Given their trusted and strong presence, there is tremendous potential for faith organizations to influence people’s choices on family health and wellbeing. However, some faith leaders and institutions do not always feel free to have honest and open discussions with adolescents and youth. In particular, talking about sex, sexuality, and sexual and reproductive health is difficult. Yet, such adult-youth/adolescent conversations are needed to protect adolescents and youth from risky decisions and enhance life-affirming choices.
Adolescents and youth do not have adequate information to make informed decisions about access to sexual and reproductive health services. To better protect adolescents from teenage pregnancies and child marriages, faith leaders need to be more responsive and open to young people’s needs, while enhancing the environment inside faith institutions to learn about these topics.
In this regard, Faith to Action Network, ACT Ubumbano, Brot für die Welt, and Synod of Livingstonia Development Department (SOLDEV), a faith-based non-governmental organization in Malawi working together to create a safe space for adolescent girls and boys to freely discuss SRHR issues without judgment within faith organizations.
The activities aim at empowering young people aged 18 to 24 years with adequate SRHR information.
“Our area is challenged with issues of teenage pregnancies, rising cases of gender-based violence, school dropouts, and high prevalence of HIV/AIDS hence as people of faith, we have most often neglected taking part in addressing these challenges subjecting the majority of our young people into some noticeable challenges emanating from such negligence”.
Pastor Alick Phiri, Chairperson, Kande Pastors fraternal in Malawi, made these remarks during the 1st meeting held to discuss SRHR Issues affecting the youth of Malawi. Pastor Phiri engaged several stakeholders including Youth Network Secretary, Child Protection Workers, Mazembe Pastor’s Fraternal Chair, and District Council Leadership.
Pastor Phiri observed that equipping adolescents and the youth in the area of SRHR gives them the knowledge to live a productive life that does not deter their well-being. Pastor Phiri strongly believes in young people being at the forefront in the design and implementation of youth-focused SRHR programs. Being at the front line will ensure that the youth are leading the change.
Additionally, participants realized that faith leaders and congregants lacked correct information on sexual and reproductive health and rights coupled with several myths. In solidarity, they agreed that faith leaders and faith institutions need to be deliberate in having open discussions with young people to change behaviors that perpetuate teenage pregnancies and child marriages.
SOLDEV’s work has already enhanced the provision of youth-friendly SRH information and services in clinics, health centers, and communities to the younger generation. Faith leaders, traditional leaders, young mothers, and government officials have agreed to allow the younger generation to speak out on issues concerning their sexual and reproductive health.The youth who have participated in activities have pledged their total commitment and participation.
SOLDEV’s activities are part of the Masithethe! Let’s talk! project, implemented by Faith to Action Network in partnership with ACT Ubumbano and Brot für die Welt to promote interfaith and intergenerational partnerships to jointly enhance adolescents’ and youth’ sexual and reproductive health and rights in the Southern Africa region.
Contributor: Kenneth Sakala Executive Director, Synod of Livingstonia Development Department (SOLDEV), Mzuzu, Malawi