hi. Thank you. This is Negar (ph) from the Baha’is of the United States. And thank you so much for your engagement with this really important topic.
I actually just wanted to ask if you had more specific things you might share with regards to the three avenues you’ve identified that might be pursued, whether you had specific thoughts of how that might be or thoughts about how to engage collaboration of others.
MARSHALL: Well, the—clearly the question of research and sort of building cases, teaching case study material, the kind of repository that Ruth Messinger was talking about, there will be activities like that probably at most universities and many think tanks. But I think there would be real benefit in having some coordination so that there isn’t too much duplication and so that people learn from each other. And there clearly also is a need for funding this kind of work and research.
So that—unfortunately, he who pays the piper calls the tune. So there is a tendency for research to be rather geared to when there is funding available. So that’s a first sort of very broad issue that might apply to many different universities. And I would also emphasize that it really needs to be focused also at country level. So, for example, we’re working quite a bit in Kenya and in Bangladesh. And these are areas that are live, that affect people’s lives today. And so there really is a substantial interest and an obvious need. It’s not something that’s abstract.
The second area is that we’ve only covered a small fraction of the cases and of the religious traditions. And you are from the Baha’i community. I think it would be very interesting to know more about how the Baha’i community, as an example, is involved in a variety of peace-building activities and how the teachings influence the way people go about it—the ontology issue that we were talking about before, but also the more intangible inspiration and the links of community. So there are many of these traditions, and of course many places in the world that we haven’t looked at.
The question of networks is one that I spend actually quite a lot of time thinking about, because everybody says they want networks, but people are overloaded with e-mails and they find it difficult to go to meetings. So you have to sort of navigate in a framework, particularly for people who are far away. They may not have good Internet access. And that’s where I come down very strongly to moderated networks; in other words, where you actually have a body. It’s not automatic. You have a body who’s trying to figure out what somebody in Afghanistan or what somebody in Burundi needs to know and how you can be helpful to them. And that again takes a lot of good resources to do that.
And then the question of funding people on the ground is clearly—I mean, American Jewish World Service is a great example of an organization whose mission is to find and identify and to vet groups that are doing remarkable work on the ground. And I’m sure a lot of them are working on issues around peace, sort of developing the methodologies and communicating successes, but also communicating things that have not gone as well.
Why is it that Syria is what it is? Why has Burundi, which has had so much peace-building invested in it, why is it in such terrible trouble? What about Central African Republic? What about—what’s going on in Kenya? What can we learn from Kenya, from Central America, all of these hot spots in the world where there are very complex conflicts and where religion is a complex part of each one of these conflicts of the governance issues, of the education issues, of the gender issues, you name it? How do we understand? How do we learn and therefore do better in the future?
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Shad Begum with National Endowment for Democracy.
Q: Can you hear me?
MARSHALL: We can hear you.
Q: Yes. I am Shad Begum, a women’s rights activist from Pakistan. And recently I have joined NED as a Reagan-Fascell Fellow.
Yes, the discussion, I’m really enjoying it. And I’m really—can relate this to my work in Pakistan because I’m working with Pashtun Muslim women communities. And even I myself, I belong to the region from where the militancy was started. It’s Malakandi region, like in the (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa ?) cross-border region of Pakistan.
But my actually question is, like, well, we have seen a lot of organizations working in Pakistan on so many things, like gender development, and women participation in the peace processes. But very few organizations are coming with the, like—with the focus from the religion point of view, which is very much a necessity in such a region where, like—a region like Pakistan or countries like Pakistan, where women are actually—they are discriminated because of the misuse of the religion.
But I have observed and I’m noticing the international organizations like—they really do not use, like, the good practices of the religion and, like, the messages in tune to ensure, like, women participation in such regions where people follow, like, the religion, like Muslim religion. So I’d just like—this is just my question. I just want to know if there is something not like this. Thank you.
MARSHALL: Well, the—it does go back to a very broad generalization that I was talking about, or two broad generalizations that I was talking about in the introduction. The first one is that people look at conflicts in many different parts of the world. And Pakistan is clearly a case in point. And you will have one group of people saying that this is essentially a conflict about religion. And there it would be largely a conflict within religion, intra-faith tensions—the interpretation, the sort of boundaries, the very complex boundaries between secular principles, democratic principles, religious traditions, et cetera.
So some people will look at the situation in different places and say this is really about religion, whereas other people will look at it and say religion is simply a proxy for power, struggles for power, for issues around resources, around land, historic legacies of ethnic tensions, you name it; so sorting out, in a complex society and situation, a sensible way of thinking about the roles of religious beliefs.
