Relgions for Peace in Lindau

"Women are the ones who ensure religion survives"

Organised by interfaith NGO Religions for Peace, an international conference in Lindau on Lake Constance is dealing with the peace-building role of women inspired by the faith of their respective religions. Some 600 participants from around the world meet virtually to discuss the central challenges of our time. By Christoph Strack

Hate speech and the role of religion in conflicts are on the agenda for this year's meeting, but the main focus is on how women regard political leadership and responsibility and the big challenges facing humanity.

Religions for Peace (RfP), which describes itself as the biggest interreligious NGO in the world, is seeking answers to the drift away from traditional diplomacy and its emphasis on multilateralism and mutual reliability between states toward nationalism and populism, often culminating in violence.

The RfP's 50th anniversary year, like almost everything else in 2020, has been overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The same goes for the conference "Women, Faith & Diplomacy". Lectures and debates are all happening online. Azza Karam, general secretary of the RfP, the first woman in the post, is one of the few to have come from abroad. Her stay will include daily tests for COVID-19.

Azza Karam, secretary-general of "Religions for Peace" (photo: Christian Flemming)
"Today, religion is dominated by men," says Azza Karam, adding that religious institutions "prioritised men" in their search for solutions and expertise. Yet 90 percent of religious work is done by women. "They are the ones who ensure that religions can survive." Women, even women in leadership positions like Angela Merkel, pursue a different style of leadership and always see their responsibilities as part of a service, she adds

Crucial point in history

Karam says the conference is to be seen as a forum for exchange and moral support for the global community at a time of crisis. "The exchange here gives us the opportunity to understand that we are all at a critical juncture in world history. Not just because of the pandemic, but also because of a worsening environment that affects the hundreds of millions of lives and challenges national health services."

Karam, an Egyptian-born citizen of the Netherlands who served as an adviser to the United Nations on culture and religion, has been resident in the United States for twenty years. She has devoted her career to issues of religion, democracy, development, human rights, and gender. 

For her, the conference on "Women, Faith & Diplomacy" is about finding a connection of global relevance. In her view, people of faith can bring about a "new kind of leadership and diplomacy" on both the micro and the macro levels.

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