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Rev. HPs. Phyllis Curott Leads Welcome Ceremony at the Women’s Assembly

Rev. HPs. Phyllis Curott addressed the Women’s Assembly at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

Welcome, it is truly my honor and my joy to welcome all of you to the Women’s Assembly of the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions. It is wonderful to be back with all of you. Today we convene with a call to conscience, defending freedom and human rights, gathering from across the globe, from diverse faiths and backgrounds, but united in our commitment to women’s wisdom, women’s spirit, and women’s freedom.

I stand before you today with a profound sense of urgency and determination to address a pressing issue that threatens the very fabric of humanity. The growing threat of global authoritarianism and its disproportionate impact on women and girls.

In 2009, President Carter addressed the Parliament and he declared that discrimination against women and girls is the most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violation in the world. Today, just as we thought it was getting better, now everywhere we turn, we are facing restrictions on every aspect of our lives. The United States Supreme Court’s decision in Dobs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is a profound blow to women’s personal health, to our reproductive rights and bodily autonomy, to our personal freedom. It sent shockwaves throughout the world, imposing one religious view on those who don’t share those views. 

Theocracy is authoritarianism dressed up in religious robes. It once again imprisons the women of Afghanistan who can’t go to school, to work, can’t leave the house without the threat of violence and death. Iranian women and girls are subjected to one of the strictest forms of state-imposed gender discrimination in the world, but they pulled off their headscarves and they danced in the streets. They have faced beatings and poisoning and jail and death, and they have refused to be silenced. Their fortitude is a beacon of hope to all of us.

In 2015 the Parliament adopted the Declaration for the Dignity and Human Rights of Women, reiterating the elder’s call to conscience. The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition as if it were prescribed by a higher authority is unacceptable. We changed the moral compass and now we must change the world. 

From Asia to Africa, from the Americas to Europe, women are breaking barriers. We’re challenging norms and we’re shattering stereotypes. The strength of our collective voices is a testament to the unwavering spirit of the human soul, of women’s souls yearning for liberty and equality. Our presence here today is a testament to the strength of our collective voice and our unwavering dedication to the cause of women’s freedom, dignity, and human rights. The values at the heart of our diverse faiths, compassion, justice, love, bind us together in this cause.

We are women who share a common thread of grace that surpasses our differences. We carry the hopes of millions of women worldwide who look to us to remember their plight and their bravery. Let us use our platforms to amplify their voices to uplift their stories and break the chains that bind them, that bind us. Together, we can create a world where every woman’s right to live with dignity, with freedom and human rights, to live in the full measure of her spirit, is honored and protected. Thank you. 

And now it’s my pleasure to introduce you to the rest of the women’s task force. The staff, the volunteers all work together for more than a year, meeting every week tirelessly to lift women’s voices and spirits at the parliament. Together we’re going to share the declaration with you. 

If you’ll come out, I think you’re back there. And Smith, Pat Fero, Sharon Singh, Kehkashan Basu, Sande Hart, Miriam Balinsky, and watching us from home, Dolly Dastoor. I begin with the problem, always. Hey, she’s here. Excellent. All right. That’s Miriam, without whom nothing.

The struggle for the dignity and equal rights of women is the global human and civil rights struggle of our time. War and violence, economic disparity and impoverishment, environmental damage, and its devastating consequences fall disproportionately upon women and girls who also suffer the most prevalent injustices in our world today.

Violence, child marriage, slavery-enforced prostitution, rape and sexual assault, domestic brutality and abuse, honor killings and immolation, bodily and genital mutilation, gender side of girls and selective abortion of female fetuses, and legitimized murder of women are pandemic.

Throughout the world, one in three women have been raped, beaten, or violently assaulted. 700 million women were children when they were married. More than 133 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation known as FGM. More than 20,000 women a year are victims of honor killings, usually murdered by their father, uncle, or brother. 

Institutions in which women are given little or no voice impose constraints on women’s basic freedom to control their own bodies, move about freely, own property, choose to marry or obtain a divorce, retain custody of their children, receive an education, work or have their testimony given equal right, weight in court. All over the world, they risk being ostracized, abused or killed if they try to change these unjust conditions. 

Even where advances toward equality have been made, women continue to suffer disproportionately from poverty and environmental devastation, from violence and abuse, life damaging discrimination, and access to education and health care, the burdens of unpaid caregiving and unequal pay, and the systematic exclusion from decision making within religious and other institutions that determine the quality of our lives.

These shameful violations of women’s dignity and human rights are based on the false premise that men and boys are superior to women and girls, an outdated view perpetuated by too many religious leaders and adherents who choose to misinterpret or use carefully selected scriptures, texts, and teachings to proclaim the inferiority of women and girls. These harmful and religiously justified beliefs permeate societies and contribute to the pervasive deprivations and abuse suffered by women and girls throughout the world.

As the elders have advised, the justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition if it were prescribed by a higher authority is unacceptable. It is time to end these practices and views. It is time to heal the broken heart of humanity’s feminine half. Being treated unjustly and with respect should not depend on whether one is male or female.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the declaration Towards a Global Ethic call for the equal rights of men and women, and the teachings of the world religions universal call for compassionate and equitable treatment of all, both women and men. The principle of treating others the same way one wishes to be treated is stated in one form or another throughout the religions of the world. We are all interconnected and interdependent, and when half the humanity of race suffers, we all suffer. We must all be treated with justice, respect, kindness and love. 

It is impossible to imagine a God, a divine sauce, a sacred and ultimate reality that is unjust. There is no religion that despises women, for hatred and oppression cannot come from the heart of God, or Godness, or Holy Father, Mother, nor flow from that which is divine, the Creator, the One, the Sauce, the All. It is impossible to imagine the healthy, sustainable, just and peaceful world of our collective future without the spiritual wisdom and leadership of women. 

Therefore, we, your grandmothers, mothers, daughters, wives, and sisters call upon our grandfathers, fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers, and upon each other, and upon all people of faith, to alleviate the unwarranted deprivation and suffering of women and girls.

We are mindful of and grateful for leaders, adherents, and institutions of faith, and those interfaith institutions fighting for the dignity, well-being, and equal status in human rights of women around the globe. But more good work remains to be done. 

We call upon the religions of the world to lead the way in ending violence against women and girls. 

We call upon faith and interfaith organizations to work collaboratively with institutions and organizations that are working to advance the well-being and rights of women around the globe. Furthermore, we call upon the world’s guiding institutions to partner with faith and interfaith organizations working to advance women’s well-being and rights.

We call upon all religious leaders and adherents to challenge and change harmful teachings and practices that justify discrimination and violence against women and girls.

We call upon all religious leaders and adherents to acknowledge and emphasize the positive messages of dignity and equality that the world’s faiths share.

We call upon all religious leaders and adherents to embrace their moral responsibility and collectively commit to ensuring that women are fully and equally involved in decision-making within religions and in every sphere that involves their lives.

We call upon the world’s religions to honor and uphold the dignity, well-being, and human rights of women and girls. We commit ourselves to this collective undertaking to heal the heart of our humanity by releasing women, girls, men, and boys from the bondage of gender-based discrimination and violence. We do so with hope and with faith in our future.

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