Podcast: The Public Discourse

Episode 3: The Role of Religion in Eradicating Violence Against Women

This is an edited conversation among panelists who spoke about the role of religion in eradicating violence against women, hosted by the Bahá’í Community of Canada’s Office of Public Affairs in partnership with the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, the Stop Violence Against Women coordinating committee of Perth County, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.

Read the Transcript

This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity

This is the third episode of season three of The Public Discourse, which has been devoted to exploring aspects of the vision of oneness presented by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – the son of the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith – who passed away 100 years ago.

One of the principles of the Bahá’í Faith is the fundamental equality of women and men, and this was a theme ‘Abdu’l-Bahá frequently emphasized in his writings and public talks.

This episode of The Public Discourse features a live conversation between several guests who spoke at a webinar organized by the Bahá’í Community of Canada’s Office of Public Affairs, in partnership with several other civil society groups to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The speakers examine the role of religion in the elimination of violence against women. We hope you enjoy the conversation.

AFSOON HOUSHIDARI (Host): Dear friends, welcome to today's panel. I'm delighted to welcome so many of you here today to delve into the timely question of the role of religion in eradicating violence against women.

This event is hosted by the Office of Public Affairs of the Bahá'í Community of Canada. In addition, four organizations have supported it: the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, the Stop Violence Against Women coordinating committee of Perth County, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and the Canadian Council of Muslim Women. 

My name is Afsoon Houshidari and I will be acting as your moderator today. I work as legal counsel for the federal government; initially at the Department of Justice and now with the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Though these days I have the privilege of being a full-time mother to our 12-month-old daughter.

The impact of the pandemic has been far reaching in our lives, but one of its blessings is that we can all gather together from many different places. I would like to acknowledge the land on which I stand today; the treaty lands and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, in particular the Anishinaabek, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee, and the Ojibwe Chippewa peoples. I am grateful to welcome you from this land.

The word religion comes from the Latin 'religio', which means to link, or to connect. So this afternoon we will consider how this binding together of people, of men and women, of the human and the divine, can contribute to eradicating one of the greatest ills plaguing society today; violence against women.

The elimination of this great injustice cannot be achieved through changes in law and policy alone. Those are things that are themselves informed by the cultures, attitudes, and beliefs of the people who together form our society. And it is religion that informs these attitudes and behaviors so strongly for so many.

So let us delve deep today through the insights of our distinguished panelists into the following questions: Guided by the belief that the equality of men and women is not only a desirable social condition, but also a spiritual truth, how can religious communities contribute to rethinking the underlying causes of violence against women? Also, what can faith communities do to be agents of change when it comes to the eradication of violence? And finally, how can faith communities promote approaches of thinking about the family unit in which men and women work as equal partners?

These questions will be illuminated by four panelists, each of whom brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to us today. They are Rabbi Debra Landsberg of Temple Emanu-El and executive team member of the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus; Nuzhat Jafri, Executive Director of the Canadian Council of Muslim women; Thea Symonds, coordinator of the Stop Violence Against Women coordinating committee; And Jennifer Moore Rattray, chief operating officer at the Southern Chiefs' Organization, prior to which she was Executive Director of the historic National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

A final word before I turn it over to the speakers, and it is this. The timing of our gathering is auspicious. We are here on the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women; a day when the peoples of the world turn their attention to this important cause. Our event also comes only a few days away from the 100th anniversary of the passing of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the Son of the Prophet Founder of the Bahá'í Faith.

'Abdu'l-Bahá's life was dedicated to the principle of the oneness of humanity, of which an indispensable element is the equality of the sexes. When 'Abdu'l-Bahá was in Montreal in 1912, He spoke of this equality and how it will only be when men and women are given equal rights and opportunities that humanity will achieve true felicity and peace.

And now I will turn it over to our speakers, each of whom will share their thoughts for about five to seven minutes.

So without further ado, I invite our first speaker Rabbi Debra Landsberg to take the floor.

RABBI DEBRA LANDSBERG: I do want to thank you before I start. It is both an honour to be here… I can't say it's a full pleasure because I wish we didn't have this cause for us to gather and to be together. 

