Interfaith Dialogue for Human Rights

UU-UNO Logo

Abby McBride is a youth representative for the UU-UNO. She attends Lehigh University and is pursuing a a degree in International Relations.  She is a blogger and manager for The Assembly.

Religion tends to have a bad rap in the media. When people think of zealous religious figures, terms such as “bigot” or “xenophobe” often come to mind. A group of religious non-governmental organizations met at the United Nations on Friday, August 29th, 2014 to discuss putting an end to this trend. The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) sponsored the interfaith dialogue workshop, entitled “Interfaith Progressive Values Promote Universal Human Rights” as part of the 65th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference. Co-sponsors included Muslims for Progressive Values, the NGO Committee on Human Rights, the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security, the Tzu Chi Foundation, Soka Gakkai International, Won Buddhism, and Buddha’s Light International Association.

 

Kamila Jacob and Debra Boudreaux
Kamila Jacob and Debra Boudreaux

In the workshop, participants emphasized that, while faith is important, it should not stand in the way of basic human rights. Debra Boudreaux, Executive Vice President of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, spoke of her dedication to Buddhism, but said her foundation will help any kind of person, not only Buddhists. Kamila Jacob, representing the UU-UNO, told the workshop that her drive for social justice is put into action by her faith.

 

Hiro Sakuri of Soka Gakkai International voiced his regrets that there is no longer an interfaith conference at the United Nations. In 2005 he established an interfaith conference at the UN, with support from 75 member states, 15 UN agencies, and a set of religious non-governmental organizations. Following this development was the first ever General Assembly high-level dialogue on inter-religious communication for peace. However, the interfaith conference no longer occurs since members of certain agencies and organizations have left. Now, he struggles to find committed people to bring this conference back to life.

 

Bruce Knotts and Ani Zonneveld
Bruce Knotts and Ani Zonneveld

Ani Zonneveld, President of Muslims for Progressive Values, addressed the conflict that occurs between religion and human rights. She proposes that it is not religion itself that creates tension with human rights, but men’s interpretation of it. Of her own faith, Islam, she said “Sharia law is the interpretation of that divine inspiration [Sharia] by men of patriarchal society.” Zonneveld clarified that Sharia is the spiritual path of Islam. However, Sharia law has been warped by the values of the time (centuries ago) when it was enacted and the cultural issues it conflicts with today.

The UU-UNO affirms the Unitarian Universalist belief that there is inherent worth and dignity in every individual. Humanity is diverse in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion, and the UU-UNO recognizes and embraces this fact. The UU-UNO wants to foster interfaith dialogue so that no religious groups stand in the way of the rights of individuals. We must be aligned in what is true, what is right, and what is good.

The UU-UNO recognizes that if religious groups are to succeed in protecting human rights, a greater degree of dialogue and cooperation in the future is essential. The workshop cast a look at what such a future might entail. Members attended from a plethora of religious groups – Jewish, Humanist, Catholic, Atheist, and a variety of others. The UU-UNO is hopeful that interfaith dialogue will continue as we need unity to secure fundamental rights around the world, rather than the division that has plagued religious dialogue in the past.Audience2 - nb

Nine Weeks in the Life of a UU-UNO Women’s Program Intern

 

10325260_10152978421999062_5927809953753974173_n
Zandy in front of the UN.
936678_10153064173219062_8658094512937816583_n
Zandy and Gerardo Porteny Backal

Hi, my name is Alexandra “Zandy” Stovicek and this is my last week as the intern in charge of the Women’s Initiative for Security and Peacebuilding (WISP) in the Unitarian Universalist United Nations (UUUNO) office. I had an incredible time getting to know my office supervisors, fellow interns of all ages and academic backgrounds, and learning about the structure and agenda of the United Nations. As the only intern focused on the WISP program during my time here, I was able to work on a plethora of projects of my own volition. One of my goals for this internship was to focus on networking and partnership building. Although I consider myself an extrovert, I have not had a lot of opportunity to practice building professional relationships in my young adult life, and I know that these skills are invaluable for the road ahead. Two of my objectives were to create a partnership with the US Mission and UN Women. Although I have not had as much success as I would have hoped partnering with the US Mission on indigenous women’s rights, my goal of partnering with UN Women was achieved. I recently met with Gerardo Porteny Backal, the Global Youth Consultant for the HeForShe Campaign at UN Women. HeforShe encourages men to join the fight for gender equality on behalf of universal human rights. Hopefully our organizations will start collaborating on women’s rights after such a successful meeting!

