FoRBLN started work in the months immediately prior to the Covid-19 pandemic with exploratory visits to each of the project countries. Due to the global health pandemic this work was significantly disrupted wih the majority of FoRBLN’s activities migrating on-line with training events, workshops, webinars and dialogues. The easing of Covid restrictions saw a return to in-country activity and an acceleration of work to set up parliamentary caucuses.
In West Africa, a parliamentary caucus was set up in the Gambia in December 2022 and in Sierra Leone in February 2023. These caucuses have been set up in accordance with parliamentary rules and procedures and with the support of relevant parliamentary officials.
Their establishment followed a period of intensive parliamentary consultation and subsequent discussion with religious leaders and wider civil society groups.
As part of this process a series of workshops and training events were provided to assist parliamentarians, faith leaders and civil society groups to work collaboratively on FoRB related matters.
In the Gambia, the FoRBLN has worked closely involved the Gambian Christian Council and the Supreme Islamic Council, while in Sierra Leone the Inter Religious Council of Sierra Leone has bene instrumental.
To encourage mutual learning and regional collaboration, parliamentarians from Sierra Leone visited the Gambia in January 2023. A return visit of parliamentarians from the Gambia to Sierra Leone occurred in March 2023.
In the Gambia, parliamentarians, faith leaders and representatives of the Ministry of Education collaborated with the Gambian Teachers Union to organise Give Peace a Chance, a FoRB youth awareness project targeting schools from across the country.
This competition involved secondary school pupils using prose, poetry or painting to depict their visions and hopes for an inclusive and peaceful country and the role that they can play in this process. An award ceremony for the winning entries was held at the residence of the British High Commissioner in February 20211.
Going forward, FoRBLN will work to further operationalise the work of both parliamentary caucuses and to strengthen the relationship between the caucuses and the wider networks of faith leaders and civil society actors.
In South Asia, FoRBLN Networks, involving parliamentarians, religious leaders and civil society groups have been established in Pakistan and in Bangladesh.
These Networks aren’t formal parliamentary caucuses but have established links with existing parliamentary bodies such as the Women’s Caucus in Pakistan and the Caucus on Social Justice in Bangladesh.
In Pakistan, the Network’s activities includes conferences, workshops, capacity building events and provincial solidarity visits. Forced conversion and forced marriage has been a recurring theme to this work.
The Jinnah Institute, a policy think tank in Islamabad, has contributed to the Network’s activities by organising a series of webinars, podcasts and town hall events to facilitate a progressive debate on the rights of minorities in Pakistan, particularly with regard to freedom of religion or belief.
Taken together this work looks to mainstream minority representation into all ambits of public policy debate and to foster advocates and champions for progressive change over time.
Going forward the FoRBLN Network will continue its engagement around forced conversion and forced marriage, and look to support the formation of an Ad Hoc Caucus on FoRB where concerned parliamentarians can collaborate on strategies to redress this situation.
In Bangladesh, the focus has been on working with parliamentarians in their constituencies to organise a range of activity designed to strengthen the relationship between key local actors and to challenge marginalisation and discriminatory practices.
This work has been facilitated by The Hunger Project and their Youth Ending Hunger network.
Meetings in Dhaka, have provided the opportunity for parliamentarians to come together at a national level to share their experiences and to reflect on cross cutting themes that might need to be addressed through parliamentary action. The majority of participating parliamentarians are members of the parliamentary Caucus on Social Justice.
In 2022, as part of the process of network creation and FoRB outreach in Bangladesh, the DRIK Picture Gallery in Dhaka facilitated a national photo competition, Building Inclusive Cultures. The open competition invited photographic entries capturing people’s understanding of what constitutes inclusive cultures and communities. The competition was preceded by a series of digital workshops and webinars.
The winning entries formed part of a public exhibition at the Drik Picture Gallery in November 2022 and subsequently at the British Council in March 2023. To attract a wider audience, this exhibition was also displayed on-line and, unusually, on the sides of rickshaws that then visited popular public locations in Dhaka.
These photographs have also been used as to backdrop to network activity throughout Bangladesh and have proved helpful in opening up conversations on sensitive subjects with differing groups.