Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Working Together: International Religious and Sexual and Reproductive Health Organizations

Last week, the Religious Institute in collaboration with the Population Council convened its first international colloquium of religious leaders and sexual and reproductive health professionals to develop new collaborative ventures. More than 25 international organizations sent representatives, who came from as far away as Kenya and Geneva.

It was a great meeting, and set the foundation for our new international initiative to increase religious support for international family planning and reproductive health programs. You'll be hearing more about that in the coming months here.

I offered one of the introductory comments, and thought I'd share with you some of my recommendations for religious leaders on how to engage these issues and for sexual and reproductive health organizations on how to reach out to faith leaders.

*Religious leaders, we must break the silence about sexuality in our faith communities. We must preach about these issues, provide sexuality education for children, youth, and adults, offer adult forums, integrate sexual justice into our social action programs...

*SRH colleagues, approach faith based leaders for their moral authority and influence, for advice on values based approaches, in appreciation of their leadership, and influence on people of faith, not just as service providers or people who can deliver your message.

*Be willing to start where the faith community IS, not where you would like them to be. Work on AIDS can begin with working on care, on sexuality education could begin with educating parents or sexual abuse prevention, for family planning it could be maternal mortality or violence against women. Seek to develop relationships and partnerships first. Patience IS a virtue.

*Don’t write religious leaders off because of their tradition. In Pakistan, muslim clerics are distributing contraceptives. In Iran, there have been religious rulings that reassure couples that using contraception is consistent with their faith traditions. In Thailand, Buddhist values were incorporated into the national family planning room. In some areas, priests and imams may be your best allies, and leaders from Protestant traditions may not. It is important to identify key faith leaders who support you, and then ask them to introduce you to others. Have faith leaders speak to faith leaders, not public health professionals who don’t know the faith well.

*Make it easy for religious leaders to be involved. Ask for their help in developing materials. Our Congo Sabbath went more easily once we had materials that could be used in worship, as handouts, as adult education sessions. Offer training on sexuality issues. But, a note of caution: let religious leaders be religious leaders. Don’t try to “message them” with public health messages, don’t ask them to become your business partners.

We all need to remember that yes, sexual and reproductive health are public health issues, but they are moral issues as well. Our commitment to the dignity and worth of all people commands us to work for women’s equality and flourishing. Our theological commitment to truth telling calls us to oppose abstinence-only-until-marriage education. Our understanding that it is because life is so precious, we must do everything possible to make sure it is not created carelessly and that means we must support contraception and sex education. Our commitment to the moral agency of women means we must articulate that abortion is always a moral decision and that every woman, regardless of where she lives, must have the right to make that decision safely and legally. We must end the violence against women’s bodies and also their lives, including preventing unnecessary death. Our commitment to the most vulnerable, the most marginalized, and the poor means that we must work to assure that all people have yes access to family planning and reproductive health services but also the right to make responsible and healthy and pleasurable sexual decisions.

May it be so.

1 comment:

Pastor Dan said...

It looks like you have a great site here. I will be checking back often.
Once again, Great website, and great writing.

God Bless,
Pastor Dan