So I want to start with the big picture, from where I sit. And there is a rabbinic story that the Jewish people have within our tradition about God seeking to create humanity and the angels arguing about whether humanity should even be made at all. And the Angel of Kindness says, "Yes. Humans will be kind." But the Angel of Truth said, "No. Humans will lie." Angel of Justice said, "The humans will be just." But the Angel of Peace said, "No. Humans would create such strife."

And I start from a place that wants to acknowledge the messy complexity of our humanity, and to recognize the way in which our faith traditions, however diverse they are, I think they call us to act from our best or better selves. 

And I also want to start with that large picture of simply acknowledging the power of our traditions in our communities to fundamentally shape what we believe, and how we think, and how we act; because for most of us, I believe it's within the framework of our faith communities, and traditions, and teachings, that we understand our place in the world; our role in it. 

So starting here in this conversation, as we look at the question, is so vital. And I also want to start by acknowledging the reality of violence against women.

I'll start within the Jewish community. I think it could be especially hard to acknowledge in a minority community - that doesn't want to look bad, that's concerned about how others look upon it - to acknowledge that this is a reality in the lives of too many; within my community at the very least.

So how is it our traditions can help shape us? I think there's so many aspects to it. And what we believe is so much based on what sources we choose to turn to. Within, say, the tradition that I come from, there are sources I can lift up, and there are sources I can let go of or just put aside in the corner. The very story of the creation of humanity and Adam and Eve there is an understanding from well over a thousand years ago that says, oh, in fact it wasn't Eve made as a helpmate to Adam, but that humanity in our very self was created as a form of almost a hermaphroditic being, as male and female, as one equal creature; and the creation was a splitting.

And why do I mention that? Our texts shape how we look at the question and finding those texts that give us the ability to look differently at the role and the relationship between men, and women, and gender, and all of that. We have painful texts that are hurtful, and then we have texts that can feel so liberating and which we choose to share in our communities and to teach.

And what we think about the question of violence against women - and more than that, whether we think about it at all - I think is one of the key roles of faith communities. Because we either speak about it as a question that's vital to our communities and our communal health - let alone our individual health or whether we're silent about it.

And I guess I also want to say, whether it's only women who talk about it, or whether we, all of our identities within our community, speak about it, impacts how we understand it, impacts what we think about it; whether it is vital, whether it's trivial, whether it's just a women's issue.

I know the question within the Jewish community is how do we respond when we know it exists? And there are public questions. Do we give communal honours to people we know if they're committing violence within their private lives in their home? Do we take our communal resources and fund groups and support that's needed for those who need to escape violence, for those who need to learn ways other than violence? We allow people to make changes without shame because I think we know in our larger community it’s so hard to find support. And we have, as a community, I think an obligation to take that on and not turn it over only to the secular government around us, but to understand this is something we want to speak within our own language and our own framework

AFSOON: Thank you very much Rabbi Debra Landsberg for your comments really underlying the humility and openness that we need to take to this conversation to confronting these issues, particularly within our own communities. I would like to now turn the floor to our next speaker who is Nuzhat Jafri from the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.

NUZHAT JAFRI: Thank you so much for inviting us to participate in this discussion today. It is on the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women that we are gathering to tackle this topic. And not that differently from what Rabbi Landsberg was saying, our faith is also based on the principles of equality between men and women and the principle of justice. 

So doing justice to all is a premise for our lives in Islam, and what's interesting is that whenever God is addressing his creations, he is always addressing believing men and believing women; men and women. So there's this sort of balance that he's not just talking to men about certain things he's saying; believing men and believing women. And the only thing that God says that distinguishes Him from - actually, distinguishes one human being from another - is their righteousness and their belief in Him. 

So it's interesting that the premise is equality and justice, but unfortunately like many faith traditions - and many other non-faith communities as well, because, as we know, violence against women and girls doesn't just happen in particular communities, it's pervasive in our society - so what we've found is that when we're tackling this topic, we think it's very important to engage the entire community in discussions about it to prevent it, to eradicate it. And I'm going to give you an example of what we did to ensure that happened.

