Chiang Mai Declaration

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The Chiang Mai Declaration:

Religion and Women: An Agenda for Change


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We, the participants in this conference on women and religion, recognize that contemporary realities have tragic consequences for women’s lives. Without a commitment to women’s human rights and to the resolution of these tragedies, religions are failing the world. Their own relevance is at stake as they become more and more isolated from the values and needs of their members.

It is urgent that religions address these realities. Religions must be consonant with the cultural evolution in which we are all immersed. Religions must no longer tolerate violence against women. Women are alienated from religions that do. We are committed to working towards change, and we call on others, women and men, to join in this task.

  • I. **Women and Globalization: Problem and Promise*
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We live in a time of rapid change that provides both challenges and opportunities. This change has profound effects on all our lives.

Our globalized world is ravaged by armed conflict, increasing economic disparity, the feminization of poverty, massive displacement of peoples, violence against women, the pandemic of HIV and AIDS, enduring racism, and extremism—all of which generate a climate of deep fear and widespread insecurity. Globalized capitalism has reduced everything to a commodity and everyone to a consumer and commodity. Nowhere is this more evident than in the lives of women:

– Women’s and children’s bodies are commodified, especially in sexual trafficking.

– Increasingly, HIV and AIDS have a woman’s face.

– Women and children disproportionately populate the camps of refugees and displaced persons.

– Women make up the greater proportion of exploited laborers.

– Pressures of the globalized economy have led to even greater violence against women and children.

Globalization, however, also bears the promise and possibilities of advancing women’s human rights and well-being:

– More women in more places can be gainfully and justly employed.

– Information technology can enable women throughout the world to share strategies, successes, and hope.

  • II. **Women and Religions: Problem and Promise*
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Religions at their best celebrate the dignity of each human being and of all life as valuable parts of a sacred whole. They inspire and empower us to compassion and justice.

Religions, however, have not always been at their best. They have collaborated with dehumanizing values of cultural, economic and political powers. Thus they have contributed to the suffering of women:

– They have made women invisible by denying them religious education and excluding them from decision-making .

– They have been silent when patriarchal systems have legitimated the violence, abuse, and exploitation of women by men.

– This silence has been deafening in the face of such atrocities as rape, incest, female genital mutilation, sex-selective abortion, and discrimination against sexual minorities.

– They have not recognized the conscience and moral agency of women, especially in relation to their sexuality and reproductive decisions.

But religions can and must do better. They must reclaim their core values of justice, dignity, and compassion and apply these values to women. We reached consensus that:

A. Within the religions, women’s religious literacy should be recognized and fostered. Women are:

– _Students: _Just as education of women is today understood to be critical in transforming the world, so providing women with religious education is critical in transforming religion. Women seek religious education at both basic and advanced levels. They should be welcomed.

– _Scholars: _In spite of obstacles, women have developed as religious scholars. That scholarship is an essential resource for the overall development of our understanding of religion. It should be promoted.

– _Teachers: _Male religious leaders and students have much to gain from exposure to women teachers of religion. Unless we work to change men, the ability of religions to progress in sensitivity to women is impossible.

– _Leaders: _Women should be full participants in the life and institutional leadership of their religious communities. Women are prepared to be decision-makers, and their gifts should be recognized and used to the fullest extent.

B. Within the world:

– Religions should apply their message of peace in order to oppose the daily reality of violence in family and society. There is a contradiction between the message of peace inherent in all religions and the absence of advocacy for peace in the home and society.

– Women are subjects, not objects, in their own lives. The right to choose any role, including motherhood, should be supported socially, economically, and politically.

– Religions should apply the message of social justice to women. The world’s religions play a leadership role in seeking social justice, in the environment, against racism, and for the poor. But religions have been largely silent in response to critical issues of women’s human rights, in the family and in the work place.

– This is nowhere more evident than in the area of women’s sexuality and reproductive health. Given the moral concern about abortion and the range of stances toward it, the view of any particular religious tradition should not be imposed on the consciences of others. Decriminalization of abortion is a minimal response to this reality and a reasonable means of protecting the life and health of women at risk.

  • Conclusion*
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Our experience of coming together as women leaders and religious leaders has convinced us that the religious traditions and the aspirations of women are not in opposition. We are not enemies. On the contrary, we share the same commitment to human dignity, social justice, and human rights _for all._

We therefore commit ourselves and call on other women and other religious leaders to reach out to each other to enhance mutual understanding, support, and cooperation. This can be done on the regional level to expand the consensus achieved here and at the national level to define concrete, joint activities toward advancing women’s human rights and well-being.

We came together as women and men to explore how the positive powers of religion could be engaged to advance the well-being of women. Indeed, we believe thatwhen women and religious traditions collaborate, a powerful force for advancing women’s human rights and leadership will be created.

