We continue to serve as a bridge between religious and secular actors. The International Conference of Family Planning (ICFP) from 11th -18th November 2022 was yet another occasion to educate and sensitize medical actors, policy-makers, donors and partners about the importance of partnering with faith actors. Since 2009, the conference has brought together the global development community around a shared objective of universal access to family planning services and information. The conference is an important moment discussing new approaches and scientific findings, and setting the pace for future policy development and programming. It brings together advocates, researchers and scientists, community and government leaders, health practitioners, economists, civil society members and young people.
“The faith community needs a “seat at the table”. We are proud to report that “we claimed this space, we maintained it and we filled it with life” as Peter Munene said during his remarks at our inter-faith pre-conference.
Many years of planning, lots of time and efforts, have gone into this conference. Faith to Action Network secretariat and our member Christian Connections for International Health prepared for this conference throughout the past 3 years. We led a faith sub-committee to coordinate religious engagement, fundraised, prepared and hosted events (pre-conference, interreligious networking event, side-event, interfaith prayer), encouraged and accompanied abstract submission of faith actors, hosted an inter-religious booth at the conference exhibition hall and coordinated a conference declaration.
Throughout, we emphasized the importance to partner with faith actors to achieve access to family planning and reproductive health services and information. Our presentations shared lessons from faith actors’ work in Egypt, DR Congo, eSwatini, Ghana, the Holy Land, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Sudan, South Africa and Zimbabwe. This included:
- How to develop the capacity of faith-based health service providers, by enhancing their supply chain, quality of care, youth friendly services, data reporting.
- How to embed community health volunteering into faith structures, to raise awareness and inform our followers.
- How to better understand our sacred texts, traditions and practices so that we are true to our life-giving missions, developing SBCC messages and strategies.
- How to concretely work together across religious boundaries, how to find consensus, build on each other’s’ strengths and competences.
- How to use our societal and political power to influence policy making. How to listen to young people, understand their needs and better partner with them to serve them better.
Additionally, we also discussed challenges. Very often our secular audience doubted whether faith actors are be barriers or facilitators. We explained that the careful choice of words will help gain religious allies who accept and become champions of family planning and reproductive health. We emphasized that concepts and actions must be contextualized using language and terminologies that reflect the traditions and beliefs of communities.
In one presentation, Faith to Action Network illustrated how working with faith actors helped contributed to advancing the Kenyan government’s family planning and reproductive health targets. This intervention called Delivering Equitable and Sustainable Increases in Family Planning (DESIP) has resulted in an 80% rise in religious leaders’ awareness and acceptance of family planning as well as an increase in religious leaders’ confidence and ability to communicate faith-based child spacing messages to congregants.
In one side event, we hosted “A roundtable discussion on adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights” creating a safe space dialogue between religious actors, bilateral, multilateral donors, governments, civil society and youth representatives on how to form better partnerships to promote ASRHR. The side event was well attended. Lea Gernemann from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development said that “… working with religious and faith leaders is key to ensuring ASRHR. Where religion plays a key role, concrete partnership is needed” and State Secretary Bjørg Sandkjaer, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairssaid that “New partnerships are needed to advance women’s rights”. We are currently developing an outcome document of this dialogue and will share it early in the new year, hoping that this dialogue will be followed by additional conversations.