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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Working Together: Muslim-Jewish Dialogue

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

At the first national conference of Muslim and Jewish women ‘Working Together’, Meg gave the following speech.


I want to thank both the Joseph Interfaith Foundation and Alif-Aleph for organising today’s event. I know both organisations play an important role in fostering good relations, sustainable dialogue and mutual respect between the Muslim and Jewish communities in the UK. I also want to thank all the members of the steering group for their continued support.


A Good Deal of Progress

A good deal of progress has been made since the first Imam and Rabbi conference last year, particularly in developing the level of engagement between Muslim and Jewish women. I think this conference, and the Imam and Rabbi Conference held two days ago, are the next steps in establishing a nationally recognised framework for interfaith dialogue and co-operation between the Muslim and Jewish communities. 


We understand that these two religious communities need to affirm their distinct identities. Both the Muslim and Jewish communities have their own history, and it is vital that these are sustained.  


Faith communities have an important role to play in British multi-cultural and multi-faith society, particularly in relation to furthering the role of women. They contribute to social and community cohesion through the values and activities that underpin good citizenship, such as altruism, respect for others, ethical behaviour and community solidarity.


Many of you will be active in your own local area, making your own contribution toward social and community cohesion. It is important that faith communities fully use the knowledge and experience of the women in their communities.


Inter Faith Dialogue

Having interfaith dialogue is important to the creation of a society that reflects positive interaction between people of all faiths and none. It can act as the social glue that joins our differences in culture, faith and ethnicity together. Interfaith activity is not just about conversation and discussion; it is about co-operation and devising practical examples which can inspire real change.


We welcome the work of national inter faith organisations whose aim is to build understanding and respect. I have already referred to the good work of Alif-Aleph and the Joseph Interfaith Foundation, but there are many faith-based organisations making a difference.  The Interfaith Network and the Three Faiths Forum are both taking practical steps to promote dialogue, friendship and understanding - particularly at grass roots level.


You may be aware that the results of the second round of the Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund (FCCBF) were announced earlier this month. Over £4.3 million was awarded to 343 organisations. Bids intended to strengthen inter faith organisations and community understanding have been given priority. 


I welcome the fact that the Capacity Building Fund also prioritised projects that actively engage women; we have a huge role in this work.


Involvement of Women in Public Life

I am pleased that an increasing number of women are coming into public life. By having more women in public life we are able to better use the whole talent pool around us. We can better reflect the diversity on our streets, in our cities and in the countryside.   

Representation also plays a symbolic role as role models for the younger generation.

This is why we have put in a number of measures to increase the number of women in politics. In 2002 we introduced the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act which allows for positive measures towards increasing women’s participation by those political parties wanting to use them.


We know that this is having an impact. In my party, the Labour Party, women make up 29% of all MPs, a full 10% more then the average.


In the UK just under a fifth of all MPs in the House of Commons are women, and it is roughly the same in our second chamber - the House of Lords. There are currently 8 women cabinet ministers - including since July a female leader of the House of Lords and a female Speaker. 


We have initiated a review into how best to increase the diversity of Local Government Councillors. At present only 29% of English councillors are women, with 2.2% being from the black and ethnic minority community. We all look forward to receiving the recommendations from this review.


But there are more ways to make your mark in public life. We need more women - more of you - on the boards of your local NHS Trust, or as school governors in local schools. School governance is the most important volunteering role in education, it is essential we get the right skills and experiences for this important leadership role. 


Way forward

We remain committed to ensuring that our policies continue to reflect the needs of women, and much progress has been made. But some minority communities still experience inequalities in education, health and employment, and this problem is often compounded for women.


We will continue to carry forward our policy commitments and working to improve the experiences of those who lack opportunities.  I hope we can work together to overcome those problems that hold people back from achieving what they are capable of.


I’m sure that today’s workshop topics will provide an opportunity for frank and open debate, and will help our engagement with both the Muslim and Jewish communities.


Please enjoy your day. 

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