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SDGs Are For You and Me

By Joyce S. Dubensky, CEO, Tanenbaum
Reposted from Medium, October 24, 2018

These days, most days are designated as special. Either they honor a person or event, or invoke reflection on a grand vision. And most of the time, we just ignore them. But today is UN Day. And if we pause for a moment without cynicism, we know that this matters.

I have reasons for saying this. For one thing, the UN adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) two years ago that articulate 17 separate and related goals or visions. Alone that would be nice. Yet each had specified activities for meeting its vision. So it is more than a dream. It is a plan.

I’ve given these SDGs a lot of thought. Taken together, they describe a just, whole, fair and peaceful world — something I often call a “Lived Peace.” These goals address everything from ending poverty to ensuring clean water, equal education, equitable health care, security and safety. They are all important and Tanenbaum is proud to stand among the organizations worldwide contributing to the larger vision, particularly regarding our work with religiously motivated Peacemakers in Action.

Take for example, Sustainable Development Goal №16, which “promote[s] peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide[s] access to justice for all and build[s] effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

This includes SDG 16.1, which promises to “significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere.”

Consider Ethiopian Peacemaker Dr. Ephraim Isaac. Working behind the scenes, Ephraim finally saw success when, this past June, the neighboring nations of Ethiopia and Eritrea reached an official peace agreement after two decades of conflict. As a national elder, Ephraim was featured in a September New York Times article covering Ethiopia’s newly elected president, Abiy Ahmed. Regarding President Abiy’s leadership style and frequent references to “the ideals of love, forgiveness and reconciliation,” Ephraim observed:

“It’s not political language. It’s religious language.”

Similarly, the late Peacemaker Fr. Alec Reid, who worked for peace in Northern Ireland was recently lauded in reviews of the newly-released documentary about Pope John Paul II’s historic trip to Ireland in 1979. Reflecting on Fr. Reid’s behind-the-scenes work in the peace process, the film’s director, David Naglieri, praised his facilitation as “absolutely critical” to its success — including how he sparked a secret dialogue between Hume and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams, a cataclysmic event that fueled the reconciliation process.

I could go on talking about how the work each of our Peacemakers is doing is relevant to promoting peace. But the truth is that the work our Peacemakers are doing is relevant not just to one, but to each and every SDG put forth by the UN to be achieved by 2030.

A few examples…

SDG №4 commits to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

For more than twenty years now, Peacemaker Dr. Sakena Yacoobi has risked her life to teach women and children in Afghanistan. In the face of a brutally oppressive Taliban regime, she secretly taught them to read and used education to reclaim Islam — believing that if people had access to the verses themselves, they would see its underlying messages of peace, justice and equality.

She is not alone. Many Tanenbaum Peacemakers are creating equitable education. Consider Abuna Chacour, who created the Mar Elias Educational Institutions (MEEI) in Israel. As a Melkite Catholic priest who identifies as a Palestinian, Arab, Christian and Israeli, he established a school that welcomed Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Druze students in 1982. His vision: to educate, to build community, and to create the relationships needed for a peaceful Israel. Though his vision is not yet realized, his school continues to operate, now boasting more than 4,000 students from kindergarten through the university level.

SGD №8 vows to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.”

Longtime peace activist, Quaker and occasional politician, Peacemaker Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge now works through her organization, Embrace Dignity, to defang sex trafficking in South Africa. Her approach? Change the prostitution laws in South Africa, and support those wishing to exit prostitution through referrals to counseling, skills training, small business development and education providers. In addition, for the last six years, Embrace Dignity has also been chipping away at sex trafficking through policy change. It is advocating for the partial decriminalization of prostitution (i.e., the Nordic Model), which gives women help to exit the industry, while simultaneously holding buyers and sellers accountable.

To be fair, the SDGs are not a panacea. However, they do provide a roadmap that can lead to change. And they remind us that the power to make the world a better place lies in each and every one of our hands. The SDGs are about collective action, and Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network demonstrate that, as individuals, we all play a crucial role in building a better future.

So today, my hat is off to the UN. Because when you put it all together, the SDGs…imagine a world in which difference is respected… and create a world that puts respect into practice.