So we undertook a project actually that focused on engaging men and boys to end violence in the family. And as with all CCMW projects - that's the Canadian Council of Muslim Women projects - we begin with an Islamic perspective on the issue, and then move to legal policy and programmatic and service considerations to help women deal with particular situations or policymakers to deal with it, and so on.

So as part of our engaging men and boys project, we commissioned research by two Islamic scholars - Professor Ayesha Chaudhry and Professor Rumee Ahmed at UBC - and published the ensuing document; it's called Islamic Perspective on Engaging Men and Boys to End Violence in the Family.

What the research illustrates is a distortion of interpretation of religious texts and traditional practices that are sometimes used to justify violence and in equitable treatment of women in some families, even though their scriptures are clear about treatment of men and women being equitable and just.

 There are lots of other tools that were developed for that engagement, but this is an issue that we've been dealing with ever since we began. 

Anyway, I know that I've probably taken up more time than was allocated to me, but there's a lot more to talk about so I let the next speaker take their place, and then we'll come back if you have any questions. Thank you.

AFSOON: Thank you very much Ms. Jafri for your comments highlighting the importance of the inclusion and involvement of men and boys in our communities in order to reach our goal, the eradication of violence against women; that it is not just a women's issue or something that women alone have to tackle. Thank you for your comments highlighting that point.

I'd like to turn it over to our next speaker who is Ms. Thea Symonds, who is the coordinator of the Stop Violence Against Women coordinating committee. Thea please go ahead. Thank you.

THEA SYMONDS: Thank you, I just also want to say I'm very honoured and happy to be here with you all. Also wanted to share that I'm not on behalf of any agency I work with or the Bahá'í Community, rather that I'm coming from a feminist anti-oppressive anti-racist framework from my education and experience working in the violence against women sector, which also practically and idealistically aligned with my beliefs of the principles of humanity's oneness and equality of the sexes, which is directly informed by the Bahá'í Faith.

So what I wanted to say on this question is when the standards and priorities of society shift focus away from the development of virtues, and when spiritual virtues are not a part of our regular discourse, it can become more difficult to lay that foundation for attitudes which uphold the rights of all members of society. For what happens instead is that those who are able to assimilate to that society's norms, including through coercion and dominance, are valued more highly than those who are unable to do so. And oftentimes that people, women, are treated as weaker or as objects, both of which deny them that respect that everyone deserves. 

And we know that in order to prevent violence against women, we need to first consider what the underlying causes of that violence are. We cannot just look at the acts of violence or the effects which are evident and obvious - but rather that the underlying conceptions power as it relates to gender identity and the systemic disadvantages and cultural patterns placed on women and girls that leave them at a higher risk of experiencing violence in their lives.

The perpetuation of this violence against any one group in our society is an outcome from a larger disease; that's a lack of spiritual values - that violence against women is a symptom of a society that lacks in spiritual values. This social ill will not be resolved by simply supporting all survivors or sheltering all those affected and out-casting those who have perpetuated the violence. We need to confront this social ill and re-design our social fabric to be conducive to reducing that violence and enhancing preventative measures and protection for women. We have to build sustainable integrative structures that can both protect women from violence, and eliminate those conditions that have been allowing that violence to continue. In order to do that, the hearts and the minds of people living within, working within, and building the structures of society, need to be changed.

In the Bahá'í Faith, we view the essential value of women and men to be the same in the eyes of God. For where the only differences really are in achievement and aptitude between the genders throughout history; of being a product of that continued oppression and denial of opportunities. So when religious communities focus on strengthening that spiritual and moral value from a very young age, and can encourage people through all phases of life to allow the higher nature - their higher selves, their moral compass - to guide them, rather than allowing their lower nature, which can lead them to the unhealthy acts of greed, and power, and control, then a foundation of character will be strengthened where people will choose to equally and equitably treat each other with kindness, compassion, and respect.

