2010 All Ireland Humanist Summer School

Location: Carlingford Heritage Centre, Co. Louth
When: Friday 3rd, Saturday 4th, Sunday 5th September 2010
Jointly hosted by: Humanist Association of Northern Ireland and Humanist Association of Ireland.

Humanism and the Rights of Women

Humanism is a world view concerned with the place of humans in the world. Many Humanists are environmentally aware, have compassion for other species, care about societies where there are inequalities between classes, and oppose religious privilege.  But what part does half the world’s population play in Humanism, in society, even where they are overtly ‘equal’? Is the role women play in whichever society/country/predominant culture they live in mirrored in their Humanist groups? The International Humanist and Ethical Union’s set of fundamental principles of modern Humanism laid out in the Amsterdam Declaration (1992),.has nothing to say about women and equality. Do we take it as such an accepted, and won, argument in the West?
It’s easy to say that covering women head to toe, keeping them indoors, not allowed to work, have their body integrity mutilated is all so wrong, and it is. No doubt, no question, but is there genuine of ‘parity of esteem’ the sexes among Humanists? If this doesn’t come up as a presentation by one of the speakers it may at dinner, breaks, on walks or in workshops.
This is the eighth annual all-Ireland Humanist Summer School, and it’s looking like being another good one. Speakers are from North and South of the island, Nuala McKeever and Colm O’Gorman respectively, and we are very pleased to have a Norwegian colleague, Kristin Mile, Secretary General of the Norwegian Humanist Association, address us. The Summer school will be opened by David McConnell, who is fulfilling the role perform by the late Justin Keating in previous years. We’re looking forward to hearing how they present this topic, and the discussions afterwards.  And then there is also the  walk, and the food, and the chat and the catching up, and the meeting new people. We look forward to seeing you there.

Progamme of Events

Friday 3rd September

20.00 Informal Gathering – Carlingford Arms

Saturday 4th September

09.15 Registration
10:00 Welcome: Chair Myrtle Ewing and Opening address: Prof David McConnell
10:30 Nuala McKeever
11:15 Q and A
11:30 Tea and Coffee; sale of books, CDs, DVDs
12:00 Colm O’Gorman
12:45 Q and A
13:00 Lunch Forage in the locality – the Four Seasons and other cafes are all nearby
14:30 Slieve Foy ramble, sightseeing, music
19:30 Dinner: Four Seasons Hotel (paid in advance)

Sunday 5th September

10:00 Kristin Mile
10:45 Q and A
11:00 Tea and coffee
11:30 Workshops
12:30 Plenary
13:00 Close

Profiles of Speakers

Carlingford Heritage Centre

According to Irish legend, the giant Finn MacCool roamed the land around Carlingford, and on his last day he gathered a large piece of earth and threw it out to sea. He then lay to rest and ended his life as the mountain Slieve Foy, which rises behind the seaside town. The shape of his body can be seen in the shape of the mountain. And the earth he threw? Naturally, it became the Isle of Man.

Carlingford, a beautiful medieval town located 65 miles from Dublin and 55 miles from Belfast, nestles between Slieve Foy, Carlingford Lough and the Mourne Mountains. It has more ancient buildings than any similar sized town in Ireland, and one of them – right at the foot of the mountain – is the Heritage Centre. This former place of worship is now a secular venue and therefore a perfect setting for a Humanist gathering.


Accommodation must be booked separately. Carlingford has several hotels including the new Four Seasons, The Park and McKevitts and well as Bed and Breakfast accommodation.

Carlingford is a very popular spot for visitors and tourists. The best places to stay fill up quickly, so please make sure to book your accommodation as soon as possible!

Carlingford Tourist Office, Co Louth, Tel. 00353 (0)42 937 3033. Email [email protected]
You can find a list accommodation links here.


To attend the summer school please book by sending your contact information together with payment to any of the following

Humanist Association of Ireland
Ann James, Rose Cottage, Coach Rd, Balrothery, Balbriggan,
Co. Dublin, Tel: 00 353 87 9817861
inf[email protected]

Humanist Association of NI
Alan Watson, 34 The Cutts, Derriaghy, Belfast BT17 9HN
Tel: 028 9062 0427
[email protected]
Events must be paid for in advance.

Full weekend: €45/£36
Saturday events only: €30/£24
Sunday events only: €15/£12

Concession rate for unwaged: half above rates.

