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Ecumenical conference will explore women in religion, leadership roles

By Daphne Mack
[Episcopal News Service]  More than 60 female religion educators, leaders, activists and scholars representing various faiths from around the world are set to make their voices heard at the "Women in Religion in the 21st Century" conference, held October 17-19 in New York City.

Speakers, presenters and moderators from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Baha'i, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Shinto, Afro-Caribbean, and Zoroastrian faith traditions will participate in the Interchurch Center sponsored event.

According to Lois Dauway, chair of the Ecumenical Affairs Committee of the Interchurch Center, and conference chair, the gathering will be the first of its kind in size and scope for women and has been recognized and endorsed by more than 40 agencies internationally.

It will explore the roles of leadership for women, the impact of women in religious communities, how religion affects women's lives, and the historical perspective of women in religion.

"I think the conference is significant because the world is increasingly moving toward religious division and violence," said Abagail Nelson, vice president for program for Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD). "This conference gives women a chance to say that we together can be a source of hope and healing and that we can reach across boundaries and understand and support each other."

Nelson will be part of a panel discussion on October 19 that will focus on women as agents of change.

The Rev. Margaret Rose, director of the Episcopal Church's Office of Women's Ministries, will show "Shall We Gather: Anglican Women Together," a DVD documenting the 2005 gathering of the Anglican Communion's delegates to the 49th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW).

Anglican women began to make their voices heard at the UN in 2003, when a small group attended the annual meeting of the UNCSW. By 2005, the delegation had grown to 85 women from around the world.

"This conference is important because it is an international interfaith gathering of women who are beginning to claim the voice that women of faith have both in their own religious circles as well as in civil society," Rose said. "In our current polarized society, it is vital to have all voices represented at the table. This conference will begin to address those issues and to claim the vital role that women are called to play."
"Shall We Gather" will be viewed October 17 and October 19. Constance Beavon and Jane Zipp, producers of the program, will be present at both showings.

The conference will also honor Ruth Stafford Peale, first woman chair of the board of trustees, who was a guiding force in the establishment of the Interchurch Center, home to more than 60 faith and non-profit agencies.