AFSOON: Thank you very much Thea Symonds for those insightful comments about really looking at the underlying causes of violence against women and how we can redesign our social fabric to put greater emphasis on spiritual values that can help to minimize those underlying causes. Thank you very much.

And so with that I will turn it to our last speaker for the event who is miss Jennifer Moore Rattray, chief operating officer at the Southern Chiefs' Organization. Jennifer please.

JENNIFER MOORE RATTRAY: Thank you so much Afsoon and thank you so much to my amazing co-panelists who are giving me lots of things to think about. I'm just so appreciative. 

I am really pleased to be with you today. I acknowledge that I am here on Treaty 1 territory in the heart of the Métis nation in Winnipeg, Manitoba - so the centre of Turtle Island - and that wherever you are virtually, that we are all gathered on sacred land.

I'm a really proud citizen ofBeardy’s and Okemasis’Cree Nation in Saskatchewan with roots in Northern Manitoba. And I'm also, as was mentioned, really proud to be the chief operating officer with Southern Chiefs' Organization. We represent 34 Anishinaabe and Dakota nations in what is now Southern Manitoba, and it's really a joy to do the work I do.

I was also honoured, as was mentioned, to be the former executive director of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls for the last 14 months of the Inquiry. And that definitely was an honour.

We've been asked to speak today about the role of religion in eradicating violence against women, and I think the word religion is a really interesting one as a First Nations woman. Many First Nations people would follow traditional ways which would not be defined as religion per se. For many of us the sacred is in everything we do all day, and we would connect with our creator through smudging with one of the sacred medicines; so, tobacco; I've got some sage here; also cedar and sweet grass. So those are four of our most sacred medicines. So that's how we would connect with the Creator, and really, in every interaction that we would have through the day. Many of us would also attend a sweat lodge and other ceremonies depending on where we're from and whether we are Anishinaabe, or Dakota, or Cree, or Dene, or Mi'kmaq, or Blackfoot, or anything else. 

Definitely some First Nations people have converted to Christianity and to any and all of the other major world religions. A number of First Nations peoples would definitely appreciate elements of both traditional ways and also Christianity, as an example, and sort of blend the two.

I think the simple answer to the question about the role of religion in eradicating violence against women is that we all have a responsibility. But in particular I would say faith communities that should recognize and proclaim to recognize that every human being is sacred, and that violence is against everything that is sacred.

So it is true that the eradication of violence against women requires not only changes in law and policy, but more fundamentally, those changes at the level of culture and attitudes and beliefs. The Southern Chiefs' Organization recognizes that all Indigenous women and girls are sacred. That they are mothers, and daughters, and sisters, and cousins, and aunties, and grandmothers, and granddaughters, wives, partners, and friends, and also leaders.

Traditionally, women were valued in our communities, yet today due to colonization, and racism, and gender discrimination, First Nations women disproportionately face tragic and life-threatening gender-based violence. No one knows for sure how many Indigenous women and girls have been murdered or have gone missing in Canada. There are estimates of between three-to-four thousand. I suspect the number is much higher. And we're also, if we're talking about violence, obviously those numbers go up exponentially. We do know that Indigenous women and girls makeup only 4% of the population and are disproportionately more likely to be murdered or go missing than any other women in Canada. So simply being Indigenous and female is in itself a risk.

 For First Nations people it's not so much about a new culture and developing a new culture together, but more about returning to our culture, and our languages, and our traditional ways that many of us lost through the residential school system in that 150 year process. Where, back to a time where women were respected, and held positions of power, and as life givers were leaders and made decisions in the best interest of our communities.

So how can religious communities contribute to rethinking the underlying causes of violence against women, and what can faith communities do to be agents of change in this respect? Well, for many people, their faith community is a place of strength, and a place of inquiry, and also a place of reflection and self-reflection; a place of the spirit. So it can be, and I think it needs to be, a safe place for religious and spiritual leaders to initiate those difficult discussions with their entire congregation or population, but also specifically as well with men who are primarily and statistically the perpetrators of violence.

