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A Just World Post-COVID19: Religion, Sustainable Development and Gender Justice

The PaRD Gender Equality Work-Stream launched a new series of critical dialogues at the PaRD Annual Forum 2020. The focus for the series is on ‘Visioning a Just World Post-COVID19: Religion, Sustainable Development and Gender Justice’.

As the COVID-19 pandemic is putting at risk gains made in the past decades towards gender justice. Evidence suggest that the pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, slowing, if not reversing progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. In the pause to ‘business as usual’ due to COVID-19, the pandemic presents an opportunity for all stakeholders to discern:

• How the COVID-19 pandemic can be catalyst for strong action towards Agenda 2030?

• What action is required for achieving a world rooted in equality and justice for all?

• Where are the partnerships and pathways for achieving Gender Equality and Empowerment (SDG5) by 2030?

• Why are faith actors a vital stakeholder in this roadmap?

The work-stream co-leads, Marie-Christine Lecompte (Global Affairs Canada), Dr. Rachel Tavernor (Side by Side) and Shahin Ashraf MBE (Islamic Relief Worldwide) hosted the event, which brought together governmental, inter-governmental and civil society members. You read the summary report here

Dr. Nora Khalaf-Elledge (Joint Learning Initiative) introduced a new report, ‘Looking Back to Look Forward: The Role of Religious Actors in Gender Equality since the Beijing Declaration’, commissioned by the PaRD Gender Equality and Empowerment workstream, which will be published in 2020. The report aims to review the roles religious actors have played in advancing and hindering gender equality since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995; identifying strategies to overcome current barriers; and understanding the roles attributed to religious actors in UN policy spaces. Dr. Nora Khalaf-Elledge strongly asserted that in regards to religion and development, gender is the central issue because religions are deeply connected to gender norms. She added that whenever religion enters political spheres, they tend to orbit around gender-related issues. This is because gender norms maintain the power structure of the community, they preserve traditional of divisions of labour, which define the status quo. Political authorities around the world play into the idea that religion and patriarchy are inseparable. “For example, patriarchal gender norms are packaged in the name of religion because it legitimises them. It makes them seem divinely ordained and unchangeable.”

Since the Beijing declaration, religions have inspired both patriarchal and emancipatory changes. Dr. Nora Khalaf-Elledge reinforced the importance of religious literacy as a skill to aid one to understand religions in their context and to make sense of the seemly contradictory ways in which religion and gender interact. She emphasised that religious literacy does not mean ‘being religious’, but consists in an academic study that acknowledges that religions are diverse, context-specify and subject to interpretations.

Ms. Pragya Adhikari (Islamic Relief Nepal) acknowledged that COVID-19 could – and should – be a catalyst for building a just and equal world. She further acknowledged that at the core of the Sustainable Development Goals is the principle ‘leaving no one behind’. This encompasses not only ensuring inclusion of marginalised communities, but also requires tackling all forms discrimination and inequalities, including gender-based discriminations. “To create a just world, we can start by making sure local stakeholders have a real role in humanitarian and development projects, right from the start”, Pragya emphasised.


Islamic Relief has been working in Nepal to ensure that girls and women needs are cared for, especially Muslim women in Nepal who are marginalised. Ms. Adhikira stated that, in Nepal, discrimination based on caste, lack of educational and livelihood opportunities for girls and women, patriarchy, social and cultural factors, and the geographical remoteness of some communities all lead to people being left behind or even pushed further back. Moreover, she alluded that, the COVID-19 outbreak in Nepal has added a new dimension to the problem, as poor and marginalised communities are accused of spreading the virus. Stirring up more prejudice and discrimination.

Dr. Marianna Leite (Christian Aid) shared how Christian Aid’s “Building Back with Justice” report (published in July 2020) focuses on applying a human right lens on recovery after COVID-19 pandemic. Our world now faces the deepest economic contractions, with millions of people pushed deeper into poverty. Falling incomes, disruption to trade and transport have made food increasingly unaffordable for many people in the poorest countries. Without swift and effective government intervention, human suffering will be prolonged, and individuals and societies will face a much bigger challenge in recovering from the pandemic. COVID-19 has proven the need for strong health and social protection systems. Governments need to have in place measures that ensure all benefit from resources provided without any forms of discrimination. Dr. Leite highlighted that there is need for enabling systems that focus on human rights and include the intersectionality between gender equality and religion.

Mr. Mike Battcock (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) began by highlight that gender equality and empowerment is at the heart of the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. He reiterated that gender equality and empowered girls and women are fundamental to building prosperous and resilient economics, stable and peaceful societies. “Even though COVID-19 has increased the pre-existing gender inequalities, all should thrive to build back equally” he added. Mr. Battcock pointed out that even though gender equality and religions are complex, faith actors and institutions can be champions for gender equality and empowerment at all levels.

Mr. Battcock acknowledged the importance of partnering with religious actors and their role in making significant changes on social norms. “Faith groups can reach those who cannot reach, hold governments accountable, they are well positioned to empower people to stand up and fight for their rights” he added.The United Kingdom (UK) government has been creating safe spaces for difficult discussions with religious actors and supported faith literacy with development or secular organisations. Just to mention a few, the UK has involved faith groups in programme and projects design and delivery; included faith leader (both men and women) at the decision making at local, national, global level; supported faith groups to integrate gender assessment into all of their work, support capacity building for local faith actors, with faith groups to understand the context of behavioural change messages; and supported faith leaders to tackle intolerance and hatred.

Thank you to all our speakers and to everyone who participated in the discussions. If you would like to suggest speakers or be invited to the series of critical dialogues, please email: