Faith to Action Network at Inspire conference: Debating Religion and SRHR – What does successful leadership look like?

Athens, GREECE, 2 October 2019 (F2A) – Religion, religious communities, leaders and institutions present both resources and obstacles to the full attainment of sexual and reproductive health and rights for all and for women, youth and LGBTQI persons. At the INSPIRE conference in Athens, Faith to Action Network and Church of Sweden hosted a panel discussion on best practices in reaching out to religious actors to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights.

In reaching those furthest left behind, it is important to engage the religious sectors. In many parts of the world, the rural woman has no options but her faith-based hospital. Engaging religion matters, as most people worldwide profess to a religion, all the people we meet and try to reach.

The panellists included Jon O’Brien from Catholics for Choice, Shanta Laxmi Shrestha from Beyond Beijing and Florian Buhuceanu from Societatea De Educaţie Contraceptivă Şi Sexuală in Romania.

According to their experiences, it is important to work with people of faith and lay leaders, women of faith and women leaders, alongside clergy. Drawing on role models, especially historical women leaders, goddesses, saints and icons can help explain sexual and reproductive health and rights. Inter-religious approaches can be very effective, and must start with areas of agreement, before discussing less consensual issues.

The panel considered polarisation between “human rights” and “religion”, with both secular and faith-related actors holding strong misconceptions about each other. More attention needs to be put in explaining the underlying moral and ethical underpinnings of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Avoiding discussing morals and ethics in the public space gives religious manipulators an easy playground.

Empowering and enlightening people of faith and religious leaders is important. They and their families face the same issues. Starting from a personal perspective helps create compassion and understanding.

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