Image courtesy of the WIC Facebook Page
Recently, the Women’s Interfaith Council (WIC), an association and network of women peacemakers in Kaduna state and Nigeria, organised a Round Table under the theme ‘If You Want Peace, Work for Justice, Promote Human Rights, Mutual Respect, and Freedom of Religion or Belief.’ This gathering brought together diverse stakeholders, including the Kaduna Peace Commission, students from various institutions, the Commissioner of Police, academia, Ministry of Justice, Religious and Traditional leaders (under the Joint Initiative for Strategic Religious Action – JISRA), and civil society actors.
This collaborative effort resulted in a series of recommendations and resolutions to advance peace in both Kaduna State and Nigeria. The exchange of ideas and experiences not only showcased the commitment of these stakeholders to peacebuilding but also highlighted the valuable contributions of the WIC in promoting interreligious dialogue and women’s meaningful participation in decision-making processes.
The following recommendations were made:
Dialogues, Interfaith Interactions, and Reconciliations:
Facilitating inclusive and constructive dialogues among community-level stakeholders, including traditional and religious leaders, women, and youth groups, emerges as a critical necessity to bring together diverse faiths and ethnicities for meaningful discussions. This approach effectively addresses grievances, establishes common ground, and facilitates sincere reconciliation, contributing to the healing of deep-seated wounds within communities across the state. To advance this initiative, the replication of successful dialogue tools like Interfaith Unity Parades and collective farming activities, as shared by JISRA actors in the Mashi community, is recommended to promote unity among various faiths and ethnic groups. Additionally, it is imperative to address inequalities and enhance the inclusion of women in decision-making processes through capacity-building and awareness creation. Drawing from the positive outcomes observed in the Kurmin Marshi community with the involvement of women in the traditional council, there is a suggestion for continuous awareness campaigns and capacity-building efforts, especially targeting religious and traditional leaders, to foster greater inclusion and participation of women and youth in decision-making processes.
Inter-Religious Peer Review and Religious Literacy:
The manipulation of religion for violent purposes has frequently overshadowed its positive potential for promoting non-violence, conflict transformation, the defence of human rights, reconciliation, and integrity in government. Acknowledging this issue, it is recommended that the Kaduna Peace Commission, in partnership with WIC, continue its commendable efforts in involving religious leaders and followers in religious peace education. This educational initiative aims to acquaint religious leaders and followers with their faith and that of others, employing methods such as inter-religious exchange visits and football competitions. These measures can potentially enhance mutual understanding and collaboration among different religious groups.
Peace, Security, and Youth Entrepreneurship:
The productive discussions held during the Round Table underscored that actively involving youth in entrepreneurship education and equipping them with relevant innovative and technological skills has led to positive youth engagement, increased independence, and improved employability. It is suggested that institutions, government bodies, NGOs, religious institutions, and the private sector collaborate to establish and maintain skill acquisition programs and centres tailored to market needs. Additionally, the government can contribute by facilitating the necessary infrastructure, such as providing land and streamlining the registration process for these facilities.
Raising of Children:
Inputs from participants during discussions affirmed that a considerable portion of gender-based violence originates from cultural, religious, and familial imbalances in the upbringing of children, favouring the boy child over the girl child. To address these disparities, the following recommendations were put forward: the creation of platforms like JISRA to facilitate collaboration among religious and traditional leaders in reviewing detrimental practices that bias the training and upbringing of children in favour of boys. Participants pledged to advocate for balanced parental upbringing within their families and engage with various stakeholders to mitigate the negative impact of unbalanced child upbringing, particularly for girls.
WIC also made resolutions to sustain its collaboration with schools, PTAs, as well as religious and traditional figures to develop a justice program for girls. Moreover, they aim to inspire other stakeholders to invest in and monitor the implementation of curricula in schools and other public spaces. WIC additionally commits to deepening its collaboration with religious and traditional actors and other stakeholders to counteract the harmful indoctrination of youth promoting animosity toward one another.
Education for National Integration and Respect for Freedom of Religion and Belief:
Education, as a fundamental right for all, should be directed towards national integration and the promotion of freedom of religion and belief. Beyond the emphasis on literacy, education plays a crucial role in teaching individuals to coexist, aligning with UNESCO’s principle of “learning to live together.” This involves establishing a learning environment that values diversity in terms of beliefs and culture. A significant framework for managing this diversity is already in place through the tertiary education admission policy, which takes into account the 36 states and the FCT, aiming to encourage national integration across various cultures, ethnicities, and religions.