I actually try not to use the word religion because it’s too big, and to use instead religious beliefs, religious leaders, religious institutions, religious practices, religious tendencies, or whatever. So I’m a great believer in a thoughtful effort to unpack some of these contradictory statements about religion, religious—about religious beliefs and institutions.
I think the second thing is that a lot of people do approach religious topics in the way that we all recall, I think, many of us, that you shouldn’t talk about politics and religion at the dinner table or at the Thanksgiving table, to use an American example, because people will have very strong views and you may end up with fistfights or conflicts even within a family, because the issues are so sensitive and do touch people’s most basic beliefs.
But you also—and it’s something that I’ve found actually, ironically, that is true for both gender and for religion as a broad topic, that people do tend to approach these issues quite emotionally and with their own beliefs and their own lives. In other words, they would ask, you know, what do I believe and how does what I believe affect my understanding of what people believe in the Islamic traditions in Pakistan?
And so you have people operating with a lot of preconceptions when they’re dealing with issues that, of course, are different and very complex. So for many people their view is that—if their view is that religious beliefs and tensions among religious leaders are the problem, are the cause of the conflict and the tension, they may very well conclude that the best thing to do is simply to avoid the topic and not to deal with it.
And if you come from a feminist tradition that sees religious beliefs as the source of patriarchy and oppression of women, you may be uncomfortable in trying to engage with the madrasa system and the way that it operates or with the ulema, or the groups of imams at a local level or at a national level.
So our hope is that a richer and more thoughtful understanding of religious literacy will make it possible to find ways to approach these issues and the people who hold them as their central mission in life in ways that will overcome some of the tensions and the problems.
And I think Pakistan is one of the most troubling and complicated cases, in part because there are such brilliant people doing such brilliant work, including women who are looking at the religious reinterpretations, re-understandings of religious teachings in Pakistan. And yet the situation still remains very troubled.
FASKIANOS: We have many more questions still on the line. I want to try to squeeze in one last question before we have to end.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Joyce Mercer with Virginia Theological Seminary.
Q: Hi. Thank you. This is a great conversation.
I wanted to ask you, Katherine, about something you said early on related to women and trauma. We who deal with these issues a lot know that in post-conflict contexts, addressing collective trauma and individual trauma are really important for the long-range potential of peace-building.
I wonder if you have specific examples about women doing that, because you mentioned it as, while not wanting to essentialize a thing that women have some particular gifts in, and/or how to move forward in this particular area, which seems to have so much importance for the possibilities of extending the work of peace. Thank you.
MARSHALL: Well, first, I couldn’t agree with you more. There is a chapter in the book which draws largely on Indian experience with using religious teachings per se to deal with some issues of trauma. Another place where I know that—or two places where there’s been a lot of thinking and a lot of work, and a lot of it has been done in a religious context and with women, but also with men, of course, are both Rwanda and Uganda, where there are horrible situations.
I think the situations that are most complex are ones where everyone is either—is both a victim and a perpetrator, or you have the situations of both in single families and where you have the trauma basically affecting large parts of the society; a lot of thinking going on about the South Africa experience, some of the successes of, for example, Mozambique. Those are examples.
I think when you look also at Europe, France and Germany postwar experience of reconciliation, you have a lot to learn, and also in Asia—Japan, Korea, et cetera; obviously a long way to go, but certainly there has been a great deal of creative thinking and investment of caring and effort.
Q: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you very much, Katherine. And thanks to all of you for your great questions.
MARSHALL: Yes, thank you for the wonderful questions.
FASKIANOS: I know. And we could go on, but we are committed to ending on time at the Council on Foreign Relations. So we will just have to have you back. We look forward to continuing to follow your work, Katherine. And I commend the book to all of you. And you can follow Katherine on Twitter @Patlakath, right? It’s P-A-T-L-A-K-A-T-H.
MARSHALL: Right. Right. (Laughs.)
FASKIANOS: We also encourage you to follow CFR’s Religion and Foreign Policy Initiative on Twitter @CFR_Religion for announcements about upcoming events and information about other resources that might be of use in the work that all of you are doing.
So thank you all again. Thank you, Katherine. And we look forward to your continued participation in our initiative.
MARSHALL: Thank you very much, Irina. And thank you all.
OPERATOR: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. This concludes today’s teleconference. You may now disconnect.
This is an uncorrected transcript.