An “inter-generational dialogue on faith, culture, HIV and sexual reproductive health and rights” was initiated last week in New York City by the World YWCA in partnership with the World Council of Churches (WCC) and other international organisations.
The dialogue was organised as a side event at the United Nations 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
The participants in the event, including faith and community leaders, discussed issues related to HIV and women’s right to health, including sexual and reproductive health.
It was stressed that discriminatory approaches to HIV prevention and sexual and reproductive health and rights intensify stigmas directed against people living with HIV.
The panellists in the event discussed ways of strengthening contributions from faith communities in advancing the agenda for development and women’s rights, evolving strategies to eliminate and reduce early, forced and child marriages.
Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, the WCC’s representative to the UN, attended the event and spoke about the WCC’s engagement in the issue of HIV.
Introducing the WCC’s project the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA), he shared ways in which this initiative has encouraged “churches to stand in solidarity with those who suffer” and provide “‘safe spaces’ for compassionate and non-judgmental dialogue for greater understanding and support.”
Bueno de Faria added that “EHAIA’s entry into this discourse has been through addressing questions raised by church- going adolescents who were born HIV-positive and are now faced with the challenge of dating, marriage and the desire to have children born HIV-negative.”
“Church-based clinics and hospitals must address the needs of such girls and others through a theology of life: a theology which is in service to life”, and stand against “practices of patriarchy, stigma, social exclusion and marginalisation,” he said.
Hendrica Okondo, global programme manager for SRHR and HIV at the World YWCA, said in her remarks, “Today, it’s important for faith communities to stand up and advance the wellbeing of young women and girls.”
“In the face of poverty and HIV, many young women who are dying due to preventable maternal deaths experience child, early and forced marriage, while some suffer from violence. Our faiths, cultures and traditions must affirm women’s human rights and promote equal opportunities for all,” said Okondo.
Among other speakers were Hans Brattskar, deputy foreign affairs minister of Norway; Dr Mtisunge Kachingwe, YWCA Malawi; Dr Azza Karam, senior advisor on social-cultural development, UNFPA; Azra Abdul Cader, programme officer on religious extremism, Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women; Haldis Karstad, senior adviser on health, Norwegian Church Aid; and Loretta Minghella, chief executive of Christian Aid.