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Engaging Faith-Based Organizations in Family Planning Advocacy

Faith-based organizations (FBOs) and faith institutions are often perceived as not supporting family planning (FP). However, FBOs have publicly shown support for FP for some time. In 2011, more than 200 religious institutions and FBOs endorsed the Interfaith Declaration to Improve Family Health and Wellbeing. More recently, studies show that these institutions play a vital role in health care service delivery, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. There, the private sector delivers about 50% of health care services and FP messages. As private-sector entities, FBOs and religious leaders can encourage people to use contraceptive methods.

Engaging Community

“Faith communities are concerned about enhancing life. We know that the challenges related to prenatal care and antenatal care are so severe on the babies and also their mothers. So our interest here is to ensure that we take care of the well-being of the mother, especially through things like child spacing,” said Reverend Canon Grace Kaiso, of Uganda, during a community panel conducted during the March 2021 International Conference on Family Planning Not Without FP Forum.

“Faith communities are concerned about enhancing life.” — Reverend Canon Grace Kaiso

Karrowa Village members | Karrowa Village members listen during a community group meeting discussion on key nutrition and WASH behaviors | Credit: Kate Consavage/USAID
Karrowa Village members. Credit: Kate Consavage/USAID.

Awareness of the importance of engaging faith-based organizations and religious leaders in closing the gap in meeting individuals’ health care needs is increasing. Nigeria’s Family Planning Blueprint 2020–2024 recognizes the need to partner and collaborate with religious leaders and faith-based organizations as a key strategy in meeting FP needs.

Assessing the FP Landscape

A recent Global Health: Science and Practice (GHSP) article supports the importance of engaging faith-based organizations and religious leaders in meeting individuals’ FP needs.

The article authors note that “FBOs are interested in expanding access to FP and increasing service delivery, yet governments, donors, and nongovernmental organizations give low priority to FBOs for financial, training, and commodity support of FP, resulting in a lack of services for underserved populations. When public facilities face stock-outs, commodities are less likely to flow to FBOs.”

The authors describe a project in which The Christian Connections for Health partnered with the Christian Health Association of Kenya and Churches Health Association of Zambia to build capacity among FBOs and religious leaders to advocate for FP. The project involved:

Community Health Supplies | Community health post pharmacy/health supplies | Photo Credit: Jordan Burns/PMI
Community Health Supplies. Photo Credit: Jordan Burns/PMI

At the beginning of the project, a survey was conducted to assess the FP environment and identify gaps to be addressed through advocacy efforts. The survey found that barriers include stock-outs of supplies, lack of staff training, and lack of awareness about FP among the community.

Advocacy Results

The project saw some success, notably in:

  • Increasing public support at the county level (Kenya) and national level (Zambia).
  • Gaining commitment to increase funding at the county level (Kenya) and national level (Zambia).
  • Having less stock-outs of FP commodities at faith-based health care facilities (Kenya).

The authors write, “Although attributing advocacy results to a specific initiative is challenging, the project saw shifts in the attitude and policy decisions of the MOHs in both countries that were linked with advocacy by religious leader advocates and the involvement of CHAK and CHAZ in working groups.”

“The project saw shifts in the attitude and policy decisions of the MOHs…”

Lessons Learned from the Project

  • Religious leaders need to advocate internally within their faith institutions before they can publicly advocate for FP. Sensitizing leaders on the importance of FP and the church’s role in advocacy takes time.
  • Advocacy training needs to include technical information on FP as well as terminology that aligns with religious values and beliefs.
  • Given the demands that faith leaders have in their communities, providing additional nominal support (such as transportation allowances and lodging) to help leaders conduct additional advocacy responsibilities can be beneficial.

More work is needed to change the negative perceptions around FP support among faith-based organizations. Increased awareness and support for FP among religious leaders and institutions is vital. In particular, FBOs must ensure that FP messages use language that aligns with the beliefs and values of the faith and its texts.

For more information on these findings, read the full article in GHSP.

Adult literacy students | USAID has supported educational programs to assist in educating adult men and women | Credit: J. Neves/USAID
Sonia Abraham

Scientific Editor, Global Health: Science and Practice Journal

Sonia Abraham is the scientific editor for the Global Health: Science and Practice Journal and has been writing and editing for over 25 years. She holds a Bachelor’s in Biological Sciences from the University of Maryland and a Master’s in Writing from Johns Hopkins.

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