_This statement was unanimously endorsed by all the participants on March 3, 2004._

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  • Africa*
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Rev. Rose Teteki Abbey, _Presbyterian, Ghana_


Presbyterian Church of Ghana

Dr. Denise Ackermann, _Anglican, South Africa_

Extraordinary Professor

University of Stellenbosch

Dr. Hizkias Assefa, _Ethiopia_

Peace Council Trustee, and Professor, Conflict Studies

Eastern Mennonite University


Africa Peacebuilding and Reconciliation Resources

Dr. Philomena Mwaura, _Catholic, Kenya_

Professor of Religion

Kenyatta University

Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians

Mufuliat Fijabi, _Muslim, Nigeria_

Senior Programme Officer

Baobab for Women’s Human Rights

Aminata Toure, _Muslim, Senegal_

Technical Advisor on Gender

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

  • Asia*
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Zainah Anwar, _Muslim, Malaysia_

Executive Director

Sisters in Islam

Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung, _Protestant, South Korea_

Peace Councilor and Professor of Ecumenics and World Christianity

Union Theological Seminary (New York)

Ven. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, _Buddhist, Thailand_

Peace Councilor and Buddhist Nun

Songdhammakalyani Temple

Samdech Preah Maha Ghosananda, _Buddhist, Cambodia_

Peace Councilor and Supreme Patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism and

Co-founder of Inter-Religious Mission for Peace in Cambodia

Shamima Hasan, _Muslim, Bangladesh_

Program Manager

Gender and Women’s Empowerment, East, South East Asia and Oceania

Region International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF)

Irfan Ahmad Khan, _Muslim, India_

Peace Council Trustee and Founder

World Muslim Council for Interfaith Relations

Ouyporn Khuankaew, _Buddhist, Thailand_

Co-Founder and Director

International Women's Partnership for Peace and Justice

Dr. Wilasinee Phiphitkul, _Buddhist, Thailand_

Assistant Professor of Journalism

Chulalongkorn University

Dr. Suwanna Satha-Anand, _Thailand_

Associate Professor of Philosophy

Chulalongkorn University

Dr. Vandana Shiva, _India_


Research Foundation for Science, Technology and National Resource Policy

  • Latin America*
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Lydia Alpízar, _Catholic, Costa Rica_

Peace Council Trustee and Program Coordinator of Feminist

Organizational Development

Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), México City

Alta Hooker, _Morava, Nicaragua_


Universidad de las Regiones Autonomas de la Costa Caribe Nicaragüense


Fr. Alberto Múnera, SJ, _Catholic, Colombia_


Colegio San Bartolomé

Jacqueline Pitanguy, _Brazil_

Executive Director

CEPIA and the Civil Society Forum of the Americas

Silvina Ramos, _Buddhist, Argentina_

Executive Director

Center for the Study of State and Society

Teresa Valdés, _Christian, Chile_

Gender Area Coordinator

Latin American Social Sciences Faculty (FLACSO)

Fr. Gonzalo Bernabé Ituarte Verduzco, OP, _Catholic, Mexico_

Peace Council Trustee and Head

Dominican Mission to Ocosingo (Chiapas)

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  • Middle East*

Dr. Saleha S. Mahmood-Abedin, _Muslim, Saudi Arabia_

Peace Councilor and Director of Academic Advancement

& International Relations

Dar Al-Hekman College (Jeddah)

Leah Shakdiel, _Jewish, Israel_


Be’er – Religious Women’s House of Study (Yeruham)

Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, _Jewish, Israel_

Peace Councilor and Rabbi

Reform Jewish Congregation Kehilat Kol Haneshama (Jerusalem)

  • Europe*
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Rev. Marcus Braybrooke, _Anglican, United Kingdom_

Peace Councilor and President

World Congress of Faiths

Roshan Dhunjibhoy, _Buddhist, Germany_

Executive Secretary

Women and Religion (Thailand)

Elfriede Harth, _Catholic, France_

European Representative

Catholics for a Free Choice Co-Coordinator,

International Movement We Are Church

Ulla Margrethe Sandbaek, _Denmark_

Member of Parliament

The European Parliament

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  • United States*

Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, _Catholic, United States_

Peace Councilor and Executive Director


Dr. Joseph W. Elder, _Quaker, United States_

Peace Council Trustee and Professor of Sociology

Languages and Cultures of Asia, University of Wisconsin

Dr. Christine Gudorf, _Catholic, United States_

Professor of Comparative Religions

Miami International University

Rev. Debra W. Haffner, _Unitarian Universalist, United States_


Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing

Jim Kenney, _Catholic, United States_

Peace Council Trustee and Executive Director

Interreligious Engagement Project

Dr. Sallie B. King, _Quaker, United States_

Peace Council Trustee and Professor and

Head of the Department of Philosophy and Religion

James Madison University

Frances Kissling, _Catholic, United States_


Catholics for a Free Choice

Dr. Paul Knitter, _Catholic, United States_

Peace Council Trustee and Professor Emeritus of Theology

Xavier University, Cincinnati

Sr. Marcelline Koch, OP, _Catholic, United States_

Peace Council Advisor and Dominican Sister of Springfield, Illinois

Rev. Stephen Minnema, _Presbyterian, United States_

Peace Council Advisor and Pastor

Covenant Presbyterian Church, Madison, Wisconsin

John Udelhofen, _United States_

CPA, Chief Financial Officer

Prefinished Millwork Corporation

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  • Secretariat*
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José Barzelatto


The Center for Health and Social Policy

F. Peter Brinkman

Associate Director and Peace Council Trustee

International Committee for the Peace Council

Elizabeth Dawson

Director of Program Development

The Center for Health and Social Policy

Daniel Gómez-Ibáñez

Executive Director, Peace Council Trustee,

and Secretary of the Board of Trustees

International Committee for the Peace Council

Stephen L. Isaacs


The Center for Health and Social Policy

Sr. Mary Ellen Lewis

Assistant Director

International Committee for the Peace Council

Axel Mundigo

Director of International Programs

The Center for Health and Social Policy

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  • Secretariat Offices*
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International Committee for the Peace Council

2702 International Lane, Suite 108

Madison, WI 53704


1-608-241-2200 Phone

1-608-241-2209 Fax

The Center for Health and Social Policy

847 25th Avenue

San Francisco, CA 94121


1-415-386-3260 Phone

1-415-386-1535 Fax