Missing Women

This page is dedicated to capturing images that illustrate the marginalization of women in religious peacebuilding and interfaith public events and well-funded initiatives, particularly at the international level. For more about what sparked the creation of this page, see my blog post Boys, Boys, Boys.

I do not mean to the imply by this page that women are not involved in this field. To the contrary, women are very involved and a great deal of my energy in recent years has been dedicated to capturing the stories of women’s robust engagement in interfaith peacebuilding around the world. My purpose with this page is simply to document the gendered optics of so many public events on religion.  There are consequences when so many public events on religion give voice to the insights of only half the population; consequences both within and outside our faith traditions.  My hope for the future is that we use public events to help challenge the image of religions as being hopelessly patriarchal, and that through featuring women’s insights and voices (and not just on panels addressing issues directly related to women and children), we better ensure our traditions contribute to the creation of more just societies. To celebrate those events that display better gender balance, I’ve created the sister page Found Women.

I’ll post photos as I come across them. Feel free to send me photos you snap at events as well. I’ve posted a few older ones I had lurking on my blackberry down at the bottom. Other than those, these are all recent ones.


5/22/16: The International Peace Institute held a meeting recently with interfaith leaders committed to ending violent extremism.


5/18/15: Grateful for some new efforts that have arisen to document the prevalence of male-dominated panels at public events. A few friends sent me the link to a new-ish blog “Congrats you have an all male panel!” Glad to have more people documenting this phenomenon! I’ve pasted below some of the images posted there from religion events, beginning with the most ironic.

Missing women_bhikkuni ordination

Missing women Islamic finance

missing women madrassa

missing women last supper

missing women bishop

5/6/15: It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. Not because I haven’t come across male dominated public events on religion, but because I’ve been busy. But having a conversation with a Christian woman leader in Myanmar yesterday in which she was venting her frustration at often being the only woman in the room at interfaith events stirred the fire under my but. So without further adieu, a couple from the last couple days:


Interfaith event in Lebanon. 9 men, 1 woman.

Ambassador Rabbi Saperstein in Burma meeting with mostly men to learn about religious freedom, including laws that target women's rights and nationalist groups that silence women. Oh, the irony.

Ambassador Rabbi Saperstein in Burma meeting with mostly men to learn about religious freedom, including laws that target women’s rights and nationalist groups that silence women. Oh, the irony.

3/3/15: I was at an event today launching the Office of Religion and Global Affairs at the Department of State (which has actually been operational for over a year). The office is headed up by Shaun Casey, a great guy. Working in leadership positions in the office are Sharik Zafar, Arsalan Suleman, and Ira Forman, with David Saperstein, in the Religious Freedom Office, working in close partnership. Notice anything?

This was on display at today’s event at the Newseum, which featured Madeleine Albright. It’s hard to call her a token woman on the panel, because, you know, she’s Madeleine Albright. But no matter how fierce the woman, she still can’t balance out the gender optics (Charles Haynes was the moderator).

missing women newseum

2/20/15: Just received a flyer for an interfaith event happening in Yangon tomorrow. All male speakers.


2/14/15: A panel at the World Bank in DC today on religion and peacebuilding featured 6 men and 2 women.


2/10/15: A couple of the School of Foreign Service students in one of my classes at Georgetown tonight advertised an event they’re holding on Thursday about Muslim Youth in South Asia.  You can imagine my immediate response when I saw the flyer.  I really wish my male colleagues would refuse to speak on religion-related panels that don’t include any women.


2/8/15: At the annual Carter Center Human Rights Defenders Forum in Atlanta, watching CNN while I get ready this morning. The topic is the President’s speech at the Prayer Breakfast. They brought in an imam, a priest, and a rabbi to discuss. All men. The CNN host was of course a beautiful woman.


12/19/14: Received an email today from Religions for Peace about a recent forum they held in Abu Dhabi on religion and countering violent extremism. They included a list of all the participants, which even more than a photograph alone, shows how marginalized women are from the “executive” decision-making committee, much less the event itself.


12/17/14: I’m in Nepal right now doing a study tour on police/community dialogues with a group from Myanmar. Because of the prevalence of religious violence in Myanmar, we met with an interfaith group in Nepal that has worked with police to address inter-religious tensions and prevent violence. There were about fifteen men and one woman (a female Christian pastor) in the group. The photos from their events showed similar gender imbalances.


12/5/14: Clergy gathered yesterday in Washington, DC as part of the Rainbow Coalition to make an announcement about the upcoming national march in support of racial justice, motivated by the Ferguson protests. One woman.


