When I think of the women I know who are defending freedom of religion or belief, I think of the mother raising children, pursuing a PhD, all the while working to strengthen legal efforts to protect religious liberty. I think of the human rights advocate who manages to support efforts in Parliament while directing civil society coalitions. I think of the volunteer whose background and attention to interfaith activities strengthen religious diversity in the sector. I think of the woman who preaches on Sunday, and on Monday runs retreats to make sure that women avoid burnout.
To each and every woman in the fight for freedom of religion or belief – thank you. Your efforts are not lost on me, and as a close friend reminded me recently, recognition comes with time…it comes from working hard without caring who is watching.
How can we strengthen each other in this urgent and demanding work?
Be slow to criticize and quick to forgive. Women who already face barriers because of gender deserve our benefit of the doubt. Assume the best, instead of concluding the worst. Celebrate and reinforce good behavior. Be patient recognizing that, as women, we all wear many hats and at any given time, day or night, we are managing many responsibilities.
The way we treat each other as women matters for freedom of religion or belief, not only locally but also globally. We know the intersectionality for women of faith increases the likelihood of persecution. We know that women are expected to work more, provide for families, and never complain. Women of the world are watching us, those with the privilege of advocating for others, those with the privilege of sitting at the table, and speaking for those who are not heard or seen. We owe it to each other and to the integrity of the message we ceaselessly defend to treat each other with dignity, instead of reinforcing for the patriarchy messages of inadequacy, drama, or disdain.
I think of the woman in Nigeria who leads the youth group at church and works full time responding to terror attacks. Her conversion of faith isolated her from her own family and puts her at risk every time she delivers humanitarian aid. But she keeps on giving and fighting, because she is a woman of power.
I think of the Muslim student who wants to be a journalist when she grows up. She wants to tell the stories of her classmates – children born of Boko Haram fighters – and the power of freedom of religion or belief to heal seemingly unmendable divides.
I think of the Pakistani artist who is from a village where girls are not allowed to be educated, so she uses her thread to weave stories of freedom that she shares with the world.
I think of the Yazidi woman who is dedicating her life to help her own community, never seeking the spotlight, and always seeking the solution. Her sense of humor lights up the camps that she visits and reminds everyone what it means to be alive.
I think of the woman in Nepal who is the only female on her committee and yet she speaks with grace instead of ego, who is both inclusive and strategic, and most of all kind.
And then I think of what all these dedicated women can do together to defend freedom, to stop genocide, to hold government accountable, to prosecute perpetrators. Evil has so long been successful in convincing women she will never be good enough by constantly feeding the message that she is alone, inadequate, and powerless. When women fortify women, we dismantle evil and leave space for good to prevail.
During the Holocaust, women played a vital role in documenting the atrocities. When the first Nazi trials were held, women suggested that victims be directly involved in providing evidence for each case. Rachel Auerbach was particularly instrumental in providing sensitive and poignant ways to record testimonies during the Eichmann trial, the bellwether case for Holocaust justice. The world desperately needs the power of women.
As Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously said, “As women achieve power, the barriers will fall. As society sees what women can do, as women see what women can do, there will be more women out there doing things, and we’ll all be better off for it.”
There is a woman younger than you, admiring you from afar, and learning from your example – good or bad. Let’s show her what women can do to defend freedom of religion or belief. Let’s show her the power of womanhood and reclaim our stewardship as matriarchs of conscience and freedom.
Rachel Miner is the Founder and CEO of Bellwether International.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of FoRB Women’s Alliance.