ACT Ubumbano in collaboration with Gender Links convened a multi-faith meeting to discuss Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) 20-22 May.
Participants were drawn from networks of ACT Alliance Southern Africa Regional Forum and the SRHR Alliance partners, from nine southern African countries, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Delegates were made up of representatives from individual congregations, umbrella bodies of Christian churches, representatives from other faiths in the region such as the Bahai, Islam and African traditional religions.
The workshop theme was “ Moving from Faith to Action” with the aim of showcasing the work and experiences of faith leaders in the spaces of SRHR. Faith-based institutions and networks have inherent power and exert influence as policymakers and civil society leaders as they uphold religious doctrines and practices. Religion has a unique power of tackling structural issues, transforming gender and power relations, norms and values, is critical to ending poverty and challenging inequality. The role of religion as a driver of positive change towards social justice was also discussed. The participants agreed that concerted efforts have to be made towards engaging religious leaders and institutions for positive change and upholding human rights, gender equality and just communities.
The three days were punctuated with lively discussions, disagreements as well as reflections on SRHR themes and approaches. The workshop assisted to identify common SRHR themes and challenges for further learning and dialogue. The workshop revealed information gaps in SRHR knowledge and provided ideas on how ACT Ubumbano, Gender Links and other partners can assist faith leaders reach other peers.
Faith leaders worked through advocacy strategies for appropriate messaging to influence national policies. This was important to support interventions that keep children at school and reduce the incidences of girl children’s vulnerability to teenage pregnancy and child marriage. The religious leaders also considered a way forward that includes addressing issues of early child marriage, girls’ access to affordable sanitary wear; SGBV and provide compassionate accompaniment to survivors of GBV and those battling with addiction. The meeting was appreciated as an important and frank multi-faith space to deal with issues of sexual reproductive health rights.