12/3/14: The Pope convened a group of religious leaders from around the world to discuss modern day human slavery, a scourge that impacts women disproportionately.  A photo from the event shows three women among fourteen (and I believe the Buddhist nun was a stand-in for monk Thich Naht Hanh, who is still recovering from a brain hemorrhage).

Pope Francis poses with religious leaders during a meeting at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican
This video of speeches from the event highlights how male religious voices dominated:

11/30/14: Received an invitation from the Harvard Alumni Club for upcoming events. Was curious about a panel event with the following title: The Name of God: Should It Be Exclaimed, Reclaimed or Buried?  An Imam, Traditional Christian, Progressive Jew and Unabashed Atheist Talk about God. Clicked the link and in the description: “Religious traditionalists and progressives may envision God in altogether different ways.  Atheists argue that God is but a figment of our imaginations.  And an increasing number of people in our society have grown bored with the whole topic. ” Then I scrolled down to discover all four speakers were men. This is part of the reason an increasing number of people in society have grown bored with these discussions … because they don’t include the perspective of half the population. I don’t need to pay $65 to hear four old men talk about God.

11/13/14: I was invited to attend an interfaith clergy event hosted by the Institute of Turkish-Islamic Studies, based in Fairfax and linked to the Gulen Movement. They do a lot of good work building personal interfaith relationships in the region, and host many study tours to Turkey for clergy and other activists. A number of my friends and participants have participated in this tours and expressed great appreciation for them. If I didn’t have previous plans, I would have attended the fourth annual interfaith clergy dinner, despite being distressed that only one female clergy from the region was represented among the five panelists. I hear that a woman MC’d the event and another offered opening prayers, which helped create more balance at the actual event, even if this wasn’t reflected in the invitation.


11/11/14: The Bishops just tweeted out a photo of the closing press conference from the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops’ General Assembly. I suppose not a big shocker that it’s all men given that Bishops are all men. But, you know, there are plenty of women who work for USCCB as well. Sometimes, as one who deeply loves and respects the Catholic Church (and especially Pope Francis!), a student at Georgetown, and a former intern at the Paulist Center in downtown Boston, I feel guilty calling out the Church so much for its male dominance… if they weren’t such an easy target…


11/10/14: The Religion and Peacebuilding program at USIP, for which I work, held a public event today featuring a delegation of religious leaders from the Central African Republic. It was embarrassingly male dominated. Not even a token woman. Besides the four male speakers on the panel, the opening was given by another man — my boss David Smock. Oi vay. We should know better. I expressed my regret at our weekly staff meeting.

Missingwomen_CAR event

11/3/14: A Google hangout was held last week to discuss “The Challenge of ISIS in America: Perspectives from Interfaith Leaders and Peacebuilders.” It included two male speakers and one female, with a male moderator.


10/29/14: Photo posted to Facebook today by the Muslim Public Affairs Council about the creation of a new American interfaith effort to protect Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. 12 men, 0 women.  I asked Haris Tarin about this and he said he’s already spoken to the organizers and made recommendations of women to be included in the effort. Better late than never, but it is nice to be inclusive from the start, and not just invite women into something men have already envisioned and established.


10/21/14: An event at the Brookings’ Doha center on Sunni/Shia conflict as the “new Cold War” today featured four male speakers, no women. And from the look of this photo, few women in the audience as well.


10/20/14: Received this invitation today for an event at Howard School of the Divinity on how black churches should respond to the occupation of Palestinian territories. Among the speakers is UCC minister Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former minister at Trinity UCC in Chicago. Three male speakers listed, no women.


10/19/14: My colleague Manal Omar drew attention to an upcoming event on Islam in America  being held in the region by an organization entitled, ironically, “Make Space.” No female speakers represented.

Missingwomen_make space

Update: after a bunch of criticism to the male dominated flyer on Facebook, and some constructive engagement and suggestions between the event organizers and frustrated women, the event notice was updated to include the mug of the one female speaker on the panel, Rumana Ahmed.

MissingWomen_make space2

10/17/14: Western Kentucky University held a “Symposium on Peace, Islam, and Counter-narratives” late last month that featured ten speakers, one of whom was a woman. And get this: the conference organizer was a woman! So how’d that happen?!


10/16/14: An event took place today at the Berkley Center at Georgetown entitled “Seeking the Common Good in a Time of Polarization.” Panelists spoke about how to respond to Pope Francis’ call to seek the common good during a time of religious and political polarization.  There were 6 men and 1 woman presenting.