We have all heard the expression "hurt people 'hurt' people", well, often male perpetrators have themselves been victims of violence. Certainly that is the case in my community. Now to be very clear, this behavior should never be condoned, but to be addressed. We do need to provide places for men to heal and for men to understand that their masculinity is not dependent on control and violence.

Now I know here in Manitoba, from my time as an assistant deputy minister with the province, that there were I think two or three programs in total, and only one that I know of that did not have a waiting list for men who do not want to harm, or want to learn not to harm, their spouse or partner. And Manitoba is not the exception. And we do find, as a society, we find what we care about, we find what we prioritize. I think we need to prioritize this.

We often hear about the need for more shelters and traditional houses and programs for women wanting to escape violence - which is so critical and we continuously and strongly advocate for this - but there's also a huge need in Manitoba and across Canada, but at the same time we also need to provide this programming and support for men who want to change but don't know how.

At the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, we were asked to look into the very same questions that the panel is talking about today. You know, what is the root cause of the violence and what are the solutions? And during a two-and-a-half-year process, family members and survivors shared their truths; experts and knowledge keepers testified; we receive literally thousands of recommendations from parties with standing. And again, what did all of this evidence tell us? Well, that violence is fundamentally entrenched as a result of ongoing colonization in our systems and structures in Canada, in our religious systems and structures in Canada, and in Canadian society as a whole.

The National Inquiry's final report really holds up a mirror to Canada, and our report delivered more than 230 calls for justice and we've got them all in a handy little booklet here for everybody. But while the National Inquiry was of course specific to the disproportionate violence againstFirst Nations, Métis, Inuit, women, girls and 2S LGBTQIA+ people, its recommendations will make Canada safer place for all women and all girls.

So, as I wrap up, my continuing prayer is that this national tragedy will end and that all women and all girls will be safe, and that we can make Canada the country that was meant to be. We all have a role to play, especially faith communities, in coming together like we are today, challenging the status quo. Let us stand up, let us speak up against violence wherever and whenever we witness it. Let us advocate together and create the programs, and the services, and the supports that are needed. We all have a right to safety, to security, and to human dignity. So, all my relations. Thank you.

AFSOON: Thank you very much Jennifer Moore Rattray for your comments and really highlighting the unique position of Indigenous women and girls in this country, and the challenges that they face in terms of violence against this half of the population, but also against this small minority who is disproportionately affected.

Thank you very much for all of your comments, all of the panelists. It is now an opportunity for all of the participants to put forward any questions that they may have for our panelists. Some questions have already come in, so as we wait for more, as people are very welcome to share their questions. We will begin with the ones that we have.

A few of them deal with patriarchy and the historical role that patriarchy has had in leading to the position that we're in in terms of the prevalence of violence against women. I wonder if any of the panelists have a comment on how we see patriarchy as one of the underlying causes of violence against women, and what we can do about that? Whether through our faith communities individually, or with faith communities working with one another, or considering the position of society as a whole. I will let any of the panelists who wish to jump in.

JENNIFER: We're all so polite. I'll be very quick. I'll just say very quickly I think patriarchy is something that was really inherent in Western European culture, and so with colonization over the last 500 years patriarchy has been exported around the world to all the continents of the world. So I absolutely agree patriarchy is really in large part the root of the problem. I think we really need to decolonize because of that. I really think we need to question because of that. And really as racialized peoples, as Indigenous peoples, reclaim our traditional ways of being which do not involve patriarchy. I'll leave it there for the others. But, my quick comment.

NUZHAT: Can I go next? So I actually agree with Jennifer that a lot of the infusion of patriarchy, and I would say misogyny, did come through colonization. Because you know some of the earliest stories about the Prophet indicate that he was inclusive. He included women to lead prayers. There's a very famous story about someone [who] was invited to lead prayers. Everybody thinks only a man can do that for instance.

