UNITED NATIONS – Global Interfaith WASH Alliance Secretary-General, Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji, addressed the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Global Summit, at the United Nations, in New York, on November 19-20.
Her speeches, delivered before an audience from across the world, focused on the crucial importance of women’s leadership and sustainable development in a time of increasing global strife and insecurity as well as the importance of the role of religion and religious leaders in fostering peaceful and inclusive societies.
Saraswatiji’s panel on strengthening the visibility of women in the peace process, which was moderated by former UN Ambassador Louise Kanthrow, brought together renowned women leaders from acclaimed institutions, including Georgetown University and the Tutu Campaign.
In her address, Saraswatiji said, “It is crucial to uplift the women and girls of our world today, so that they may lead the way towards a more peaceful tomorrow. Now is the time to promote the building of skills so that women can especially play key roles at negotiation tables. We also must look for the causes of violence and insecurity in the first place, and call for unified actions towards a more sustainable world, including ensuring access to safe water and improved WASH.”
Her panel on Many Cultures, One Humanity: The Role and Responsibility of Religious Leaders and Faith-Based Organizations in Building Peaceful and Inclusive Societies, moderated by Dr. Azza Karam, Senior Advisor, Culture to the UNFPA, brought together renowned religious leaders from the Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Hindu faiths from across the world to speak to the crucial role played by religious leaders in peacebuilding.
Saraswatiji spoke on the importance of leadership and shared Mahatma Gandhiji’s famous quotation: “What is the point of that fast speed when we are moving in the wrong direction?” She emphasized, “Leadership is wonderful. Religious leadership is crucial. But we must ensure that along with elements of speed – technology, power, charisma – we also ensure that leaders are taking their followers in the right direction. … We can always find doctrines of separation, doctrines that permit us to exclude the other, but today as religious leaders we must find doctrines of togetherness. We must take back religion from being an agent to separation to being an agent of oneness.”
Sha added: “Lastly, without water, there can be no peace. Even if we can get people to stop killing each other over their religion, they will kill each other over lack of water, lack of food, lack of resources. People will be in dire straits fighting for ever diminishing resources. So if we are committed to building truly peaceful and inclusive societies we must ensure access to clean water.”
In the face of unsustainable practices and rising populations, climate change, coupled with the depletion of natural resources, are posing serious threats to global peace. It is predicted that the world will have half the water it needs by the year 2040, leading to increased possibilities of war, hunger and mass displacement.
Already, instances of conflict and discord are increasing, as is the impact of natural disasters. As a result, more people have been forced to flee their homes as refugees than in any time since World War II.
Bhagawatiji said, “The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance is working hard to determine and implement solutions to combat these serious threats through sustainable development. It was predicted by the UN that the next war will likely be regarding water. Rather than let it lead to this point, GIWA is bringing together the faith leaders of the world to promote change. “
She continued, “Not only do we need to preserve our precious water resources, but we must also ensure they are kept clean. Today is World Toilet Day, so let us also not forget the importance of healthy sanitation for all, for cleaner waters and the safety of women everywhere.”
Other religious leaders on her panels included, Faisal Bin Abdulrahman Bin Muaammar, Secretary-General, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, Vienna, Austria; Rabbi Michael Melchior, President, Mosaica Religious Peace Initiative, Jerusalem, Israel; John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria; Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi, Executive Director, Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers; and Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian Jr., Executive Director of URI (the United Religions Initiative).
The lack of toilets is a serious, yet often overlooked cause of violence against women, leading to instances of rape, violence and trauma. The point was taken up as a crucial one towards ensuring that both the safety and dignity of women and girls are facilitated. The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA), through its many programmes, is widely promoting social change for improved sanitation through the inspiration of leading faith leaders.
Said GIWA Founder/Chair, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, said, in a statement, “The significance of this address being delivered on this World Toilet Day can’t be denied. Let us come together and stay together to inspire a clean, healthy and water secure world, where women may lead as torchbearers of hope, and healthy water and sanitation are accessible by all.”
The overarching theme of the 8th United Nations Alliance of Civilizations; Global Forum was “#Commit2Dialogue: Partnerships for Prevention and Sustaining Peace”.
UNAOC brought together over 1,000 participants to share knowledge and explore innovative ways of promoting inclusive approaches to conflict prevention as a pathway for sustaining peace.
The two-day event featured several high-level, renowned speakers from around the world, including, António Guterres, UN Secretary-General; Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, High Representative for UNAOC; María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the UN General Assembly 73rd Session; Carmen Calvo, Deputy Prime Minister of Spain; and Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey.