Faith Based Organizations Strategic In Addressing HIV Information Gaps and Gender Inequality

RELGIOUS and Faith based Organisations (FBOs) have been identified as a key partner in addressing some of the information gaps rampart in the male population which has seen them lagging behind in terms of access to health information and services.

By Michael Gwarisa

Speaking during a virtual meeting for FBOs, UNAIDS Country Director, Sophia Mukasa Monico said Faith Based Organizations were deeply rooted in communities and they were better placed to address some of the inequalities with regards to access to essential health information, Gender Based Violence (GBV) and other harmful practices.

The faith-based constituency could be the pathfinder in Zimbabwe that would expand secondary education, with a focus on rural areas, strengthen the implementation of comprehensive sexuality education, introduce vocational and technical streams to strengthen school-to-work transitions and work with parents and communities to reduce sexual and gender-based violence against adolescents and young people.

“Your constituency should advocate for gender-responsive reforms in policies, laws and practices to guarantee the education, health and other social and economic rights of adolescents and young people. This includes changes in parental consent requirements and eliminating user fees for adolescents to access basic HIV and other sexual and reproductive health services, supporting pregnant adolescents and young mothers to complete their education and tackling gender-based violence, menstrual hygiene management and mental health, among others,” said Ms Monico.

She added that in order to bring about mental health awareness, HIV prevention, economic empowerment and gender equality, there was need to empower the minds of adolescent girls, boys and young women and men now more than ever.

“With your mandate and reach You are better placed to do that. This workshop is timey as it will equip the religious leaders and programme teams with skills and information to address some of the inequalities by promoting access to Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and implementing the existing promising practices, strategies and skills for male engagement programming for  HIV/SRHR/SGBV.

“In order to bring about mental health awareness, HIV prevention, economic empowerment and gender equality, we need to empower the minds of adolescent girls, boys and young women and men now more than ever.” With your mandate and reach You are better placed to do that. This workshop is timey as it will equip the religious leaders and programme teams with skills and information to address some of the inequalities by promoting access to Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and implementing the existing promising practices, strategies and skills for male engagement programming for  HIV/SRHR/SGBV.”

Meanwhile, speaking on behalf of Faith Based Orgnisations, Professor Ezra Chitando said there was need for unity from all sectors of society in order to end AIDS by 2030 and rid society of the increasing cases of Gender Based Violence.

“I would like to acknowledge all the participants for your commitment. On behalf of the Interfaith Network, I would like to express our profound appreciation to the UN family, the NAC and all other partners for coming up with this highly strategic workshop. The Interfaith Network is a transformative movement that seeks to mobilise the faith community in Zimbabwe for joint action.

“We are inspired by African proverbs that place emphasis on collaboration. From Ethiopia, we learn that, “When the webs of a spider unite, they trap a lion.” From Kenya, he hear that, “Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable,” said Prof Chitando.

He added that the COVID-19 pandemic had proven that now more than ever, there is need to work together as one.

“We see this with COVID-19. There might be different variants, but these are not on the basis of religion. There is no variant for the Bahai Faith, or for Hindus, Muslims, Christians or traditionalists. We are all, equally vulnerable. Hence, we must work collaboratively in our response to COVID-19 and other challenges.”

He also said engaging men and boys was key to ending AIDS since most men and boys shun seeking health services/

“We acknowledge the significance of working with men and boys, both in the faith community and beyond. This is because, as our facilitators will elaborate, (i) Boys and men continue to be left behind in most programmes, (ii)    Men are significant when addressing issues such as HIV prevention, child marriage, gender-based violence and others, (iii) Due to the patriarchal nature of our cultures and religions, men continue to wield a lot of power in both the private and public spheres and  (iv) Working with adolescent boys and young men is wise. It is an investment in winning the future.”

As the Interfaith Network, Prof Chitando said they were committed towards joining hands and minds to achieve national, continental and global development goals. We will have plans for engaging men and CSE and move from rhetoric to action.

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