Fraser in conversation with Wonderful from Humanists Malawi. Wonderful has his arms folded and makes a point with his right hand. He has short black hair and glasses and wears a black jacket. Fraser listens and looks at Wonderful. He has glasses and short brown hair and wears a blue suit with pale blue shirt and no tie.

Building Bridges, Building Democracies: A Report from the World Humanist Congress 2023

August 23, 2023

At the start of August, over 400 delegates from humanist organisations around the world took part in the World Humanist Congress in Copenhagen, the first congress since 2014. In all, 43 countries were represented at the three-day event.

Humanist Society Scotland sent three delegates: our Chief Executive Fraser Sutherland, Vice-Chair Clare Hayward, and celebrant Neil Anderson, the current President of the European Humanist Professionals Network, and a member of the steering group for a project aiming to extend humanist ceremony provision across Europe. The congress was themed around “building better democracies.” Delegates heard from journalists, academics, artists, politicians, and humanist activists based all over the globe.

Fraser and Clare stand in-front of a light blue banner bearing the international symbol of humanism. Fraser wears a black suit with bowtie and kilt and Clare wears a blue striped dress. Both smile at the camera.
Fraser Sutherland AND CLARE HAYWARD AT WORLD HUMANIST CONGRESS 2023 in copenhagen.

During the congress we agreed on a new declaration, the Copenhagen Declaration on Democracy: a humanist value. This reflects on the many challenges facing democracy across the world in 2023, and considers how humanist organisations can make a case for democratic ideals. Delegates also committed to restating opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. On the final day of congress we heard powerful testimony from a Ukrainian human-rights organisation and a war correspondent.

Delegates were also able discuss ideas in more detail in a series of workshops. Fraser presented on the work Humanist Society Scotland has undertaken on climate change. Neil spoke about the popularity and prevalence of humanist wedding ceremonies in Scotland. Scottish representatives also attended sessions on women and democracy, freedom of thought and humanists at risk, and humanism and democracy as tools to promote LGBTQIA+ rights.

We were delighted to meet Wonderful Mkhutche from Humanists Malawi, an organisation Humanist Society Scotland has supported to help build the capacity of humanism in Wonderful’s home country (see title-image). You can read more about the previous work of the Scottish Malawi Humanist Partnership here. Further Humanist Society-funded work in Malawi is planned for this year.

Fraser and Jiri smile at the camera, Fraser in his suit and bowtie and Jiri in a dark blue suit with pale blue shirt (no tie) and purple humanism badge on his lapel. They stand in-front of a bronze statue of a mermaid.
Fraser and Jiri muller of the newly established CzEch HUmanists

The congress also doubled as the annual General Assembly of Humanists International, the global membership body of humanist organisations. We were pleased to support applications to form new humanist organisations in Zambia, Namibia, Kenya, and the Czech Republic. We were especially delighted to hear that Jiri Muller of Czech Humanists was inspired to establish the first humanist organisation in his country after attending our very own conference in Glasgow last year!

Members of the congress also elected a new board for Humanists International. We were pleased to see Roslyn Mould from Ghana given the role of Vice-President. Roslyn previously spoke at the Humanist Society Scotland conference in 2022 on the threats posed by religious groups to LGBT+ people in West Africa. In addition, Debbie Goddard (American Atheists), Leo Igwe (Humanist Association of Nigeria), Alavari Jeevathol (Humanists UK), Maggie Ardiente (American Humanist Association), and Nina Fjeldheim (Norwegian Humanist Association) were appointed to the board.

Roslyn speaks into a microphone with a speaker seated to her left and rigfht. She looks to the left. She has blue/black framed glasses and a shock of short, bright red hair in dreadlocks. She wears a black shirt and cardigan with a humanist badge on her lapel and a rainbow-coloured heart outline on her shirt.

At a time when democracy is under ever greater threat from the forces of reaction, superstition, and bigotry, this congress was an important marker for our movement. It allowed us to take stock, and to consider how to move forward to build a rational, secular, compassionate world.

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