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United Nations Development Programme
Enhancing the Role of Arab Women Religious Leaders in Promoting Social Cohesion
PSCAR - Promoting Social Cohesion in the Arab Region
Beirut - Lebanon
06 - 07 Nov 2018
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Beirut - Lebanon

Social cohesion represents the foundation for the development of sustainable and peaceful societies, where the economical, political and legal environment could guarantee to all citizens the access to basic social and economic rights and opportunities. However, this equal access is not possible in communities where gender inequality reigns and women do not have the same rights as men. 

In the Arab States region, women continue to face a range of limitations to their social and economic rights, due to discriminatory laws and institutions which disproportionately affects them. Even as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region closed over 60% of its overall gender gap in 2017, it still ranked second-to-last in the world on the Global Gender Gap Index.  As such, development organizations and governments must place women’s empowerment and gender equality initiatives at the forefront of social cohesion efforts in the Arab region.

Across the region, UNDP has already engaged in a number of initiatives to strengthen the ability of community influencers, including women and religious leaders, to promote social cohesion.  Its regional project “Promoting Social Cohesion in the Arab Region” (PSCAR) convened the first of a series of “Interreligious Dialogues on Diversity, Tolerance and Social Cohesion in the Arab Region” in November 2016.  The event, which was held in Amman, resulted in a series of concrete recommendations on how religious leaders from different backgrounds might work together to counter extremist narratives and promote social cohesion. 

However, despite these valuable initiatives on the roles of women and religious leaders in promoting social cohesion, the role of Arab women religious leaders in particular has not been fully explored. Meanwhile, more and more women in the Arab world are becoming leaders in faith traditions, in various positions and capacities.  This is in part the result of Arab citizens gradually becoming more accepting of women taking an active role in religious institutions, whether that be as preachers, writers in the field of spirituality and religious reform, professors of Sharia law, social justice activists, or journalists writing about interfaith dialogue.  In view of the rising prominence of women religious leaders and the gaps in knowledge surrounding their role in the Arab States region, this Concept Note proposes an initiative by UNDP’s Mosharaka and PSCAR to explore how the presence of women in religious institutions might contribute to advancing women’s rights, PVE, and promoting social cohesion. 

Since 2014, the regional Mosharaka project has worked to foster women’s and youth inclusive and effective participation in the public sphere, focusing on enhancing opportunities for meaningful contribution and leadership. The project aims to implement UNSCR 1325 and UNSCR 2250, which focus on the importance of women and youth in promoting and maintaining peace and security. Mosharaka has previously partnered with Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) and UN Women to address the role of women and youth in PVE in the Euro-Mediterranean region, resulting in the 2017 Barcelona Declaration. 

The PSCAR project, established in 2015, aims to promote social cohesion, with a focus on equal citizenship, trust among citizens, trust between citizens and states, and pluralistic acceptance. The project has previously invested in knowledge generation and exchange and advocated for mainstreaming social cohesion in policy and practice. On November 2, 2018, PSCAR will organize the second session of the “Interreligious Dialogues.” This session aims to stimulate further discussion on the role of religious leaders in promoting social cohesion in the Arab region. 

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Kawtar Zerouali
Manager, Mosharka Project
United Nations Development Programme
Regional Hub in Amman
11 Abu Baker Seraj Eddin, North Abdoun
Po Box 852303, Amman 11185, Jordan
Tel: +962 6 200 3178

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