Asia Humanism Conference: Breaking Barriers

  • post Type / Young Humanists International
  • Date / 23 December 2013

Many shed tears, as the first of the International Delegates prepared to depart, following the three-day meeting of Humanist Youth from throughout Asia and the globe.

It is a cliché, but it was easy to see how over the course of the Asia Humanism Conference: Breaking Barriers, strong friendships had formed through the common goal of promoting humanistic values throughout Asia, and beyond.

The International Asia Humanism Conference: Breaking Barriers was held in Cebu City, The Philippines, from the 21st till the 23rd June 2013; hosted by the Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society (PATAS). and conjointly organised by the International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organization (IHEYO) and PATAS.  The event was attended by young Humanists of more than 10 different nationalities including those from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesian, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Luxemborg, Norway and Canada. Most of the participants who attended are currently actively involved in Humanist, atheist and secular initiatives within Asia.

The major theme of the programme was “Beyond Barriers: Humanist Approach in Combating Injustice against the Disadvantaged / Marginalized Youth in Asia”; the application of humanistic approaches to alleviate discrimination and poor conditions faced by many individuals in Asia, especially those of the marginalization and disadvantaged youth. This theme was celebrated by the choice of hosting city, as the Cebu City Council passed an ordinance last year, which prohibited employment discrimination by persons or companies on the basis of beliefs, religion, or sexual orientation; making it a leading city in humanist values in Asia. Each presentation during the three day event exposed the discrimination and suffering caused by religious based bias in various Asian communities, and discussed the importance of humanistic and secular values within Asian society. More importantly, the programme highlighted how Humanism can be used to decrease discrimination and human suffering, and promote the welfare of disadvantaged groups in Asia.

The Conference also provided the opportunity for Asian youth to learn about the importance of Humanism and its impact on human rights in Asia. Humanism promotes an atheistic and agnostic way of thinking, and viewing the world; however, it was stressed that a Humanist should be able to put aside their own stance on the existence of a deity and work together with people of opposing views, towards a common goal of alleviating human suffering. What sets Humanists apart is their ability and desire to conduct chartable and humanitarian acts without a religious or supernatural framework, not their obstinate defiance of God.

 The Asian Humanist Conference provided a platform for Humanist youth from Asia, and around the world to meet, network and exchange ideas. Furthermore it helped to strengthen communication between South and East Asian Humanist organisations. Participants from New Zealand and Australia heralded the potential for further networking in the greater Asia-Pacific region.

The mixing of nationalities also provided the opportunity to celebrate cultural diversity. To mark World Humanist Day on the 21st June, conference participants shared their diversity with a cultural night. Each participating country was welcomed to share songs, dances, expressions, and stories from their home country. This mutual exchange, and enjoyment of each other’s cultures, helped to establish ties among fellow Humanists, and promote the idea that we are all humans and should not be bound by cultural and religious barriers. We should view ourselves as being a single humanity, and cultural diversity is a privilege to be shared by all.

Participants are already anticipating the organisation of the next Asian Humanism Conference, with much discussion already being conducted on Facebook. This reflects not only the strong international friendships formed during the event, but the desire of many participants to work together to promote Humanism across Asia.

Everyone who attended the event was extremely grateful to the organisers and speakers for making our time in Cebu interesting and exciting. However I special thanks must be made to HIVOS for generously providing funding towards the conference including a one day Humanist Leadership capacity training workshop.

Eleanor Middleton

Humanist Society of NZ

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