International Day of Peace

Friends,
 
This year’s International Day of Peace celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document lays out a vision of human rights for all. As such, it is critical to all of us.
 
But what needs to be remembered is that the Declaration itself, and much of the work that has followed its powerful release, would not exist without women – including women of faith – who are involved in the peacebuilding process. As head of the Human Rights Commission, it was a woman, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was instrumental in composing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The work that has grown from that document would not exist if not for that one visionary woman.
 
​​​​​​​Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking on a panel at the United Nations General Assembly called Keeping Faith in Sustainable Peace: Women of Faith as Agents of Transformation. I spoke alongside professor Hind Kabawat, a member of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network, along with Fatima Madaki, from Search for Common Ground and a KAICIID International Fellow. These women, along with myself, are living proof that women of faith can and should be recognized for the roles we play in the peace and reconciliation process, as formal and more often informal, agents of peace. Among our panel, we unanimously agreed that before anything else, UN leaders, diplomats, government officials and religious leaders within various communities MUST collaborate with women as allies and partners in the conversation. Women need more than a seat at the table. They need many seats. 
 
Early on, Tanenbaum saw the importance of women of faith in peace, and committed to formally recognizing women among our Peacemakers. Today, the Peacemakers in Action Network includes 10 women of faith – from all different conflict zones, who each live out their faith in different ways that build towards sustainable peace and inclusion. 
 
Too often the role women play as agents of peace is undervalued and often straight out ignored. Their work, their perspectives, their existence must be recognized. So today, to honor the past 70 years and look towards the next 70, let’s change how we work together – and make sure that we are working with the multitudes of women who make peace possible internationally.
 
And just in case you still have doubts about the power of religious and faith-based women peacebuilders…please take a few minutes to review Tanenbaum’s resource sheet, Women Who Pursue Peace and Justice, on the female peacemakers we recognize and partner with, and the important work they’re doing.
 
Yours in peace, 
 
Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum 

Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Speak at United Nations

Leading grassroots peacebuilders and Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action, from six of the world’s conflict zones, made a celebrated appearance at the United Nations on Wednesday, July 13, 2016.

The event, “Turning the Tide: Engaging Religiously-Motivated Peacebuilders in Conflict Zones,” addressed two topics: alternative approaches to combating extremism and ways that grassroots peacemakers build relationships and trust with community members, diplomats and government officials.

The first panel featured Tanenbaum Peacemakers Ms. Maria Ida “Deng” Giguiento (Philippines), Mr. Azhar Hussain (Pakistan), and Ms. Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge (South Africa), as well as H.E. Mr. Rubén Ignacio Zamora Rivas, Permanent Representative of El Salvador to the United Nations. H.E. Mr. Kai Sauer, Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations moderated the first panel.

Peacemaker Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge highlighted the need for multi-faith peacebuilding in South African communities. She noted how, “The interfaith movement between Christians, Muslims and Hindus, created in the struggle to end apartheid, continues today, providing a moral canvas for our government.”

Tanenbaum’s most recently awarded Peacemaker in Action, Deng Giguiento, discussed how she advises military leaders as a peacebuilder in the Philippines. She described once believing that she couldn’t work with the military: “I always perceived them as the enemy. But I was taught to pray for my enemies.” Following prayer with action, Deng sees positive results as she trains both military and community members with the hope of building a “lasting peace in Mindanao.”

The second panel reviewed innovative approaches to tackling violent extremism and the prominent but frequently overlooked role of women in this field. Panelists included Peacemakers Mr. Ricardo Esquiva (Colombia), Ms. Dishani Jayaweera (Sri Lanka), and Dr. Sakena Yacoobi (Afghanistan), as well as Ms. Faiza Patel, Co-Director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, and Mr. Andrew Tomlinson, Director & Quaker U.N. Representative. Ms. Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women moderated.

Ms. Lakshmi began the panel by discussing how “Essentially religion is about humanity. It is about rights and it’s about the equality of all creatures.” Then Sri Lankan Peacemaker Dishani Jayaweera described how she created the Female Religious Leaders Initiative after working with 300 male religious leaders from diverse faith traditions. She began the initiative “to explore the role of female religious leaders in peacebuilding and reconciliation” and their “interpretation of religion and spirituality.” Her work aims to include women in the religious peacebuilding process, essential for creating lasting peace.