And I don't know if you know this but the first university ever established in the Muslim world once Muslims were present, actually was established by a woman. So there's a tradition of learning. There's a tradition of equity and sharing responsibilities. And while originally in Islam the roles were complimentary, well in today's context they're equal; they provide different kinds of sustenance to the family. But it started with some role definitions, but they were not inferior or superior, they were specific roles based on all kinds of things; anatomy being one of them. So I think it's really interesting how these concepts have taken over our psyche now and we believe that men can only head things, or that men are the problem solvers and that will take care of, you know, families. And this is true again in all communities, not just ours. 

DEBRA: And if I also have the space to speak to this. I want to honour and acknowledge, and I appreciate, how this has been spoken up; the question of patriarchy so far. And I also want to share that Jewishly my heart is racing because there is a tradition from within Christian feminism in the 70's and 80's onward that holds the Jewish people accountable for patriarchy on the large religious lens. When God, when the male God, killed the goddesses. And there is, from where I sit, the easy potential for… Or I've experienced the anti-Jewish animus that can come through in religious language around patriarchy. And that's not what I've heard from the co-panelists. I appreciate the difference, but I felt the need as well to acknowledge this, because the question of the language we use around our understanding of the source of life is variedwithin traditions, let alone between different traditions. And this language around patriarchy within the Jewish tradition, when it comes theologically, is one that's been thrown at Jews, at Jewish feminists, in a way that I wanted to acknowledge.

AFSOON: Thea, please go ahead. 

THEA: Thank you. I just wanted to contribute to that same [thought]. As we all know that in many societies, boys are taught in one sense that girls need to be subservient, but at the same time that power of expression which women have cultivated relating to emotional matters has not been inculcatedin boys and men. And this leaves that false dichotomy of believing that violence is a useful and an acceptable tool for achieving whatever outcome they desire. But when girls are given that opportunity to be educated themselves and to advance their confidence, and their capacity is strengthened and allows them to be more effective contributors to their society; and that when, on the other side, when boys see this, when boys see girls being educated, being included, being advanced, they also see how girls are valued in that community. And that can happen in a family and in a faith community as well. 

So they begin too to model the ways that these girls are being respected, and empowered, and esteemed. So, I think that's where villages and faith communities have such a vital role in providing that spiritual education that's aligned with the equality of women and men, and that inherent morality latent in each person, that they have an important role to play in being that exemplar for people to turn to when they're structuring their families and societies. Especially when all around us are these patterns of social ills and aspects of a disintegrating society, including patriarchy. These faith communities can be that pillar of strength, exuding what a community free from gender-based violence and aligned with the oneness and equality at its core, what that can do. Thank you.

AFSOON: Thank you very much. We have another question that asks about a concrete best practice. There are so many, and the panelists have shared many suggestions from the Rabbi's initial comments about the courage and humility it takes to bring up these issues within our own communities to make changes without shame; from also in terms of really concrete things like polygamy or divorce, how to deal with these issues so that we don't perpetuate violence; in terms of fostering spiritual values that will really get at the root causes of such violence; and also Jennifer talks about the leaders initiating these difficult conversations, and of course, among the 230 calls for action - I'm sure there are many that are concrete that that deal with this - but I'm going to give the panelists the very difficult task of perhaps choosing one really best practice that we could highlight.

Perhaps each of you, if you have one, can share one, and I think that will bring us close to the end of our panel. So hopefully I've talked to enough to let you have a moment to think about your best practice and I'll turn it over to whoever would like to go first.

JENNIFER: I can now. I can go first. And I think the best practice- a foundational practice in our community that really, the First Nation community, my community has been through so much trauma with the residential schools; with the day schools; the 60's scoop; the CFS system, child and family services system, which has become the new residential school in terms of impact. So I think the most healing thing that I've seen, or best practice that's really foundational to everything else is, for so many in my community, is going back to nature, going back to the land, going back to traditional practices, going back to places that heal us. 

And you know science is just starting to catch up with all of that, but the healing power of being near water, the healing power of being on the land, the healing power of trees, the healing power being out in nature, and I think, you know, that may seem simplistic - and I know I've talked about the programs and services that I think we needed. There's some amazing ideas about multi-faith groups of women working together, which I love. But I think, at the root of it, each one of us is only as good as our own level of healing, and each of us, and in each of our communities, have been through incredibly horrendous things. You know, I'll leave it there; incredibly horrendous difficulty.