Dinner on Saturday €30/£24

Note: Coffee and Tea are provided during in the morning, but lunch is not included. Carlingford offers a number of venues that do lunches and attendees are free to join others at any one of these or make their own arrangements.


All Ireland Humanist Summer School 2010

Humanism and the Rights of Women

Kristin Mile, Norwegian Humanist AssociationKristin Mile
Thank you for inviting me to this annual summer school. This is my second visit to Ireland, and I am really enjoying my stay.

I work as the Secretary General of the Norwegian Humanist Association for more than four years now. My focus is empowering humanism, as well as freedom of religion and belief, combined with equal treatment of different religious and non-religious societies. And, of course I have to run an organization with almost 70 employees.

I used to work with Women’s Rights. This was my professional focus for more than ten years. For almost six years I was the Gender Equality Ombudsman in Norway.

This position is a public one, and the purpose of such a public position and an office attached to it, is to promote gender equality, to handle complaints on contraventions on women’s rights and also to enforce legislation securing equal treatment of men and women.
I am educated as a lawyer – worked with labour rights, non-discrimination most of my working life.
About Norway and Equality
Compared to many other countries, the situation for women in Norway is good. Women are doing well in the fields of education, working life and politics.
Statistics show that at present there are a higher number of women than men women in higher education in Norway. Norwegian women participate in working life and they are very well represented in politics. Yet, the labour market in Norway is extremely gender segregated and we still have to work for equal pay for work of equal value.

The situation for women was not always as good as today. In the 1960’ Norway was a country of working men and housewives. Less than 20% of the women participated in working life. Women did not have much education and they had the main responsibilities for children and home. And women did not participate in political decision-making.

Now Women’s rights and Gender Equality have been in focus in Norway for more than thirty years. We got our Gender Equality Act since 1979 and a Gender Equality Ombudsman was established the same year.

But having such tools do not secure women’s rights by themselves. We still have inequality I several fields, and women’s rights are still debated, neglected and violated.

Fighting for women’s rights is a fight against tradition, prejudice and power and not the least, a fight for changes in what we call “our Christian culture”. For the last two or three decades women’s rights have also been a fight against practices in religions and cultures in Norway.

We have had discussions about the use of hijab (vail) in working life, the use of such outfit in public life, and the last discussion in Norway was whether one could use hijab in the police force and in our courtrooms.

We have also had a focus on immigrant women’s rights in relation to marriage, inheritance as well as participation in education and working life.

About Norway and Humanism
Norway used to be a monocultures society, dominated by our Evangelical Lutheran State Church.  The majority of the population are still members of this State Church (about 80 %). But there has always been religious minorities in our country, as well as atheists and other non-believers, and in earlier days they were discriminated and oppressed.

Our Norwegian Humanist Association was established in 1956 and has grown from about 300 members to more than 77 000 as of today. We have members in every small community. And we are growing every year.

Like other life stance minorities in Norway, we are lucky to have a state funding that gives us the possibility to be visible and to be quite professional in our work. The state funding is a result of equal treatment of all religions and life stances. Our State Church is financed through our state budget, and so it is decided by law that other religious groups and life stance organisations are entitled to “roughly the same amount per member”. This has given us a good and stabile financial situation and the possibility to establish a good staff. Today we have employees in all our 19 counties as well as in our main office in Oslo.

Our main focus for more than 50 years of work has been the fight against the state church and other discriminating practices in our society, as well as in the public sector.
The main activity of our active members is the ceremonies that we offer. We offer weddings, naming of small children, confirmation and funerals. And this is the activities that give us most attention among Norwegians and make us well known in society.

Growing and building a strong and influential organisation has also been an important goal.

It is written in our bylaws that our association will work:
– For a state professing a neutral life stance, freedom to choose any life stance and respect for human rights in a pluralistic society.
– To ensure that everyone will be able to choose humanist ceremonies.
– To develop humanist life-stance and welfare services.
– To offer members a social and organisational framework for life stance identity and a sense of community.
– To spread knowledge of humanism and the organisation’s activities”

As we also say in our bylaws:  The humanist approach includes a commitment to human rights as an expression of core values and ideals. We try to have this as our focus in our work, as well as in our public statements and when we participate in public debates.

And this is also why we have had a focus on women’s rights and equality for decades in our association. Our association has been in the first line debating women’s rights and women’s liberation.
Why should humanists have a special focus on Women’s rights?