I’ve also looked into partnering with UU groups. We are in the process of working with both the UUA Reproductive Justice Advisory Group and the All Souls Reproductive Justice Task Force on an informative panel on international reproductive health. My other big task related to Unitarian Universalism in particular has been calling envoys from UU congregations to update our database and gather feedback, in order to improve UU-UNO communications and our Envoy program. Perhaps I spoke to some of the individuals who are reading this right now! I enjoyed getting to know UUs from around the country and Canada, hearing their goals for implementation of UN Sundays and other international human rights advocacy events at their congregations.

10492168_10152978422319062_2776887791319358044_n
UN Women’s Meeting

My main project has been preparation and planning for the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March. This two-week conference consists of meetings at the UN headquarters and our very own church center, headed by UN Women and the NGO Committee on CSW. After researching a dozen potential topics, I narrowed down our proposal to focus on two themes. The first is about global women’s self-esteem. When the issue of “self-esteem” is addressed, it is often in the context of a Western woman’s issues with her body image, exacerbated by the media. Self-esteem, however, should be considered to mean the worth and value of all women around the world. This is not a national issue; it is a global, universal, pervasive issue: the low self-esteem of women. I intend the event to have a discussion-based format; I’d love for audience members to discuss what self-esteem really means and how it is the root of many issues. The topic will be approached through the lens of a discussion on the war against girl children. Think about this: a man who kills or abandons his female children because they are female must not think a female life is worth living. If a woman kills, aborts, or abandons her female children because they are female, she must not think a female life is worth living, and therefore that her own life is worth living. What creates and perpetuates the dehumanization of women and their low self-esteem? And, how can we change it?

10514523_10153022317939062_8367715078112374914_n
Zandy and UU-UNO Office and Intern Coordinator, Nickie Tiedeman

The second panel stems from a desire to continue the work and writings of former intern Russell Hathaway, who is passionate about the plight of women in Syria. I developed a panel focusing on the Reproductive and Mental Health of Syrian Refugee Women. The Syrian Civil War is a relevant and important topic. Yet much of the focus on the war concerns bombings, military engagements, and use of chemical weapons, rather than civilians, particularly women and their reproductive and mental health. There is a dire need to focus on this specific topic since many women have suffered physical and sexual violence in conflict, and all have experienced trauma. A number attribute their feelings of insecurity, or their experiences of harassment or exploitation, to the fact that they are living without an adult male, who would ordinarily provide social and physical protection. Many of these women now live in poverty in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon settlements. They are the survivors of war, the unheard voices, and the lives forgotten. Health facilities have been deliberately targeted and eviscerated during the war and the specific treatment and concern directed towards sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) survivors in particular is crucial. It has been a privilege to watch my work come to fruition, from brainstorming about potential topics to formatting the specific topics to having co-sponsors and panelists commit to participating just this week!

As I head back to Wesleyan University for my sophomore year this month, I am excited to continue promoting gender equality and all human rights on my campus. I belong to many social justice groups that focus on an eclectic mix of topics, from girls’ education to HIV/AIDs to discrimination against LGBT persons to advocating against sexual violence towards women. I hope to use the skills and knowledge base that I have acquired at the UU-UNO in order to become a more conscientious, action-focused member of these groups. In order to remain in contact with this lovely office and the UN in general, I applied to become a UN Women Civil Society Advisory Group Youth Representative. The position would entail meetings with the Executive Director and other representatives in order to include the input of youth on gender equality initiatives. Fingers crossed! You might also find me running around the office come March, as the UN prepares for CSW. I hope to volunteer for this office or NGO CSW during my spring break to see my passionate work come to completion. Best wishes for a peaceful, justice-filled year ahead!

With love,

Zandy Stovicek

UU-UNO LogoIf you are interested in learning more about the UU-UNO internship program, please email Nickie Tiedeman at ntiedeman@uua.org. 

LOVE REACHED OUT: UU-UNO General Assembly Recap

2014 GA logo

 

Thank you for joining the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office during our General Assembly 2014 Events!