10/7/14: My friend Rabia Chaudry posted a photo of an event from a panel at the New American Foundation on Online Radicalization last May, noting that “one of these things is not like the other.” She’s not talking about Haris Tarin’s gray suit jacket.


9/27/14: Yesterday we held an event at USIP on the Role of Religious Actors in Combating Radicalization and Violent Extremism. I moderated and my (female) colleague gave opening remarks.  We had a female pastor from Nigeria on the list of panelists, but she was unable to get to the States because of visa problems, so instead we aired a video presentation from her. Because she wasn’t there and Georgia, after giving her opening remarks, sat among the audience, the optics ended up like this:


9/25/14: Yesterday ten Muslim American scholars held a press conference to announce the release of a global effort by Muslim scholars to condemn ISIS, saying the group does not understand, much less represent, Islam.  All ten of the scholars at the press conference were men, which is disappointing given how many prominent female Muslim scholars there are in the States. I’m curious how many women scholars were among the more than 120 that signed the letter.


9/10/14:  Sant’Egidio is an amazing lay Catholic organization that has done a great deal for the cause of peace around the world, famously playing a key mediating role in Mozambique that brought an end to its civil war. They held their annual meeting this month on “Peace is the Future.” I didn’t attend, but one of my colleagues in the field, a woman, did. She wrote me on the way home encouraging me to check out the website documenting the event, noting dryly that “your website could be populated for a year!” I took a look. Indeed. I’ve only selected a couple here, but check it out yourself for the full effect. The ones below are from the first series of panels going on concurrently on the first full day of events. 55 men spoke during this session, and 3 women, from my count.

PANEL 1 santegidio_peaceisthefuture-7795 PANEL 2_santegidio_peaceisthefuture-8984 PANEL 3 santegidio_peaceisthefuture-3409 PANEL 4 santegidio_peaceisthefuture-1384 PANEL 5 santegidio_peaceisthefuture-3899 PANEL 7 santegidio_peaceisthefuture-0218 PANEL 8 santegidio_peaceisthefuture-0135 Panel_6_peace_is_the_future_2014 Panel_9_peaceisthefuture_2014

4/12/14: Georgetown held a big event this week in partnership with the Vatican entitled “Faith, Culture, and the Common Good.” Of the ten presenters/moderators at the public event portions, three were women.  Many of the photos from the event look like this:


4/11/14: This week a delegation of elite American religious leaders, including the lovely Cardinal McCarrick, visited the Central African Republic to investigate the religious violence there and show solidarity with the victims.  This is such an important mission. Unfortunately, there were no women on the delegation.  Particularly disconcerting since the U.S. hardly lacks for influential female religious clergy who could have been involved, and because this elite group received a certain degree of media attention and visibility.  The State department even issued a statement.


4/3/14: I’m in Helsinki right now for the first advisory meeting of the Network of Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, an initiative of the UN Mediation Support Unit.  There are fifteen speakers at this event, and one of them is a woman (yours truly).


3/18/14: A colleague just forwarded me an AFP news report on an accord signed by the Vatican, Anglicans, and a Muslim representative from Al-Azhar against human trafficking.  Great cause! And one that affects women disproportionately.  This was the photo accompanying the piece:


2/7/14: This week was World Interfaith Harmony Week, sponsored by the UN.  Like last year, their website was very gender imbalanced.  In the rotating banner at the top of the website, 32 men and 4 women are shown (one of whom is Angela Merkel, which is ironic, given that she declared multi-culturalism a failure); 7 of those men are featured individually, while all the women are shown as part of groups.  Meanwhile, on the side bar, you have to scroll through 13 supporting letters by men before you reach the first woman’s letter.  I can tell you that this is not what the real global interfaith movement looks like.

Missing women interfaith harmony week

And reflecting the meta-optics, here is a USA-based effort to mark World Interfaith Harmony Week.

Missing women interfaith harmony week2

1/12/14: I was recently in Myanmar and attended an interfaith event (featuring all male speakers) at which a DVD was distributed from an interfaith event that had been held last year.  The back of the DVD displayed photos of the speakers at the event:


12/17/13: Received an invitation today for a webinar on Islam, Religious Diversity, and Religious Peacemaking in Iran, featuring three male speakers.

Missing women2

12/14/13:  Just tuned into the live webcast of the Christianity and Freedom event mentioned below.  Here was the image I was greeted with:

Xty and Freedom

Five older white men. I wonder how the agenda and tenor of this particular discussion would change if women were more involved.  Would there be, for example, a panel discussing the protection of alternative, non-orthodox, religious interpretations within Christianity? (I am thinking here of the Catholic nuns in the U.S. whose religious freedom, I would argue, has been challenged – by the Church if not the State.  But this could go for “newer” schools of Christianity as well, such as Mormonism).

