It’s not on many occasions that you find religious leaders from different denominations in the same place, but yes, this happened on 16th October as SRHR Alliance Uganda held the inaugural Inter-religious dialogue. The gist of the dialogue was to brainstorm ideas to prepare young people on how they can best position themselves to make informed decisions in regards to Sexual and Reproductive Health. Since the first lockdown was announced in March, we have seen reports from the media and police indicating a rise in teenage pregnancies, gender-based violence, and many other SRHR related issues affecting young people. By the fact that over 80% of Uganda’s population is brought up in a religious setting, the best way to approach these uprising SRHR issues as a result of the pandemic was to engage religious leaders.
In every community, religious institutions have some form of youth groups, worship, youth formation, or youth leadership schemes that bring together young people from different families to deliberate subjects concerning their livelihoods. In addition, religious leaders/organizations run schools, health facilities, and vocational training schemes. These services are opportunities, rich in social capital, for engagement, which should be adequately utilized to support young people access correct information and Youth Friendly SRHR Services, so as to make informed and healthy decisions about their sexuality.
In his opening remarks, Charles Owekmeno, our National coordinator said the dialogue presented us an opportunity for all religions to work together for the good of young people’s SRHR. “The biggest number of schools are religiously founded. That means when young people need services, they will automatically be in a faith-based environment. This dialogue is to inform us on how we can position young people to access SRH.”
Dr. Dinah Nakiganda the Assistant Commissioner of Adolescent and School Health from the Ministry of Health graced the occasion and during her keynote address, she highlighted that there needs to be a multi-sectoral approach to SRHR issues of Young people. as opposed to leaving the issues to only to Health and educational institutions. “COVID-19 exposed our unreadiness as a country to protect young people. Religious leaders can influence policy change to protect young people’s SRHR. We need to use our positions so that we don’t lose them with the pandemic,” She added.
Jackie Katana, a board Vice Chairperson of the Faith for Family initiative was also in attendance at the dialogue. She encouraged the SRHR Alliance to guide religious leaders on how to integrate SRHR information into religious teachings because very many young people are at least attached to a place of worship. She also encouraged religious leaders to document their teachings so as to ensure continuity of information dissemination.
Sheikh Ali Wasswa the deputy Mufti of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council emphasized the need to build the capacity of Religious leaders, provide evidence, provide information to young professionals through their platforms and structures, counseling to those affected, influencing policies for Adolescent Health.
Rev. Evatt Mugarura from the church of Uganda stressed that it’s history that religious leaders can influence the policies that directly affect the health of young people. But there is a need for a Capacity building to transform the mindset of religious leaders. Furthermore, he said “Young people cannot speak openly to us in regards to issues of SRHR since we usually judge them. If our mindset changes, they will be able to open up to us.”
The Inter-religious dialogue had over 100 religious’ leaders, all were in accord with the idea of involving SRHR in church programming and was moderated by Faith Mairah the Youth Country Coordinator of SRHR Alliance Uganda