From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

Local News
In Sierra Leone, UNFPA Engages Religious Leaders on Gender and Maternal Health
By Aruna Turay
Sep 21, 2010, 10:44

The UNFPA Sierra Leone Country Office in collaboration with their Africa and Sub-Regional Offices in Dakar and Johannesburg and the Government of Sierra Leone on Monday 20th September 2010 commenced a-five-day workshop for religious leaders from various Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs), representatives of Civil Society Organizations and UNFPA staff and partners from all over Africa on strengthening partnership with Faith Based Organizations for the Promotion of Gender Equality and Maternal Health at the Taia Hotel in Freetown. About 100 participants were drawn from over 35 African countries to take part in the forum.

The main objective of the workshop is to use knowledge acquired from shared experiences, best practices and lessons learned to develop the UNFPA framework that would assist UNFPA to scale up its partnership with FBOs for the promotion of gender equality and maternal health; to update knowledge and build capacity of UNFPA staff and partners on working with FBOs; to share experiences and lessons learned on working with FBOs and to also showcase best practices on working with FBOs.

According to UNFPA country representative Mrs. Rati Ndlovu, the need to forge strong partnership with faith based organization is critical in development. He said culture and religious beliefs are the very essence of individual and collective identities, adding that religious values and practices are deeply entwined in the fabric of daily activities.

“At UNFPA, we know that promoting women’s empowerment and Sexual Reproductive Health requires the engagement of all segments of civil society, and it also requires a broad based ownership,” said Mrs. Ndlovu, adding that Faith Based Organizations have the legitimacy and moral ground to bring sensitive issues to the public domain. She went to say that many FBO’s have been very close partners to the UNFPA in their efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, encourage safe motherhood and uphold the dignity of women and mothers, while stressing that many UN member states are now calling for the engagement of FBOs in socio-economic development processes. This, she noted, is increasing as UN bodies identify an increasing number of examples from countries where FBOs are playing significant roles in development, humanitarian assistance, peace building and peace keeping.

According to the Country Rep joint efforts to seek closer cooperation with FBOs and religious leaders that believe in the development of people and the attainment of social justice hold the potential of much success, saying that it is for such reason-specifically to strengthen partnership- that UNFPA Regional Office in Johannesburg worked in collaboration with the Government of Sierra Leone and the UNFPA Country office in Sierra Leone and its partners to organize that workshop.

Giving details of the workshop, UNFPA’s Regional Technical Advisor on Gender, Ms. Miriam Jato Said faith-based organizations (FBOs) play critical roles in the lives of Africans, especially in the social, health and cultural development of individuals, families, communities and countries. She said FBOs have networks that reach most audiences, including difficult-to-reach populations. According to Ms. Jato, more than 88% of people living in Africa are affiliated to some form of religion, and in some countries that affiliation is almost 99%. “Thus religion and religious leaders have huge responsibilities and roles in influencing attitudes and behavior,” he noted.

Ms. Jato furthered that traditionally FBOs focus on meeting the spiritual, social as well as cultural needs of their members, adding that when they promote physical and mental well-being, discourage reckless behavior and advocate for ethical and fair conduct, they are also promoting members’ health. She said at the end of the workshop, it is expected that a framework for UNFPA Africa Region on working with Faith Based Organizations for the Promotion of Gender Equality and Maternal Health will be set.

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