12/13/13:  Anderson Cooper is moderating an online discussion today about the legacy of Nelson Mandela that is featuring HH Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Sir Richard Branson, and Mary Robinson.  In other words, four men and woman.  Happily, Archbishop Tutu ended up bringing his daughter along, Rev. Mpho Tutu, to up the gender balance.  Props, Tutu.


12/12/13:  Just received an email for an event entitled “Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives” that is taking place tomorrow and the next day.  It “features” four male speakers, the only presenters mentioned in the email.  If you go to the webpage for it, you have to scroll down through the images of eight male participants before you come to the first woman participant.  In all, there are thirty-seven men speaking and seven women.

missing women

12/2/13: One of my new friends from Austria, Hind Makki, tweeted out a link tonight to a blog she wrote about a recent event she moderated entitled: Does Religion Still Matter?  The panel was of all men.  The irony of having a panel of all men responding to the question of whether religion is still relevant almost renders this amusing.  Hind moderated. She notes in her blog that there was some justified objection to having an all-male panel addressing this question.


3 male speakers, one woman moderator.

11/26/13: Recent blog post by a staff member at the Institute for Global Engagement about their  interfaith conference in Myanmar last month.  What breaks my heart is that I know IGE has a program dedicated to supporting religious women working for peacebuilding, they had a presentation dedicated to this topic at this conference, and they brought in one of my friends and heroes — Amina Rasul, a female faith leader from the Philippines — for this meeting.  It’s a challenge to ensure gender equality when holding events in places where women religious leaders don’t hold much authority.  I know and am sympathetic to this (and promise to upload photos from my own interfaith events overseas where men dominate to call myself out).  Still, check out these optics:


27 men, 4 women

11/24/13: At the American Academy of Religion annual meeting, one session I attended was on the “Global Religious Landscape.” Apparently women’s voices don’t factor into the description of the “global” religious landscape.


All male panel of speakers

11/23/13: Just received an email announcing the end of the RfP ninth World Assembly. It contained quotes from six men, no women. And this was the only photo included:


14 men, 2 women (but one of the women is blocked by the podium so you can’t see her well)

11/21/13: A photo snapped by my friend at the 20th anniversary celebration event of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown, on the challenge of religious pluralism. November 2013:


November 18-19, 2013: From the King Abdulaziz International Center for Inter-religious and Intercultural Dailogue Global Assembly.


two women, literally on the margins.


panel with education ministers. one woman.


closing panel. five men, one woman.

November 20-22, 2013: From the Religions for Peace ninth World Assembly.


an opening session. nine panelists. two male key notes. five presenters, one of them a woman. and a woman moderated.


commission reports. all men.


closing panel. all men.

Coexist Prize Award Ceremony, NYC March 2012:


Five panelists, all men. Ironically, a female religious peacebuilder won the prize.

USIP event on religious peacebuilding in Israel/Palestine. February 2012:


Ten panelists, all men

4 Responses to Missing Women

  1. Rev. Bud Heckman says:

    Since, several of the visuals here are from the organizations that I have worked either for or with in the last decade and half, I would like to respond.

    The lack of women’s representation is chronic in interfaith and peacebuilding work. Agreed. And it is unjust. Period. Especially so because women probably make up the larger percentage of actual on-the-ground actors in both arenas (vs. top level institutional figure heads often depicted in the “representative” and public events you are visually recording). I am glad you are documenting it. But there is more to the story.

    In some of the instances that you portray here there are peer or parallel events that are either exclusively or predominately comprised of women, which you are *not* noting. Hermeneutically, this is the equivalent of scriptural proof texting, without appreciation for the situational condition of the extracted text. For example, you highlight a webinar with Dr. Akrami from Iran from an affiliate organization of RFP (which I direct), depicting two male staff members who conduct the webinars. That gives a false impression of male domination in such events. In the preceding month’s webinar, the panelist and respondent were women. An again, a couple of month’s prior to that. In fact, a broad look at the events of the organization shows diversity. (See http://www.rfpusa.org/october-23rd-3pm-et-religions-for-peace-usa-webinar-the-interfaith-voice-in-korean-security-why-track-ii-diplomacy-works).

