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The Matriarchs of Unity: A Feminist Intersectionality Solution to Interfaith Harmony

In the land near a sea, where minarets touch the sky, a girl wrapped in a cloak of Christianity found the true meaning of religious freedom. A question arises: what does it mean to go to church while a call to prayer dances in the air like a melody reverberating through the ancient stones? What does it mean to wear a cross necklace alongside those holding their beads praising Allah? Being a woman of Ambonese-Christian descendant in Cilacap, Central Java, I, Gracia Ayni Warella, had firsthand experience navigating the delicate tapestry of faith, woven with threads of diversity and shared humanity. Thus, two vital human rights subjects: religious freedom and women’s rights, emerged as substantial to me.

Many might assume that feminism and religious freedom, even interfaith harmony, are incompatible, given the perception that feminists often challenge certain patriarchal values entrenched in religions. However, contrary to this belief, they intricately complement each other toward fostering harmony. I hereby introduce: intersectionality, a lyrical understanding of our diverse social identities, creating a rich mosaic where the nuances of privilege and oppression intersect and intertwine. This concept acknowledges that individuals may encounter interconnected and mutually influencing structures of privilege and oppression (Crenshaw, 1991). A multidimensional understanding of how women's experiences and struggles are not homogenous but are influenced by other aspects of their identity, including faith. Furthermore, when viewed through the prism of interfaith harmony, the concept of intersectionality magnifies the significance of women actively engaging in promoting inter-religious understanding.

First and foremost, intersectionality challenges oversimplified narratives and stereotypes, often sources of tension in interfaith contexts. Patriarchal constructs perpetuating perceptions of female frailty and incapacity for leadership would be confronted with robust rebuttals. In reality, women emerge as pivotal figures in community dynamics, wielding influence as architects and participants in various interfaith initiatives. Drawing from my encounters, there are occasions when the women, affectionately referred to as "Ibu-Ibu" in my church, convene to organize community events. Engaging in activities such as dancing, singing, and collaboratively preparing meals for the “jemaat,” they strive to cultivate a profound sense of belonging within the community. This illustrates that tangible peace-building endeavors can originate at the grassroots level, fostering internal harmony and transcending religious boundaries.

If one would scale it globally, women have historically been leaders in diverse human rights movements, including those aimed at peacebuilding and conflict resolution. A prime example is Mother Teresa, an Indian Catholic nun who dedicated her entire life to perceiving the divine in every corner, transcending religious boundaries, including those between Hindus and Muslims (McKenna, 1998). Her revered status as a symbol of interfaith harmony left an indelible impression on me, inspiring admiration for her impactful work. I was inspired by her actions, in which she fosters dialogue among diverse faith communities, disrupting prevailing norms. As a woman spearheading a religious and humanitarian mission in a society predominantly dominated by Hindu and Muslim men, Mother Teresa defied conventional gender roles. It is a symbol of empowerment through service, providing care, and giving the women of all religions, a sense of worth, thus breaking barriers of not only gender norms, but religious differences.

In the intricate tapestry of femininity, a trait often whispered among the threads is the sublime gift of empathy, personified in the graceful spirit of Mother Teresa. This trait positions women as vital contributors to interfaith dialogue. Traditionally, women's roles span all societal levels, beginning within the family. Their presence across various social strata enhances their ability to understand, relate to, and mediate diverse perspectives, making them integral to fostering communication and understanding in interfaith contexts. At the heart of families and communities, women assume pivotal roles, shaping perspectives and molding convictions. As they advocate for values of tolerance within these domains, women become architects of a more cohesive atmosphere, one that rises above the divisions imposed by religious distinctions. This is supported by empathy complemented with compassion, accentuating them invaluable to facilitate religious dialogues in respect towards each other.

Thankfully, Indonesian women have already proven their ability to become the matriachs of unity. In the year 1999, Maluku witnessed one of the most sorrowful religious conflicts in its history. My dad is always telling As an Ambonese descendant, contemplating the events fills me with sorrow, particularly when considering that women must have been the most disproportionately affected groups. Surprisingly, that was not completely the case. They spearheaded reconciliation efforts throughout the region, commencing at the grassroots level. Elsye Syauta-Latuheru and Sister Brigitta Renyaan, both remarkable women, emerged as the foremost advocates for interfaith harmony (, 2014; 2005). The latter is a Catholic nun who alongside other women of faith promotes peaceful coexistence in Maluku, in the midst of violence. While Elsye, went to remote villages to recover the psychological state of the people post-conflict through charity work, education, and empowerment. Their substantial roles underscore how women’s participation is an ultimate key to fostering interfaith harmony.

Within the discourse of advancing women's involvement, the lens of intersectionality unveils the complexity inherent in womanhood, intricately entwined with an array of factors, notably religious beliefs. This perspective transcends a simplistic portrayal of women's narratives, delving into the intricate layers of their identities, spanning race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and faith. When considering women's participation in various spheres, intersectionality provides a more nuanced and inclusive framework. It acknowledges that women's experiences and challenges are shaped by the convergence of multiple factors, and religious identity is a crucial dimension. Thus, this recognition is essential for creating strategies and initiatives that account for the diverse and multifaceted nature of women's lives.

Intersectional feminism advocates for cooperative strategies, side by side, men and women, in the pursuit of social justice—precisely what is imperative to nurture interfaith harmony now more than ever.


Crenshaw, K. W. (1991). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence

against Women of Color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241. (2005, December 25). Suster Brigitta Renyaan, Berjuang untuk Kemanusiaan.

anusiaan (2014, May 15). Elsye Syauta Latuheru, pemelihara Perdamaian Maluku.


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