Campus News

March 29, 2011

Report From: The Carter Center

Moving the needle on women's rights

Deborah Hakes is assistant director of The Carter Center's Office of Public Information

From April 3-6, community and human rights leaders and scholars will gather at The Carter Center to discuss the key challenges that women's rights activists face and effective ways to work with religious, traditional and government institutions to advance the protection of these rights.

"The idea came out of a speech that [former] President [Jimmy] Carter gave to the Parliament of World Religions in 2009 where he challenged people of faith and religious leaders to step up and to stand for women's rights," says Karin Ryan, director of the Carter Center's Human Rights Program. "We hope to create a dialogue among activists, religious leaders, community members and people of faith who believe that human dignity is a key precept."

Though the women's human rights movement has made enormous strides in many societies, many religious and traditional institutions are failing to lead their communities away from discrimination, oppression and violence against women, despite the profound influence of these institutions at the local level.

Success in Senegal

One notable success has taken place in Senegal, where the organization Tostan has successfully worked with local religious and traditional leaders to eliminate female genital cutting and other violence against women in more than 6,000 villages. Tostan representatives will lead a discussion at the forum on April 5.

Other participants will talk about their work to interpret the law and religious traditions in favor of women's rights, to combat honor killings and to fight trafficking in countries from Morocco to Malaysia to the United States.

With the protests that are occurring across the Middle East and North Africa, the forum is also a timely opportunity to discuss how women's rights can be advanced as part of what many have called the "dignity revolution."

"We're excited to be hosting this gathering right now, just as these transformations are happening all over the world," says Ryan. "This is a chance for us to consider how women are affected and how to make sure that the dialogue around women's issues is included."

Keynote speakers will include Carter and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

Preceding the formal conference, two days of workshops will cover key challenges, such as advancing theological understandings in favor of women's rights, the role of women in political and other forms of leadership, technologies and information-sharing platforms, and networking and global solidarity.

The formal conference on April 5-6 will be webcast live at, and select portions will be tweeted by Carter Center staff. Follow our twitter feed @CarterCenter and join in the discussion at #WomenandRights11.

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