The commitment to national integration extends to the general study course (GST), particularly in Nigerian Peoples and Culture, typically administered at the faculty level. Additionally, there are ongoing efforts to develop curricula on inter-religious dialogue and conflict resolution in tertiary institutions. To fortify this positive learning environment, it is recommended that the Kaduna State Ministry of Education collaborates with KASU to uphold the long-standing tradition of allocating places of worship within tertiary institutions to Protestant, Catholic, and Muslim chaplaincies, contrasting with the current situation. There is a resolution to support the Ministry of Education and KASU in ensuring that necessary infrastructure, both in terms of content and structures, is provided and maintained to promote and respect diversity. This approach aims to convey a sense of inclusivity in the administration of academic institutions.
Human Rights Awareness and Prosecution of Offenders:
The safeguarding of human rights encounters challenges due to the burden of proof, evident in a lack of awareness and reluctance or fear to report human rights violations openly. Although individuals may express grievances on social media, there is often hesitancy to step forward and assert their rights without the fear of intimidation. The invocation of religious principles, particularly forgiveness, in the face of human rights violations tends to empower wrongdoers. When perpetrators go unpunished, establishing a secure society becomes challenging.
In response to these issues, participants have resolved to undertake continuous public awareness campaigns on human rights. This strategic initiative aims to enhance citizens’ confidence in seeking justice, addressing the reluctance to voice out against violations and contributing to the establishment of a just and safe society.
Social Media Vices and Mass Media Responsibilities:
Social media, with its extensive reach, has unfortunately been misused to disseminate fake news, hate speeches, and violent extremism. Nevertheless, it holds the potential to serve as a platform for constructive dialogue, sustainable peace, and human rights awareness. In response to this dual nature, a resolution has been made to engage with social media actors, enlightening them on the societal and personal benefits that can result from utilising these platforms positively. The aim is to encourage the creation of responsible and constructive content, transforming social media into a force for positive change and enlightenment.
Building on the commitment and gains achieved through sustainable peace initiatives, there is a crucial shift of focus towards necessary socio-economic and Christian development. Collective actions have created a conducive environment where investments in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and economic opportunities can significantly enhance the lives of the people. Recognizing this, there is an advocacy for continued efforts and collaboration to ensure that the dividends of peace manifest as tangible improvements in the overall well-being of the community.
Expressing gratitude to the funding partners of the JISRA project in Kaduna and Plateau State, Nigeria, is paramount. Their encouragement and support in capacity-building, lobbying, and advocacy have played a vital role in the progress achieved. Acknowledging the critical support from the international community, there is an emphasis on the importance of sustained assistance to consolidate the gains made and address ongoing challenges. Maintaining robust partnerships with international stakeholders is crucial to further enhance peacebuilding efforts.
Commitment to Long-Term Peace:
While significant progress has been made, the journey towards long-term peace continues. To ensure that accomplishments are preserved and expanded upon, there must be an unwavering commitment to the principles of dialogue, tolerance, and partnerships. Embracing these values enables navigating the complexities of peacebuilding and contributes to the creation of a stable and harmonious society.
In conclusion, profound gratitude was extended to all parties who participated in the round table discussions, as well as the resilient citizens of Kaduna State who have experienced stress due to various insecurities and violent conflicts. Together, we now have the opportunity to collaboratively build a peaceful and successful future. Guided by the ideals of peace and reconciliation, let us move forward as a united community, dedicated to creating a brighter future for ourselves and future generations.
In May 2010, the Women’s Interfaith Council (WIC), a powerful forum uniting Muslim and Christian women’s associations, was established in Kaduna, Nigeria. Founded by Sr. Kathleen McGarvey OLA, the WIC, also known as the Interfaith Forum of Muslim and Christian Women’s Association, strives to promote peace and stability. Led by Sr. Veronica Onyeanisi OLA, with Mrs. Elisabeth Abuk as the Christian Coordinator and Hajiya Daharatu Ahmed Aliyu as the Muslim Coordinator, the WIC consists of leaders from faith groups at diocesan or state levels.
The Women’s Interfaith Council (WIC), a dynamic forum comprising Muslim and Christian women’s associations, was established in May 2010 and has consistently demonstrated remarkable growth. Sr. Kathleen McGarvey OLA played a pivotal role as a founding member. Also recognized as the Interfaith Forum of Muslim and Christian Women’s Association, the WIC was created with the primary objective of fostering collaboration among women of faith associations. Their collective mission is to contribute to the establishment of peace and stability in Kaduna, Nigeria, with a specific focus on addressing issues related to conflict, poverty, insecurity, and vulnerability.
Currently led by Sr. Veronica Onyeanisi OLA as the Executive Director, the WIC benefits from the guidance of Mrs. Elisabeth Abuk as the Christian Coordinator and Hajiya Daharatu Ahmed Aliyu as the Muslim Coordinator. Notably, all women attending WIC meetings hold leadership positions within their respective faith groups at either diocesan or state levels.