 

UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts speaking at the LGBTQ and Immigration panel
UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts speaking at the LGBTQ and Immigration panel

UU-UNO Director, Bruce Knotts, spoke at LGBTQ and Immigration – An Intersection of Human Rights, hosted by UURISE, on Thursday, June 26th. Bruce discussed the plight of LGBTQ immigrants who seek refuge from persecution, only to find limited or no protection under US immigration law.  He explained the current limitations of immigration laws, and how UUs can combine their LGBTQ and immigration reform advocacy efforts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond Borders: Implementing Intercultural Conversations, hosted by the UU-UNO occurred on Friday, June 27th.

logo

“Think globally, act locally.” Panelists addressed ways to promote cultural and spiritual inclusion and the importance and value of global understanding. We invited participants to look at their strengths in human rights and climate justice to encourage them to strengthen their efforts by extending their passions to a global stage. Teresa Cooley, Bruce Knotts and Kamila Jacob spoke on these issues. Alley Wolff also spoke briefly about the Envoy Program.

 

The Dana Greeley and Blue Ribbon Awards Reception took place on Saturday, June 28th.

The Dana Greeley Sermon Award winners were announced and honored. This year’s winning submission came from the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship in New Jersey. The intergenerational team (Gabor Kiss, Shari Loe, George Hays, James McMormick, and Sarah Matsushima) put together a United Nations Sunday service that addressed the theme of the 2013 Spring Seminar (LGBTQ Human Rights).

This year’s Dana Greeley Award winners with UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts

The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office extended our gratitude to the Blue Ribbon Congregations for their hard work in achieving this status. They have successfully held a UN Sunday service or event, made a congregational donation or committed to an annual “UU UNO” budget line, had 15 members or 5% of their members donate as individuals to the office, and have an envoy or envoy team.
DG_BR_5

DG_BR_1DG_BR_3     DG_BR_7

 

See our Facebook page for more photos from the Blue Ribbon Ceremony!

 

The Envoy Breakfast took place on Saturday, June 28th.

At the breakfast, we discussed the successes and challenges experienced by congregational envoys, and we helped brainstorm ideas and techniques to enhance our future envoy endeavors.

 

 Watch Bruce talk about our influence at the United Nations during General Session V at 13:26!

 

Youth Envoys loved GA!

“I only attended two days of the UUA’s 2014 General Assembly, but while I was there was I able to participate in UU-UNO related events. At their Beyond Borders workshop, Kamila and Bruce brought speakers who talked to us about what the UU-UNO does and their various programs, including their efforts to combat LGBTQ inequality; they placed an emphasis on helping those whose voices are not often heard. In the morning I attended the envoy breakfast where current envoys and envoys-to-be met and discussed our past successes and failures when trying to spread the word about the UU-UNO at our respective congregations. It was nice to meet other UUs from all around the country who care and know about what’s going on at the UU-UNO, especially because our ages and backgrounds were all varied.”

-       Sarah Matsushima, 17, Morristown, New Jersey

 

“I’ve been going to GA every year since my freshman year in high school, so I was very excited that this year I wouldn’t have to travel far because it is in my region. General Assembly is always a fun experience; it is great to meet UUs from all over the country, and when you sit in a huge conference center with all the people you realize just how many of us there are. GA is especially fun for the youth because of the Youth Caucus, which provides great programming for youth to get to know each other and do fun things like trivia night and the dance they have every year. The UU-UNO has a presence at GA, they have a booth in the exhibit hall and do workshops throughout the week. There is also the Envoy breakfast, and the reception for the Dana Greeley award and the Blue Ribbon award winners.”

-       Corry Sullivan, 17, State College, Pennsylvania

 

“The UU-UNO reception provided a perfect setting to honor certain congregations for their exceptional collaboration with the UU-UNO. We were treated to an excerpt from the exceptional service that earned the Dana Greeley award, and 33 congregations were honored with the blue ribbon award. Overall this event graced its attendees with food, knowledge, and goodwill towards the incredible action the UU-UNO is working towards.”

-       Ben Gaffigan, 18, Frederick, Maryland

 

INTERNATIONAL U/U YOUNG ADULT LISTENING PROJECT

.la foto.

 

If you’re a U/U young adult living outside the US, we want to talk to you! The UUA International Office is conducting a listening project. If you’re interested, book Shawna Foster or send her an email.

