Story by Molly Melching, Executive Director of Tostan
From April 3-6, 2011, 40 human rights leaders, religious leaders and scholars gathered at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia to discuss the key challenges that human rights activists face and ways to work with religious, traditional, and government institutions to advance the protection of these rights. Molly Melching, Birima Fall, Mohamed Cherif Diop, Demba Diawara and Oureye Sall of Tostan were invited by President Carter to participate in this important forum and make presentations on the work of Tostan in Africa.
“The idea came out of a speech that President Carter gave to the Parliament of World Religions in 2009 where he challenged people of faith and religious leaders to step up and to stand for women’s rights,” said Karin Ryan, director of the Carter Center’s Human Rights Program. “We hope to create a dialogue among groups who believe that human dignity is a key precept.”
Molly Melching, Executive Director of Tostan, made the opening presentation on April 3 on the importance of understanding social, moral and legal norms for positive social transformation which was followed by discussion in smaller groups allowing participants to exchange on their own best practices, challenges, and ways to collaborate to reinforce future actions. Mohamed Cherif Diop, head of the Child Protection Program at Tostan, made the afternoon presentation on successful strategies for encouraging religious leaders to fully participate in movements for human rights, particularly women and children’s rights. His presentation was also followed by small group discussions.
The formal conference with the participation of former US President Jimmy Carter and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, was held from April 5-6. In the opening session, after speeches by Jimmy Carter and Navi Pillay, Oureye Sall discussed how human rights education helped her and her community to make important changes to improve the health and well-being of women and girls. She explained that she was married at a very early age and was a tradtional cutter until she went through the Tostan program at age 50. Oureye talked about the grassroots movement to end female genital cutting and child/forced marriage in Senegal, but also noted the numerous benefits of basic education in national languages to improve health, governance, economic growth, and women’s participation.
Recommendations from the forum included actively promoting human rights education, courageous leadership, community-based solutions, and solidarity among men and women to achieve equality.
For more information on this Carter Center event click here.