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Women have always had a major role in society. As well as rearing and educating children and running a home, they do substantially more than half the world's work, earn one tenth of its income yet own less than one-hundredth of its property. In many parts of the world they routinely suffer human rights violations. The women's movement of today has grown out of this experience of subjugation, inequality and even violence. It is a liberation movement with a vision of justice and a self-awareness of women's gifts and potential.
These aspirations found striking expression at the fourth World Conference on Women recently held in Beijing. During it women brought ribbon banners from every comer of the world to "weave the world together with messages of hope, reconciliation and peace, to link diverse heritages to a common future..." This imaginative action is a symbol of the yearning, the determination and the strength of women in the struggle towards the "global community". Despite some disharmony and dissatisfaction the Platform for Action and the Beijing Declaration emerged. This is a charter for women's rights at home, in society, at work and in the family, drawn up and agreed by women, (with the participation of a few men), who came from 189 countries to work together for the equality and development of women the world over.
The experience of women, who have so often been silenced and rendered insignificant in their religious tradition, is giving rise to creative action. They are uniting to empower one another to change the situation and to foster new life._ The interreligious dialogue has something in common with the women's movement. It also seeks liberation from attitudes of prejudice and domination. It requires respect, openness to the "other", a readiness to honour the convictions, the heritage of other traditions and learn from them. This dialogue needs the feminine genius - its insight, empathy and nurturing gifts - if the new way of living together on which the future of human life on earth depends, is to be born.
This issue of Sidic attempts to explore the distinctive contribution of women to this dialogue. Margarida Lopez Ferraz writes from a Latin American viewpoint. Audrey Doetzel describes the education programmes initiated by a partnership between a Jewish woman and a Christian woman in the United States. The moving story of Etty Hillesum, whose courage and faith gave dignity to many, is an inspiration to women and men of all religious and of no religious commitment. Rabbi Lionel Blue brings the perspective of a man Qf.faith who is a gifted communicator and a friend of many women.
If dialogue is strictly dependent on the ability to be attentive to the living human partner, and to know how to make a place for the one who is different, then the more women become participators in this dialogue the more these relationships will blossom.