What’s a listening project? It’s when an interviewer spends time with a certain group of people with carefully developed questions to find out what is going on in their lives. The UUA International Office wants to listen to youngadults to see what their lives are like and how Unitarian Universalism plays a part in it. Through these interviews, we will understand what your needs are as a young adult outside of the United States and can start organizing to meet common needs. As stories are told and published, we can see how our movement is a global movement that touches so many people’s lives. Find out how we’re all in this together by signing up today!

Hiroshima Day 2013

Memorial lanterns in observance of Hiroshima Day. (CC image courtesy of Flickr user pni)

Today (August 6, 2013) is Hiroshima Day! As we observe the 68th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, individuals and congregations alike are invited to view our available interfaith and Unitarian Universalist (UU) resources.

Perhaps one of the most inspiring stories to come out of this difficult time is the story of the Hiroshima Children’s Drawings:

Shortly after the bombing in Hiroshima in 1945, Rev. A. Powell Davies of the All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington, D.C., gave a famous sermon called “Lest the Living Forget.” In it, he encouraged his congregation to send supplies to the victims of the bombing.

 

After sending school supplies to the Honkawa school in Hiroshima, the church received 45 hand drawn pictures by the children of the city. Distinct from other images depicting the events of Hiroshima, these images were hopeful, inviting children of all ages to envision a different future of peace, reconciliation and open dialogue.

Learn more about the story of the Hiroshima Children’s Drawings, and check out our online resources!

United Nations Sustainable Development Working Group

Capture

Members of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office Climate Change Initiative engaged with member states and many other UN entities at the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which completed its fourth of eight planned sessions last month, June 17th-19th, at the UN headquarters in NYC. Called for by the Rio+20 conference, the OWG learned about specific issues of concern through presentations and side events and had open statements and discussions about these issues. The member states were entrusted to make these goals clear, aspirational as well as limited in number, which proved challenging as many important issues and concerns were raised throughout the OWG.

Discussion topics of this Fourth Session were “Employment and decent work for all, social protection, youth, education and culture” and “Health and population dynamics”. These sessions are facilitating the development of a proposal to the General Assembly for a set of sustainable development goals for post 2015, this date marking the end of the Millennium Development Goals. We are in excited anticipation for the final report of the OWG, scheduled to be completed in the next year and hope that the social, economic and environmental dimensions are effectively addressed and integrated to minimize trade-offs between them.

Click here more info on the UU-UNO’s Climate Change Initiative

Click here for more info about the Open Working Group and schedule

Click here for additional statements and event resources

Open Working Group in Trusteeship Council Chamber

Click events to read the UU-UNO summary

1)    Main EventEmployment and decent work for all, social protection, youth, education and culture
Panel and discussion: Dr. Haroon Bhorat, Dr. Karen Mundy and Mr. Fernando Filgueira

Side Events Attended

2)   Main EventHealth, Population dynamics
Keynote address: Dr. Hans Rosling, Panel and discussion: Dr. Janette Vega, Dr. Saroj Jayasinghe and Dr. Paulina Makinwa-Adebusoye

Side Event Attended

  Conclusions and Thoughts

Read More…

(more…)

Inspired by Indonesian Unitarians

IMG_0029_2

The Unitarians of Indonesia are an inspiring part of our global faith with tremendous commitment, good organization, an evangelical attitude, and a strong focus on ministry with youth and young adults. It was a pleasure to visit with them for 4 days in April 2013.

IMG_0019_2

Gereja Jemaat Allah Global Indonesia (JAGI) - the Unitarian Christian Church of Indonesia, was founded in the mid-1990’s by Rev. Aryanto Nugroho and currently has around 500 members.  Rev. Nugroho has published highly regarded theological books, and is very well connected in interfaith circles and with national leaders.

IMG_0006_2

JAGI is headquartered in Semarang, where the church owns and operates a large building that houses the sanctuary, classrooms, offices, a library, and space for a future NGO. A maternity clinic – Bhaki Ibu – operated by the wife of the founder of the church sits across the street from the church building; Mrs. Nugroho estimates that she has been a midwife at more than 200,000 births.

