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Empowering Women and Spiritual Leadership : Insights from the International Women’s Day Conference in Paris

March 8th and 9th, 2024, Claire Moleon, Manager of International Relations and Gender Policy  under the UNESCO Chair on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham (Amrita University), participated in a roundtable during a two-day conference held in Paris, France, for International Women’s Day. The event was organized by Elisabeth Moreno, former French Minister for Gender Equality, Diversity, and Equal Opportunities.

The conference, titled La Puissance du Lien  The Power of Connection took place at The Grand Rex, a historic venue and Europe’s largest theatre with 2,000 seats. The event started with the screening of the film Woman by Anastasia Mikova and Yann

Arthus-Bertrand, followed by keynote addresses and roundtable discussions. Speakers included Christiane Taubira, former Minister of Justice, France; Rima Abdul-Malak, Former Minister of Culture, France; Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General, UNESCO; Tatevik Stepanyan, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Republic of Armenia; Corinne Brunet, Ambassador of Benin to France; alongside journalists, academics, doctors, artists, and women leading the multinational companies ENGIE, SANOFI, L’OREAL, and ORANGE. As a representative of Amrita University and the work done by its UNESCO Chair and Center on Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality and Chairholder, Dr. Bhavani Rao, Ms. Moleon participated in the roundtable on "Women and Spirituality Other participants

included Nathalie Becquart, French Catholic sister and member of the Congregation of Xavières, Secretary to the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church, Vatican; Chems-Eddine Hafiz, Franco-Algerian lawyer and rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris; and Tristane Banon, French journalist, and writer.

Ms. Moleon introduced Amma’s philosophy and teachings: “Spirituality is compassion in action – it begins and culminates in compassion. If we could transform compassion from a mere word into a path of action, we would be able to solve 90% of the world’s humanitarian problems.” – Amma.

She shared how Amma’s message and projects have had a profound impact on women and girls worldwide. Born in a fishing community in rural India, Amma has become a global spiritual and humanitarian leader. To this day, she has embraced 40 million people worldwide. She has also received prestigious awards and international recognition for spreading her message of compassion, peace, and service to humanity, including at the United Nations. Amma empowers women to make a wider impact on society by opening the door to them as spiritual leaders. In India, the role of priests is traditionally held by men. While there is precedence for women to be monks, it is not as popular among women, and also far more available to men. Hundreds of women have been trained and appointed by Amma as temple

priests and invested with the responsibility to give spiritual discourses and even perform religious rituals. Many women have also been inspired to follow a monastic discipline. Finally, Ms. Moleon presented the women’s empowerment and gender equality projects conducted under Amma’s guidance at Amrita University. These projects address all areas of vulnerabilities for women and girls, including education, employment, and livelihood. Over 250,000 women and transgenders have received vocational and life skills training, along with access to pensions and micro-finance opportunities. Many of them created their businesses.

The women’s empowerment projects at Amrita University also focus on safety and security, environment and disasters, and physical and mental health. Women have become community leaders, building and providing access to toilets, clean water, and better menstrual hygiene. The projects also actively involve men and boys. For example, over 25,000 police and military forces have been trained in gender-related topics and mental health. Recognizing the excellence of its work, Amrita University has been designated as India39;s UNESCO Chair on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment since 2016, with Dr. Bhavani Rao, Dean, School of Social and Behavioural Sciences at Amrita University, as its Chairholder.

Prior to the conference, Ms. Moleon was invited to recount her journey from practicing law in France to serving Amma’s projects in India. During her time in Paris, she notably defended a former deputy against Denis Baupin, the Vice-President of the National Assembly, in a high- profile case of sexual harassment and defamation. This landmark case, which was even before the #MeToo movement, resulted in a historic decision favoring the victims. Ms. Moleon shared insights into the case and her experiences during a podcast hosted and organized by Elisabeth Moreno.