So I think for us to maintain our health, our spiritual health, and for us to be able to, as communities, to be able to move to a world where there isn't violence, takes healing. And so for me, it is going back to the land and went back to nature. I hold my hands up to all of you today, and to all of you who are with us virtually. 

AFSOON: Thank you. That is very profound indeed; simple but profound. And Thea, you wanted to chime in.

THEA: Yes, thank you. So, as we know, eradicating violence against women, many things are needed; like, community and social services need to expand to include holistic approaches for supporting families experiencing violence, and perpetuating violence, and the justice system needs to evolve, and voices of survivors of people with lived experience of violence need to be included an integrated in that prevention work, and collaboration between these systems need to be implemented at all levels - there are so many things that I could go on and on, but what I think is truly required to make a difference in any of these views is the character of the people who are putting forth such efforts. And this is where, again, faith communities can be agents of change in helping to strengthen and construct societies that are free from gender-based violence by changing how people view and treat one another.

So our faiths and our religions can connect us to that purpose in life and help us to identify who we truly are as moral and spiritual beings. And from the Bahá'í Faith we know that there is capacity of education in transforming people which can really uplift mankind. So if we know that the sexes are inherently equal, and we have this idea of gender equality which also aligns with that principle of the oneness of mankind, then these faith communities can really help people learn about issues that are hindering the equality of women and men, including stereotyping gender roles and accepting violence as a form of conflict resolution, and to learn about the conditions that will actually enhance gender equality. And with these understandings, then we can build our capacity; both individually, and as a community, to respond to violence against women.

AFSOON: Thank you Thea for really underscoring the role of religious communities in educating those who are part of our communities and outside of our communities; the impact of education in transforming attitudes, beliefs, ways of thought, really cannot be overestimated. Did anyone else wants to chime in? Okay, we've got one minute left.

NUZHAT: I'm going to be quick. So in my opening remarks I talked about engaging men and boys to end violence in the family or gender-based violence; that's critical. Men and boys are allies. Treat them as allies. You know, knowing that most congregations are led by men still, the Imams, engage them, invite them to your events, educate them about the issues. And one of the most effective ways is for women to tell their own stories about what has happened to them. And when they hear them they relate to them in a very human way, and understand, and empathize, and want to do something about it. So treat men, and boys, and our religious or spiritual leaders, as allies.

DEBRA: Let me just say yes! 

AFSOON: Please, go ahead.

DEBRA: Anything I would have wanted to say has already been given voice to with such power, and poetry, and passion. So yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

AFSOON: Indeed! I echo that. Thank you Rabbi. Yeah, we've had really a lot of insightful comments, and questions as well, and I know we could talk about this for hours but sadly our time has come to an end. It's amazing how fast time flies when you're talking about this important topic with our wonderful speakers and how slowly time can pass and in other instances; especially in moments of such violence. So I would really like to honour the women and girls who have been the subject of our conversation today.

It's wonderful for us to come together in peace and with love to discuss this, but, as we said at the outset, it is really one of the greatest injustices in our society, and it is the hope of myself, and I'm sure everyone here, that we have taken a step forward today, in our own small way, through this panel discussion to the continuing eradication of violence against women.

So with that, I would like to thank our speakers Rabbi Debra Landsberg, Nuzhat Jafri, Thea Symonds, Jennifer Moore Rattray. I would like to thank the supportive organizations of this event: the Southern Chiefs' Organization, Stop Violence Against Women coordinating committee, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.

I would also like to thank the events host the Office of Public Affairs of the Bahá'í Community of Canada, and if you would like more information on that office you can visit 

And I would like to thank all of you, the participants, for attending, for being part of the conversation through the questions. And while we are, still, are in the zoom format, I can feel the energy of the group nonetheless. Maybe insights and understandings we've gained this afternoon illuminates the rest of our day, and indeed the rest of our lives. So with that I thank you all very much and wish you a wonderful day. Goodbye.