JAGI is administered by a National Leaders Board that includes a Council which supervises a Board of Elders and an Executive Board (responsible for daily operations).  JAGI has 8 ordained ministers and an executive director. It consists of 4 Churches (Semarang, Jakarta, Solo and Sukorejo-Pasuruan) and 3 Mission Areas/Fellowships (Yogyakarta, Surabaya and Klaten). Semarang is the most established congregation and at the center of JAGI. (more…)

Half the Sky Film Screening

uu-uno The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office has partnered with the Half the Sky movement which raises awareness about critical women’s rights issues, opening a space for a deeper discussion and action steps. The UU-UNO has developed a resource packet so that congregations can host screenings and guided discussions. Suggestions for immediate action steps that can be taken by individuals and congregations are also outlined in this packet.

On April 12, Arun Lobo, a UU-UNO intern through Fordham University, half-the-sky1flew to Durango, Colorado to facilitate the discussion at the Half the Sky Screening at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Durango.This film was inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s bestselling book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” Hidden in the overlapping problems of sex trafficking and forced prostitution, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality is the single most vital opportunity of our time – and women are seizing it. From Somaliland to Cambodia to Afghanistan, women’s oppression is being confronted head on real, meaningful solutions are being fashioned.

Arun Lobo
Arun Lobo

UUFD is a small congregation, but it is not a barrier for them – they took the initiative to host this screening and discussion in their Sanctuary. Maureen Maliszewski, the Chair of the Social Justice at UUFD, organized this event with 48 participants who participated actively in an enlightening discussion. The event began with lighting of chalice by Arun and an introduction of UU-UNO. Arun is a Franciscan Priest from India who has worked on many of the issues described in the film. He was able to provide the audience with firsthand accounts to reinforce the Half the Sky film. One of the participants said, “Maureen, we are so fortunate that Arun was able to come to Durango to share firsthand experience with us related to issues covered in Half the Sky. Arun brought home hard realities that often seem far from our daily lives in Durango.” Nine people who attended the event were so inspired that they are in the process of forming a local ‘Half the Sky’ action group and as a whole, the attendees raised over $500 to support the work of the UU-UNO on critical women’s rights issues.You can read more about this screening in the Durango Herald here.

Audience in Durango, Co.
Audience in Durango, Co.

The next screening of this film will be held in New York City at the Community Church of New York, on May 12th. If you would like more information about the upcoming screening or you are interested in hosting a screening of the 40 minute, condensed version of Half the Sky, please contact us at unitednations@uua.org.

 

 

 

International Inspirations: Ela Bhatt

Screen Shot 2013-02-25 at 11.49.23 AM

The Faith Without Borders program is re-launching as a new individual/congregational resource for UU’s interested or currently engaged in international work: uuinternational.org

Encompassing the diversity and scope of current international UU projects and opportunities, Faith Without Borders represents a streamlined and unified web presence for the collaborative work being done between: The UUA’s International Office, the UU Service Committee, the International Council of UU’s, the International Convocation of UU Women, the International Association for Religious Freedom, the UU Partner Church Council, the UU United Nations Office, and the UU Holdeen India Program.

As the site develops its collection of resources in the coming months, Faith Without Borders is pleased to share a new series of web-based resources called “Inspirations,” which tell the story of global Unitarian Universalism through our international partners and the work they are engaged in.

Inspirations: Ela Bhatt

This week’s Inspiration comes from the UU Holdeen India Program:

Ela Bhatt, founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a UU Holdeen India Program partner, received the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize earlier this month. The prize is one of India’s highest accolades. Learn more about the inspiring work of SEWA in this brief video clip!

(more…)

International Inspirations – On the way

Screen Shot 2013-02-25 at 11.49.23 AM

The Faith Without Borders program is re-launching as a new individual/congregational resource for UU’s interested or currently engaged in international work: uuinternational.org

Encompassing the diversity and scope of current international UU projects and opportunities, Faith Without Borders represents a streamlined and unified web presence for the collaborative work being done between: The UUA’s International Office, the UU Service Committee, the International Council of UU’s, the International Convocation of UU Women, the International Association for Religious Freedom, the UU Partner Church Council, the UU United Nations Office, and the UU Holdeen India Program.

As the site develops its collection of resources in the coming months, Faith Without Borders is pleased to share a new series of web-based resources called “Inspirations,” which tell the story of global Unitarian Universalism through our international partners and the work they are engaged in.

The first installment of these “Inspirations” is a brief video intro to the UU’s in Mexico. Inspirations will be released on a bi-monthly basis as each of the international UU organizations takes turns in sharing pithy, poignant stories from our partners and the world of UU international engagement.