Sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR)—including family planning—are a sensitive, often personal topic. In many societies, the attitudes, decisions, and behaviors related to family planning are inextricably linked to religious beliefs and values. While faith leaders are regularly recognized as important to promoting changes in community behaviors, they are often overlooked as policy partners. As trusted members of society, faith leaders are uniquely positioned to champion policies that strengthen family planning.
Faith to Action Network is one organization amplifying faith leaders’ voices to encourage policymakers to support family planning. They recognize that faith leaders play a vital role in addressing the health needs of the communities they serve and have made faith leaders central in their advocacy to pass the East African Community Sexual and Reproductive Health (EAC SRH) Bill in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA).
The Road to Universal SRH Services in East Africa
The EAC is a regional intergovernmental organization of six partner states, comprising Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. The EAC SRH Bill, if passed, will provide strategic direction toward universal access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services for the EAC’s estimated 200 million people.1 Faith to Action Network has been critical to the legislative process, providing faith-based perspectives on contentious issues in the draft bill, including harmful cultural practices, comprehensive sexuality education, the reproductive health needs of adults over 55 years old, and assisted reproductive technology.
In 2018, PRB partnered with Faith to Action Network to create a data-driven policy brief and a video showcasing faith leaders throughout the EAC speaking in support of SRH education for youth. We trained Faith to Action Network on the principles of policy communication and worked together to develop concepts, define audiences, craft evidence-based messages, and design the materials.
PRB believes that quality information is essential to creating policies and programs that advance family planning for all. Under our Family Planning Advocacy Resource Hub, we work with partners in Africa and Asia to produce customized communications materials that propel their advocacy efforts forward. We focus on collaboration and let our partners take the lead, resulting in materials that are tailor-made for local advocacy initiatives and policymakers.
Faith to Action Network says their work with PRB helped them understand the importance of storytelling for authentic communication; as a result, videos highlighting faith actors’ perspectives are now important in their advocacy.
Chief Executive Officer Peter K. Munene notes that since the PRB partnership, an “emphasis on evidence has taken greater priority in advocacy done by the faith community. Even where the numbers can’t be available, the inclusion of life stories has served well to demonstrate the significance of the issues addressed.” The videos have given authenticity to the voices of religious leaders in support of SRH.
Laying the Groundwork for Policy Change
The co-created materials have been critical in providing evidence of interfaith support for SRHR issues and have helped religious leaders engage with governments—and others within their own institutions—on SRHR matters.
In January 2020, Faith to Action Network screened the video to the EALA’s Committee on General Purposes (GPC); EALA members later renewed their commitment to advance the bill, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) agreed to finance the re-drafting process. Faith to Action now co-chairs the regional task force that steers advocacy of the bill, convening regional partners, civil society organizations, and GPC members to create awareness, build consensus, and support redrafting. Stakeholders will have a chance to learn about the re-drafted bill during a series of national consultations, then the bill will move to public hearings in the partner states before finally being put to a vote in the EALA.
Laying the groundwork for policy change often starts with the most effective messengers delivering the right messages. Today, decisionmakers in the EALA are working to address the reproductive health and well-being of all people in the EAC thanks in part to the partnership of PRB and Faith to Action Network. Equipping faith leaders with the skills and tools to reach policy audiences with data is key to advancing policies to strengthen family planning.
Acquired June 9, 2021, from United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2019 Revision of World Population Prospects, https://population.un.org/wpp/DataQuery/.