Under the theme ‘Governing Tolerance’, the sixth session of the Global Summit of Women Speakers of Parliament 2016 addressed the underlying questions of whether tolerance can be governed and if so – how parliaments can contribute to eradicating the root cause of intolerance that leads to violence, discrimination and terrorism.
In order to control the root causes they noted that it was essential to spread attitudes of values and tolerance throughout society. Governments are faced with the ever-growing challenge of eradicating intolerance, which if not addressed, could lead to attitudes of extremism and violence. The session explored a variety of methods in fostering value-based behaviour and attitudes of acceptance within communities.
In a vibrant discussion, facilitated by Mohammad Baharoon, Director General of the Dubai Public Policy Research Centre, panelists shared their insights on the role of governmental entities in eradicating attitudes of intolerance throughout society.
Esteemed speakers headlining the session included Her Excellency Sharon Wilson, President of the Bahamas Senate, Her Excellency Halimah Yacob, Speaker of the Singapore Parliament, Her Excellency Bridgid Annisette-George, Speaker of the House of Representatives of Trinidad and Tobago, Her Excellency Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of State for Tolerance, and The Right Honorable Lady Justice Anne Rafferty, Chairman of the UK Judicial College and Chancellor of Sheffield University.
Her Excellency Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi opened the session and explained the rationale behind the establishment of the Ministry of State of Tolerance, and the importance of tolerance in the UAE’s multicultural society that consists of over 200 nationalities.
She said: “We believe that Islam is a religion of peace and a driver for co-existence and tolerance – it advocates peace and tolerance like all religions globally. We look at the constitution of the UAE within the laws itself, it advocates respect for others and co-existence, and the protection of not only national citizens but also all those who live in the UAE under the framework of the sharia law. As we look at the legacy and the establishment in the foundation of the UAE, the founders of this country, including the founding father late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and its rulers have always strived to turn this country into a haven of prosperity and tolerance. We also look at the international laws when it comes to ratifying equality and tolerance that stems from the United Nations and the international community.”
Her Excellency continued by recommending actions for addressing intolerance in society: “Tolerance is a value, and therefore with change, it is not always seen first-hand, and it can actually impact you without you knowing it until over time we begin noticing its impact in our society. So for us this programme assumes importance due to its scope to reach out to other countries to establish inter-faith dialogue – this is now emerging as the international language. We all need to drive this dialogue forward. Several young people – whether teenagers or older – have been radicalised in an extremely short time. The internet can be a driver for change but it can also be misused as a lethal weapon, used to reach out to individuals and influence radicalisation.”
She added: “It is crucial that we stay united. One aspect of this is to protect our youth, it is not only about the UAE but all of us. Parliaments drive the interest of the people; it is the support of the government that actually drives laws and regulations. Internally for all of us, we want to immunise our youth against the influence of extremism and radicalisation. We need to get rid of the negativity we hear today through creating a culture that propagates education and knowledge. We need to champion social media influencers and bloggers to talk about the importance of values in any society. We also need to look at families and the cohesion between them in establishing and instilling the community values we were raised with.”
She concluded: “The UAE decided that this is a crucial programme for our country that can drive, maintain, and sustain what we have as a legacy of tolerance and co-existence.”
Her Excellency Sharon Wilson said: “Policy makers need to target various sectors and demographics within society to bring about change, paying attention to educational institutions in focusing on breaking the cycle of discrimination. Misinformation and ignorance are the main ingredients of stereotyping, which often results in prejudice. Therefore, policies promoting tolerance must be aimed at eradicating ignorance. There is no doubt that we live in an information age where extremism and radicalisation can easily be propagated. Those who perceive themselves as marginalised are more likely to be easily radicalised. Parliaments need to collaborate strategically in non-traditional ways with partners in the non-governmental sector, the private sector and the media to find viable solutions for intolerance.”
Her Excellency Halimah Yacob spoke about the actions Singapore took to spread tolerance among ethnic groups and minorities on both a political and social platform. She began by addressing the UAE delegation, saying: “I wish to commend the UAE on promoting tolerance, and congratulate Her Excellency Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi on her role in the Ministry of Tolerance and the country for establishing a national tolerance programme. This is a reflection of the values that the founding fathers of the nation embedded in their society. Singapore will work together with the UAE to promote tolerance in our societies.”
She added: “In Singapore, we have made various commitments to building a society that is inclusive of all ethnic and racial minorities. We have implemented various legislative safeguards that allow people of all races and backgrounds to achieve their highest aspirations. We also dedicated one day for all students to wear their ethnic attire to school and share their culture and ancestry with one another. Additionally, we have launched a range of community programmes including the establishment of select committees to provide a platform for dialogue and networking between different groups. We will continue to strive towards creating a harmonious society. However, in order to eradicate intolerance across all societies, this needs to be a worldwide effort.”
She further noted: “I congratulate Her Excellency Dr Amal Al Qubaisi on being the first female speaker of parliament in the Arab world, paving the way for women parliamentarians in the region.”
Her Excellency Bridgid Annisette-George discussed tolerance in Trinidad and Tobago. She said: “Our constitution guarantees all citizens equal rights under the law. We have taken measures to ensure all cultures and religions feel a sense of belonging in our society. We celebrate a number of religious festivals, including Eid, Diwali, Christmas and Easter, as national holidays. Our legislators safeguard the freedom of our people, including freedom of press, freedom of political expression and freedom of information. The freedom of information act gives members of the public the right to access official information from government authorities. On the political platform, we have established a joint committee in our parliament to address human rights and equality. The imperative to govern tolerance cannot be exclusive to legislation and committees, we must also ensure that our budgets finance education for all ages that will instill tolerance from early childhood. In Trinidad and Tobago, we have taken measures to ensure accessibility of education from the primary level to the university level.”
She concluded: “We must ensure that systemic occurrences of intolerance are identified, investigated, and eradicated.”
As the last speaker of the session, Right Honorable Lady Justice Anne Rafferty provided a valuable insight into the roles of the judiciary and education in addressing intolerance. She said: “All representatives of the judiciary in the UK must take an oath that they will do right by all men without fear or favour or affection or ill will. The oath requires every judge to determine cases based on merit and nothing else, with the aim to prevent biased decisions and promote the idea of tolerance. Law shapes society and society shapes law, therefore it is crucial that we observe tolerance in the judiciary.”
She added: “From an educator’s perspective, education is the fabric upon which tolerance is woven. Through teachings of history, students will understand the effect intolerance has on society. We also need to use the platform of the internet to connect students with their peers across the world by adopting virtual exchange programmes alongside traditional physical university exchange programmes, in addition to launching degree courses particularly in comparative law. Such activities will widen the perspectives of individuals and teach them tolerance.”
Each speaker discussed the various initiatives and policies in place in their respective countries, and the trajectory of addressing intolerance across the political, social and economic agenda. The session concluded with a common consensus that the best ways to address intolerance are education that instills moral values and parliamentary action.
For more information on the summit, please visit www.gsws.ae