Peacemaker Sakena Yacoobi, who has founded numerous schools in Afghanistan, expressed, “I really strongly believe that women are the victim in every country, women and children.” And she gave insight into the solution, “If we really want to bring peace – it is not through guns, it’s not through tanks, it is through education…. education is the key issue that brings transformation”.

Peacemaker Ricardo Esquivia (Colombia) spoke about the importance of including both communities and government offices in the peacemaking process to combat extremism. “[We] use a pedagogy of nonviolence to teach communities about non-violent action, and we mobilize [groups] to interact through dialogue and direct negotiations with local and national governmental officials.”

The event at the UN was part of the 2016 Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Network Retreat, which brought together Peacemakers from all over the world to exchange ideas and best-practices in peacebuilding. This year’s retreat focused on combating violent extremism and women in peacebuilding.


We extend our gratitude to the event’s sponsors: The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), KAICIID, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA), and the GHR Foundation.

Meet the Peacemakers

The week from July 9th to the 16th was a special one for Tanenbaum. We had the rare opportunity to visit with the diverse and passionate women and men, who are dedicating their lives to promoting peace, religious understanding, and a safer world – Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action. This opportunity arises only once every few years, when we convene the Peacemakers in Action Network for a Working Retreat, where they have the chance to network in person and learn from each other, as well as from other experts in the field. This year, we were excited to have 18 Peacemakers with us, from global conflicts including Syria, Colombia, Nigeria, the Philippines and Israel.

In the middle of the Retreat, we spent a day in Manhattan. While there, some Peacemakers presented their work at the United Nations, while others discussed extremism, women’s issues arising in their work, and what the Peacemakers in Action Network has done for them on The Brian Lehrer Show. They also had a little “me” time for shopping, taking in The Met, and eating New York Pizza!

That evening, Tanenbaum leaders and friends met the Peacemakers. It was a moment to hear stories directly from the Peacemakers, as they shared their own experiences in battling extremism, conducting post-trauma counseling of those released from terrorists, and using music to heal post-conflict communities. Our Board Chair, Justin Foa, graciously opened his home for the event, which was sponsored by GHR, KAICIID, the Greek Archdiocese of North America, and Winebow. Without these wonderful partnerships, none of this – the Working Retreat or the Meet the Peacemakers evening – would have been possible.

Today, we so often feel helpless – and hopeless – as we face random acts of terror, hatred and exclusion. Tanenbaum Peacemakers remind us that there is reason to hope. To those of you who were able to be with us at the UN, who listened to the Brian Lehrer show or who joined us to meet the Peacemakers, we thank you. And to those of you who could not be with us, we hope to see you soon. For now, please enjoy a few pictures from our evening together with the Peacemakers in Action.

RSVP: Tanenbaum Peacemakers at the United Nations

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Join us this July 13th for a unique opportunity to hear from six Peacemakers in Action on the critical issues facing us today.
Click here to download the invitation and be sure to RSVP today! Space is limited.

Tanenbaum Peacemaker Dr. Ephraim Isaac speaks at the United Nation’s Church Center Chapel

Tanenbaum was honored to be a part of the United Nation’s seminal event, Faith for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), held at the Church Center Chapel. Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Dr. Ephraim Isaac (Ethiopia) spoke eloquently to a diverse crowd; attendees from diverse religious backgrounds and beliefs gathered to discuss how religion can further the quest to eliminate poverty.

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TANENBAUM Peacemaker Dr. Ephraim Isaac (left) with Karin Achtelstetter – Credit: @KarinWaltraut

“I am here of behalf of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding and as one of its Peacemakers in Action.

First let me congratulate you on your good efforts to deal with the critical question of poverty through the power of religion.

I used to be an incorrigible optimist. I am still, but a corrigible one. My remaining optimism is to see people like you here in this room that have the good will to do the good.

