Religious Leaders to direct dialogue towards sustainable development

25 Apr 2012

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The Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic affairs, in  collaboration with UNDP Kuwait, has set up an initiative to gear some religious discourse in the way of sustainable development. The project has been created in order to promote local and public awareness of development and its advantages to the community and individuals. The initiative, titled "The Development Of Religious Discourse For Sustainable Development," will improve religious leaders' role in development and encourage the participation of the public through a series of workshops geared to provide the necessary understanding of development and its impact on society.

Religious leaders play a major role in shaping the values and attitudes of peoples of the entire world. This is particularly true of the Arab region. The vast majority of the citizens of Kuwait are Muslims, while there are diversified significant minorities from other religions among the expatriates living in Kuwait, including Christians (many of them are Arabic speaking), Hindu and others.

This initiative aims at building the capacity of religious leaders to participate in a positive national dialogue on developmental challenges such as gender equality, good governance, environmental sustainability (including energy and water), health issues, education, human rights, justice, peace and empowering the youth and the marginalized. It would be beneficial to encourage the religious community to adopt a rights-based approach to addressing development issues. In the past few years, there has been increasing interest in the possibility of achieving a developmental shift through enlisting the support of religious leaders for an effective approach to human development challenges. Some breakthrough results have been documented on this front in water, the environment, and women rights and particularly on HIV/AIDS.

In the context of Kuwait, some significant initial work was achieved with religious leaders on the most sensitive issues of HIV and HIV Most at Risk populations.  In 2006, UNDP Kuwait Country Office conducted a capacity-building workshop on HIV for religious leaders of the Gulf sub-region. This was part of an initiative that gained global recognition when it received the South-South Award for Leadership in November 2010 from the President of the United Nations General Assembly. A follow-up activity at national level was conducted in May 2011 in partnership with the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs. This was again very well received by the more than 100 participants drawn from the ranks of Muslim and Christian religious leaders, many of whom expressed interest in further involvement on other developmental issues. Kuwaiti religious leaders expressed their interest and commitment to work on other developmental issues in a regional study of feedback provided by religious leaders. This history of successful partnership between UNDP Regional Center and UNDP Kuwait CO with the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in Kuwait provided a good base for the request of technical support from the Ministry to UNDP. The leadership of the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs expressed its strong commitment to encourage a Human Rights-based and developmentally aware orientation to the religious discourse and asked for UNDP’s assistance and partnership in this regard. The present initiative was prepared in response to that request.

Based on UNDP’s engagement with religious leaders to date, it is clear that the religious community in Kuwait is interested in key issues such as women’s rights and the rights of migrants. It is anticipated that this interest in contemporary social issues will extend to environmental sustainability and the implementation of Gender and Human Rights promotion strategies. UNDP is well placed to use its transformational leadership methodologies to build the capacity of religious leaders to incorporate developmental and Human Rights concepts in their activities.
 
Religious leaders in Kuwait have considerable opportunities to communicate with the public through their places of worship, faith-based organizations, charities and media outlets. These channels of communication are highly influential and appeal to both the grassroots and national leaders. UNDP will draw on its access to international best practice and methodological tools with the aim of maximising the potential for transformational change offered by these religious communication opportunities. This initiative will mobilise existing national, regional and global networks and partnerships between religious leaders to increase public support for the promotion of Human Rights, gender, and environmental sustainability and strengthen public and policy makers’ commitment to achieve these goals.