1. Equality and Women’s Rights is about Human Rights
Equal treatment of men and women is included in the human rights, both in European Conventions as well as in the UN Conventions. The United Nations Convention Eliminating all Discrimination against Women is one of the human rights conventions that have been ratified by a large number of countries within the United Nations. More than 160 countries have ratified it.

2. Humanism has a special focus on Human Rights.
In humanism, the independent and responsible human being is placed in the centre. The objective of humanism is therefore to offer every person an opportunity to develop independence, freedom and responsibility. As we say in our bylaws: we work for respect for human rights in a pluralistic society.

3. Focus on the individual
For me, this mean that every individual to been seen as and treated as a unique and independent person. This is not the situation for many people today. We have a tendency to sort people in groups and to act by that.   My experience, working with women’s rights, is that this “group thinking” very often appears when we talk about minorities or vulnerable groups in society.
This goes for women, for immigrants, for gay and lesbian people and certainly for people coming from other cultures and religions.

It is easy to say “women are…. ”, – “women do….”, and comment on the stereotypical way of behaving or acting, not on the individual.

For women, as for other vulnerable groups, this has limited their possibilities in the society It has made them dependent, and limited their freedom and responsibilities.

4. Religion and Women’s Rights
The fight against prejudice and old traditions has been a central element in the struggle for women’s rights and for equality between women and men. In all cultures and at all time, religious traditions have limited women’s lives and women’s participation in society.

The empowerment of women is closely connected to changes in society related to the position of religion.

This is the conclusion from one of the Norwegian researchers, coordinating a research project a few years ago, focusing on the connection between religion and gender roles.

In his opinion, and related to the previous work on an European Constitution,  there were different opinions among EU members, as well as potential EU members with regards to the role and position of women in society –  and these differences followed religious distinctions.

The researcher pointed out that
“ If the EU is to succeed in creating a constitution it has to be based on worldly, liberal democratic values, with no reference to religion. An important reason for this is the connection between religion and gender roles.”

In my opinion, religions traditionally have included discrimination of women. We see that all over the world. Women are being oppressed, powerless and poor. And the religions support, and even promote, such differences between men and women. In Norway our Christian majority church have been negative to almost all improvements gaining women. The rights of women relating to health and family planning have been such an area; another area is women and education, women and work, and women and political or democratic influence.

We humanists should have a constant focus on Women’s Rights, and we should criticize and argue against all attempts from religious leaders to limit the human rights of women.

Religious leader very often focus on the value of tradition. I would say that the value of most of our traditions is questionable – and that most of them are contrary to women’s rights. In my opinion all old traditions, whether they reflect religion or nationality, should be met with skepticism as long as they work in a negative way for women. As I said before, the fights against prejudice and old traditions have been a central element in the struggle for women’s rights and for equality between women and men. Religious traditions have limited women’s lives and women’s participation in society in all cultures and at all time,

Last, but not the least humanists can learn from the long struggle for women’s rights. Humanists are in a minority position everywhere. And there are some obvious parallels and good practices to copy by studying the work for women’s rights, at least in Europe and the United States.

Women’s rights and the methods of work related to this subject are often used as models for awareness and empowerment in other areas.   Good examples are children’s rights, equality for ethnic minorities and equality among religions and beliefs.

The obvious parallel is that equality between women and men and the freedom of belief, combined with equality between religious and non-religious societies are given the same focus in human rights conventions.

There are some basic conditions for successful empowerment of women, and will can learn from them:

In my view, the most important measure is education and information. Knowledge and competence have been considered basic conditions for empowerment. Education and information are the basic conditions for being able to question and criticize traditions and prejudice.

Women’s positions and empowerment have improved in countries where women have been able to get education and where democracy has opened up to information, including criticism of religious traditions.

Other basic elements in the empowerment of women are awareness of and focus on obstacles, combined with constant pressure and demand for political action. Knowledge about Human Rights and recognition of the obligations put on the ratifying states are essential in this work.

Economic independence is also an element in the empowerment of women. Women are not able to establish lives on equal footing with men as long as they are economically dependent, often on male family members.

My conclusion is that in our work for empowerment of humanism there are lessons to be learned from the long lasting work of empowerment of women.

The importance of education, information, scepticism toward religious traditions and religious prejudice, combined with demands for political action are central elements in this work.

One may very well conclude that democracy and focus on human rights lead to development in areas like equality and secularism.

Working for economic independence, welfare and development for all citizens are important ingredients of humanism.

And as I have argued, economic independence leads to equality and by that to knowledge and empowerment, which again hopefully will secure gender equality and more secular societies.