In February, Katherine Marshall, senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs of Georgetown University, visited PRB to talk with staff about the impact of faith leaders on global development. In addition to broadly discussing the intersection of religion and development, she also explained the details of her past work in Senegal, which was critical for the development of PRB’s newest ENGAGE presentation, Le Sénégal s’Engage: la Religion et la Santé familiale.

Marshall explained that although family planning, reproductive health, and gender are traditionally seen as contentious topics for religious engagement, these beliefs are complex and highly personal. Religious engagement is feasible (and vital for global development) but must be approached in a sensitive and knowledgeable way. When a staff member asked Marshall about the reality of local-level community acceptance of family planning practices, she responded that when properly engaged “very few people object to the healthy timing and spacing of pregnancy.”

The roles of youth and women were of great interest to PRB staff. Text messaging has played a huge role, and many younger religious leaders are using technology and social media to change the conversation around family planning and religion.

The dynamics of religious adherence are much different for younger generations. Younger people often view and talk about religion differently than older generations.

Katherine Marshall

Women are less influenced by traditional religious sermons, often simply because they go to the mosque less frequently. Instead they are influenced by radio, television, or even their neighbors. The absence of women in leadership positions at mosques does not mean that they do not have ways to advocate. Through their research in Senegal, Marshall and her team realized that robust women’s networks exist within religious organizations. These informal religious women’s networks, called dahiras, are a way to expand program reach within Senegal and create deeper engagement with development topics.

Marshall emphasized the importance of engaging with religious leaders to achieve development goals. Right now, she believes that Engaging with religious leaders is an untapped development angle; cooperation with Senegalese faith leaders can connect to broader networks across the Sahel.” When asked how PRB’s Senegal ENGAGE presentation could contribute to change, Marshall listed its dual abilities to provide accurate information on family planning for religious leaders and provide the dialogue space to move the conversation forward.