Religious communities can be an engine of change in society, among other things, to combat violence and discrimination, and to empower women. Based on this conviction, the Joint Initiative on Strategic Religious Action (JISRA), will start its five-year interfaith programme on May 3rd 2021 in seven countries. This programme will be carried out with the support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, by a consortium of five organisations: Mensen met een Missie, Faith to Action Network, Tearfund UK, Tearfund Netherlands and Search for Common Ground. 

“The promotion of freedom of religion and belief has been the driving force behind the Netherlands’ human rights policy for many years. However, this fundamental right is under pressure worldwide. With this programme, freedom of religion and belief gets the attention it needs”, says Rick van der Woud (Mensen met een Missie) on behalf of the JISRA coalition.

Bridge-builders

Rick van der Woud: “Jisr is the Arabic word for ‘bridge’ and thus symbolises the connection we want to make between different religious communities. Many people often associate religion with making a distinction: between believers and non-believers, between one’s own and the other’s religion, between generations, between men and women. We want to show that within religious communities, bridge-builders can be found who do not ‘blur’ differences between them, but act unitedly against religious extremism and all forms of discrimination, including by the governments of the countries in which they live. Freedom of religion and belief is more than just protecting individuals or minorities; it is also the foundation for a peaceful and just society.”

Urgency

With its support for the JISRA programme, the Dutch government recognises that religious beliefs and communities continue to play an important role in the lives of people around the world. An estimated 84%* of the world’s population is affiliated with a religious community. At the same time, freedom of religion and belief is under pressure in large parts of the world. According to research, about 57%** of the world’s population lives in a country where freedom of religion is restricted or where there is discrimination or violence against religious minorities. Improvement is slow; although there are countries where progress is being made to respect this human right, in other countries a deterioration is taking place.

By supporting the JISRA programme, the Dutch government underlines the importance of protecting and promoting freedom of religion or belief. Experience gained from the JISRA programme will be included in the analysis of Dutch. In this way, more  attention will be paid to the importance, operations, and impact of religion in societies by Dutch foreign policy.

Coalitions

In the interfaith JISRA programme, the consortium parties will work with local faith-based communities and other partners in seven countries: Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria and Uganda. The programme is aimed at supporting these faith-based communities in their social role and their potential to contribute to the promotion of freedom of religion and transform violent conflict and build peaceful and just societies. The aim is to do this by entering into interfaith coalitions at multiple levels, and thereby showing that different religious traditions can come together in their vision of a better and more just society. The local JISRA partners will also boost internal dialogue within their own communities.

Youth in Indonesia

“The world is witnessing an increase in intolerance, polarisation, and even violent extremism. We also see this in Indonesia where young people are attracted to radical views and even to terrorist acts. Conservative narratives are popular and spreading fast in cyberspace. However, we also see many young people working very hard to promote peace and to advocate alternative narratives. I believe JISRA can strengthen and leverage the peace movement in Indonesia and will provide an answer to the challenges. It will amplify our voice and connect us to like-minded voices all over the world” (Irfan Amali, PeaceGeneration Indonesia).

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Religious groups can make an essential contribution to achieving the SDGs. This is very important, as these global goals form a blueprint ‘for a better and sustainable future for all’. Hence, the JISRA programme follows this global agenda, in particular, to achieve gender equality and empowerment for women and girls (SDG5) and promote peaceful and inclusive societies (SDG16).

* https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/aug/27/religion-why-is-faith-growing-and-what-happens-next
** According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 2020 report there are 29 countries where freedom of religion or belief is under severe pressure. Among those, 14 countries commit continuous and gross violations. Since these include some of the most populous countries in the world, this concerns a total of 3.62 billion people, or almost half of the world population. In the other 15 countries, the violations are severe, but comparatively lighter. If those are included in the count, 57% of the world population lives in a country where freedom of religion is restricted or where there is discrimination or violence against religious minorities.

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