Leveraging the power of the faith community for dignity and rights
On 28 October, the World Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the World Council of Churches (WCC), through its Ecumenical HIV and Aids Initiatives & Advocacy, and the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) hosted a panel discussion entitled “Adolescents and Comprehensive Sexuality Education Impacting HIV: Faith communities taking the agenda forward.”
This collaborative initiative took place during the 37th meeting of the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board, with support from the Government of Norway and the Robert Carr Civil Society Fund.
Reverend Phumzile Mabizela from INERELA+ opened the dialogue by underscoring the fact that religion can constitute a significant barrier to young peoples’ access to Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE).
Panellists Dr. Manoj Kurian (WCC-EAA), Dr. Chandra Mouli (WHO), Dr. Sheila Tlou (UNAIDS) and Anne Skjelmerud (NORAD) highlighted the need for religious leaders, parents and young people to work together to produce guidance on CSE for faith communities. The faith-based trajectory on sexuality has often been oppressive, and points to a need for a more effective and positive platform. For example, religious leaders often articulate and promote phobias that make communities and adolescents more vulnerable to HIV infections. Reverend Mabizela also underlined the need for faith leaders to emphasize that sexuality is a gift that should be both addressed with clarity and cherished.
The dialogue brought together more than 30 participants from 15 different organisations. Participants agreed to maintain this open space of multi-stakeholder dialogue with faith communities. They will also leverage upcoming regional and global meetings, such as ICASA, ICAAP, CSW, CPD, WHA and the human rights council sessions, to establish inter-generational dialogues in communities and various countries.
Event moderator, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, World YWCA General Secretary and African Union Goodwill Ambassador, expressed appreciation to participants, especially to WHO and UNAIDS, collaborating partners for the event. She also committed to follow up on the key actions and recommendations of the meeting.
Key insights & recommendations:
- We need to amplify research that has proven the importance of age appropriate and culturally sensitive CSE as an integral part of health information and education. This is critical for HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and faith communities need to play a pivotal role.
- It’s important to engage adolescents and young people living the experience of HIV and AIDS in the dialogue on how CSE can be made readily available and accessible. And it’s critical to note that research does not support the narrative around the “dangers” of CSE, and the idea that CSE promote s promiscuity among young people.
- Faith communities must access sound and accurate knowledge and be equipped with transformative theology addressing CSE. This is an imperative and urgent need, given that adolescents are exposed to incomplete or inaccurate information via online sources and are subject to peer pressure, and there are not enough support structures.
- It’s crucial to implement and scale up best practice such as the East and Southern Africa Ministers of Health and Education Commitment on Comprehensive Sexuality Education; The framework for dialogue between religious leaders and networks of people living with HIV should follow the Safe Spaces Model for Young Women’s Leadership.
- Faith communities must be front line defenders, protectors and advocates of human rights and dignity on the ground in their communities, as their guidance and authority has great influence on adolescents’ lives.
- Faith communities should encourage diverse voices from youth groups, and help
facilitate young peoples’ participation in dialogues around CSE through ICT. Through ICT, faith leaders and health organisations can share accurate information on CSE and address myths so young people have reliable information.
- Faith communities should ensure that women, young women and girls who are advocating for CSE have support as they sometimes are at risk of threats and stigmatization.
- Partners must work together collaboratively to learn, establish stepping stones and build bridges for faith communities to take steps to ensure that adolescents have access to CSE and can shape their futures.