    In another example, Religions for Peace’s Assembly has a complement of a global network of religious leaders who are exclusively women. (See http://www.rfp.org/who-we-are/global-women-faith-network) That picture or mention of that reality and its big meeting in Vienna is missing in your report. In fact, RFP, which is framed around top religious leaders engaging with one another, has a strong commitment to reach equitability in the representation of women. At its best self, it upholds the goal of equity in gender representation. So, while the vast majority of the heads of religious institutions are men, sometimes communities will offer leading women (who are not yet the head of communion or its equivalent) instead as the official representative.

    Having lived through those negotiations to try to get towards a proper balance, I know that is frustratingly painstaking process of negotiation and balance. Worth the time, of course, but a surprising time suck for a nonprofit that always seeks to balance resources. Communities want their highest ranking leaders there and those that are there want “parity” to be upheld, they want to build relationships with their direct peers (human nature has its downsides), not #2, #3, or so on (which, unfortunately, where one must go to get a women on the panel or what-have-you) as valuable as that might be in circumstances. Negotiation, balance, and framing are always a dance in such situations. Grace and understanding are prayed for.

    Let me be clear and reiterate: there is something very wrong with perpetuating the disproportion in percentages of men to women that have seemed so prevalent in these two fields in public events. I have the same sinking feeling perhaps as you when I see a table of world leaders and there is only Angela Merkel or Hillary Clinton or the like amongst “the boys.”

    Having worked for these representatively-structured coalitions in interfaith and peacebuilding, I know first hand the extra steps it can take to get women at the table and the bizarrely confounding roadblocks to getting us all there together. Women too often have more demands on their time (because there are fewer of them in positions of religious institution power still), rarely do they have the travel budgets that they deserve (their male counterparts do), etc.

    The really strange fact is that the majority of people who I have worked to fund interfaith work and advance it as a field [i.e., as program officers in institutions distributing funds (apart from governments)] are more often than not women. In my own denomination, my church’s largest agency – its mission arm – was on the brink of collapse circa 2000. Who saved it? The same one’s who had saved it before – the women’s division, who had more sensibly invested and saved. It is an oft repeated story. So if women have 51% of the voices/votes and strong handles on purse strings, why, o why, can’t we chip away more effectively at those seemingly self-reinforcing structures of male power? We must keep trying. Gender diversity is essential to our collective success.

    • haywardsus says:

      Hi Bud. Thanks for your thoughtful comment! There is always more to the story, agreed. Much more than can be captured by visuals alone. The complexities are captured in many of the written pieces I’ve done, as well as the book Katherine Marshall and I are editing that will be published this year, in which RfP’s long efforts to support religious women’s peacebuilding is well documented. I am sympathetic to the challenges presented by institutional realities in the religious sector, religious gatekeepers, etc., and know that many of the male religious peacebuilders with whom I work, like you, are very much on board and sympathetic to the need to mainstream women in this field, to amplify their voices, and to have them shape the wider agenda.

      That said, a point you make raises a discomfort. Yes, the RfP World Assembly had a pre-assembly session for the women and youth networks. This was important. But sometimes these efforts to provide extra space for the disempowered/marginalized groups unintentionally ends up ghettoizing these efforts, and the experience in Vienna highlighted that challenge for me. The women’s assembly in Vienna wasn’t as large or public (it was a pre-event, held before many had even arrived). I wasn’t invited or made aware of it ahead of time as someone invited to attend the Assembly (and even someone very interested in this particular subject). And meanwhile, the stage at the main event, the Assembly itself, was not gender-balanced. That is not mainstreaming, unfortunately. And as a woman religious leader sitting in that large assembly hall, I grew increasingly angry and frustrated by how few women were given the microphone at the main event. As you know, many got frustrated as it created a lively Twitter conversation at the time. What we were presented with is not the face of the global interfaith peacebuilding movement. The email that was sent out at the end of the Assembly in which 6 quotes from men were included and none from women, and the one photo was primarily of men, only deepened my frustration. Precisely because RfP has recognized the importance of highlighting religious women’s voices and their efforts, that should not have happened.

      All that said, I don’t want to put unfair criticism on RfP or any of the other religious peacebuilding organizations I work with and support. I myself have held many religious peacebuilding public events through my USIP work that were male-dominated. Again, I am well aware of the challenges because I often can’t surmount them myself.

      This page is meant to be provocative, being as it is committed to visual reps alone. I have considered at times creating a page called “Found Women,” to offer kudos for those times when orgs successfully hold a gender-balanced panel on a religious topic that is not on a women or child specific issue. Stay tuned.

  2. Brie Loskota says:

    Thank you for this 1,000 times over.

  3. This is so appreciated! Please see our humble efforts to address this missing link: http://www.womeninislam.org/page/mosque_access.html

    Thank you!

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