But, let us be realistic. In a greedy world where about 1% of the world’s population owns the wealth of the world and does not want to part with it, how do you propose to eliminate poverty in 15 years as you say? In a world where one American person would rather pay one million to travel to Africa to kill one elephant, or, where the King of Saudi Arabia would rent every room of the most expensive American hotel for several days and have a parade of over one hundred cars parked in a garage all of it decorated with red carpets…. especially at a time when thousands of Middle East refuges are seeking dire shelter, how do you convince the world to do what is right?

I am Jewish and yesterday, on Yom Kippur day, I chanted the Prophet Isaiah who said three thousand years ago (to paraphrase): You fast, you put ashes on yourselves, you exhibit your piety, and say to me “why do you not see our piety, how we humble ourselves with ashes on our heads?“  The Almighty responds, “Down with your piety, what I want is free the prisoners and those you oppress, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, help the poor…” If the great prophet has had so shouted about 3000 years ago, in other words, saying as we say today use your faith to help the poor, and that is what the Almighty G-d wants, and nothing has happened for 3000 years, how do you propose to abolish poverty in 15 years?

I know the World Bank has a lot of money, even if not as much as the 1% of the richest people in the world, and I know the religious people have all good intentions. Still how do we propose concretely to change the world?


Click here to learn more about Dr. Ephraim Isaac and Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action.

Peacemakers in Action Network: A Model for the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention

Photo Credit: KAICIID

Photo Credit: KAICIID

Last month, the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention co-convened the “Forum on the Role of Religious Leaders in Preventing Incitement that could Lead to Atrocity Crimes.” The major outcome from the forum was a “Plan of Action for the Prevention of Incitement to Violence that could lead to Atrocity Crimes.” The Plan of Action is a draft document that will be revised and finalized during five regional meetings set to take place during the next year; and a “Declaration will be adopted at a plenary meeting of religious leaders” in 2016.

Eight major areas of consideration were highlighted in the plan – many of which are already being done by Tanenbaum and our Peacemakers: 1) “Monitoring” incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity crimes; 2) Developing, speaking out, and circulating “alternative” messages to counter incitement and hate speech (Tanenbaum Peacemakers do this!); 3) Engaging in dialogue with the speakers and the potential audience; 4) Developing and revising education, curricula and capacity building (Tanenbaum’s education program does this!); 5) Engaging in or strengthening inter-religious and intra-religious dialogue and activities; 6) Engaging in dialogue on grievances; 7) Strengthening clarity of thinking and of message (Tanenbaum is a thought leader on the issues that fuel extremism); and 8) Engaging with political leaders (Tanenbaum Peacemakers often do this).

The Plan of Action also referenced several additional focal points , including the “mapping and networking of religious leaders who actively work to prevent or counter incitement that can lead to atrocity crimes around the world.” At Tanenbaum, we believe the UN and its partners have a model to reference and further explore in Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network.  Why not start where successes are happening – by learning about the religious Peacemakers already in action and having a powerful impact as they work together around the globe?

For well over fifteen years, Tanenbaum has identified religiously motivated Peacemakers working in areas of armed conflict, whose lives and liberty have been at risk in pursuit of peace. Thirty courageous Peacemakers with diverse experiences of conflict from 23 countries have been recognized for their peace work with the Peacemakers in Action Award. Convened every two years to share knowledge, successful practices and the common bond of their faith-driven work, the Peacemakers formalized their Network in 2011.

As a Network facilitated by Tanenbaum, the Peacemakers communicate regularly and even travel to each other’s homelands to work together to help build peace. Later this month, two Nigerian Peacemakers, Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa, will join their fellow Peacemaker, Dishani Jayaweera, in Sri Lanka to train religious leaders from different faith traditions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity). Already well-known in Sri Lanka for their work in Kaduna state, Pastor James and Imam Ashafa will serve as inspirations, models and experienced Peacemakers to Sri Lankans hoping to bring lasting peace to a country still recovering from a decades-old conflict.

As the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention smartly prepares to utilize a resource – religious leaders/actors – sorely underutilized in creating the conditions for a more peaceful world, Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, should strongly consider the Peacemakers in Action Network as a model for its efforts to map and network religious actors actively working to prevent or counter incitement that can lead to atrocity crimes around the world.