World YWCA Interviews Peter Prove, Executive Director of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance
On July 13, 2011, Peter Prove, Executive Director of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), spoke at the International Women’s Summit on faith, livelihoods and human rights. EAA is a diverse global alliance of churches and church-related organisations and groups committed to collaborative advocacy for justice on HIV and AIDS and on food, with a growing practical experience of inter-faith cooperation.
The World YWCA had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Prove at IWS.
1) You spoke about the critical nexus between faith, livelihoods and human rights. Can you give us a short summary on what you spoke about, what are the main highlights and how it ties in with the Summit?
The topic of Plenary 3 was on violence against women and it was very much focused on violence in conflict situations and domestic violence. However, there is also the broader aspect of structural violence and how to deal with it in the context of the end of 2015, the Millennium Development Goals and what comes after that. I broadened the discussion in order to take in the larger developmental issues, pointing out that the faith communities are real drivers of social attitudes and practices, for good or for ill, and that is something that simply cannot be ignored in development policy and practice. One has to take the reality of religion as a driver of social capital into account. At the same time the religious communities have unparalleled capacity to tap into the experiences and realities of people on the ground and to convey those experiences by way of advocacy and witnessing for justice. It is a potential that is very poorly realised, but we could do an enormous amount with that potential, beyond what we are already doing. There is a big challenge to operationalise that potential and also at the same time to address the ways in which religious/cultural perspectives are producing negative results, in particular with regard to discrimination and violence.
There is a challenge of coherence within the churches and faith communities in terms of connecting fundamental faith principles about the universal God given dignity of every human being with discriminatory practices even within the religious communities. How do we square those two things that are not consistent or coherent? There is a challenge of coherence in terms of human rights obligations on the one hand, and development and economic policy and practice. They do not intersect and are dealt with differently. Furthermore, there is the challenge of accountability between promises, commitments, obligations and practice, or the lack of implementation within the faith communities and on the part of governance.
So what now? Are we content to reduce just poverty? Are we content to reduce by half maternal mortality and to simply reduce infant mortality? As people of faith we simply cannot be satisfied with that if we are true to our fundamental belief system which is also connected with the universality of human rights. So, what we are looking for is a faith ethic not of equity, but of equality in opportunity and in realised rights and dignity for all people.
2) The EAA campaigns on issues such as HIV and AIDS and food. In your view what is the situation and what has been the progress made for women worldwide regarding these issues?
Relative to where we were, the progress has been enormous. However, in absolute terms and compared to the needs, there has been little progress. In the area of HIV we have seen a strongly increased openness by religious communities and religious leaders to addressing issues of HIV, including stigma and discrimination. Obviously it is still not universal, but there has been a very positive growth, certainly from the perspective of the EAA and the constituencies that we work with.
There has been an enormous improvement not only ecumenically but also in interfaith contexts and we work very much with interfaith partners, especially on HIV. There has been a very positive growth in terms of openness, sensitivity and engagement with these fundamental issues, including stigma and discrimination. However, there are still hot and sensitive issues that remain difficult to deal with and which will be resolved through a generational process. We must, therefore, continue in conversation and mutually support each other to remain informed of the realities of people on the grassroots, people who are directly affected, and people who are working in the response to HIV.
As concerns food security, the issues are similar. We perhaps don’t have quite the same obvious built-in ecumenical tensions over food security issues as we might have on HIV, but there are issues that are difficult for an international ecumenical collective to address and these are largely north-south issues, issues of just and sustainable consumption and production and the realisation of the right to food for all people. We come back to the topic of inequality and whether we are content to live with relative inequality or whether we are looking for an equality that would be consistent with human rights obligations and principles, but also with our fundamental faith principles.
3) You mentioned ecumenical tensions related to HIV and AIDS, can you tell me a little bit more about those and how to resolve them?
There are issues that are well known historic and long-standing issues about prevention, condom use, and so forth. There are continuing sensitivities about same sex relations, about the extent to which we can and wish to engage with the key affected populations that to a great or lesser extent are excluded and marginalised by mainstream faith communities, namely men who have sex with men, sex workers, people using drugs, etc. Again, I think we are in a process of lived experience of engagement with these communities as communities and as individuals. That is one of the things that we try to do at the EAA – to create those opportunities for encounter at a personal level and have the power to transform.
In the end we are all together in the HIV response, knowing full well that one has to understand the nature of the pandemic in ones own context. This requires recognition of the existence of the affected populations. We need to work together in the wider global response.
4) This is your first IWS – What has your been experience?
The really remarkable thing has been the energy throughout the Summit. This is a very engaged, dynamic, energetic community of women and though I have been in meetings before, there is something special about this group of people. It is a testament to the commitment of the community and membership to this common identity.