INERELA+’s mission is to empower Religious leaders through education, knowledge and skills to live positively, become symbols of hope and agents of change in eliminating stigma and discrimination within their congregations and communities.
INERELA+’s efforts towards social justice are HIV prevention and stigma reduction, gender justice and human dignity and SRHR among adolescents. In 2017, INERELA successfully conducted capacity development workshops for 203 Religious Leaders in five African countries. The SAVE Toolkit and messaging portfolios with scriptural texts were handed to participants to assist during their sensitization, advocacy and training of congregants and other stakeholders in their respective countries. Other advocacy messages that had been earlier developed to assist RLs on this course were shared as well.
The Lancet report (July 2017) points out challenges across all regions. Late diagnosis in key populations counteracts the potential effects of treatment as prevention in the general population. Gaps in the 90–90–90 continuum are greater for men, young people, and key populations. Women continue to be disproportionately affected by the epidemic. Criminalisation, stigma, and discrimination act as barriers to key populations entering care programmes. Funding too is a concern with resources falling short of global commitments. Afe et al (2018) affirmed that lack of knowledge, forgetfulness, stigma and discrimination coupled with issues of faith healing continue to pose a major challenge to antiretroviral treatment.
INERELA+ identifies continuous training, advocacy and raising awareness campaigns as areas of focus to achieve its outlined objectives. Continued capacity development interventions, congregational cascades, dialogue meetings on HIV, SGBV and LGBTI issues will offer the various constituents the opportunity to engage healthy discussions in safe spaces; ensure proper advocacy to increase awareness on the importance of early testing of HIV. Further advocate to de-criminalize, de-legalize and de-stigmatize HIV/AIDS to enable access to care and increased uptake of medication.
INERELA+ therefore needs to ensure proper advocacy globally to increase awareness on the importance of early testing of HIV, de-criminalizing, de-legalizing and de-stigmatizing HIV and AIDS to enable access to care. Advocate for continued and increased funding to enable global reach of continued treatment and care and continued efforts in education to ensure adherence to ART in PLHIV.
Whereas some religious leaders made commitments in 2017 to champion activities to enhance HTS uptake by men and women’s access to PMTCT services we envisage a greater involvement from the pool of religious leaders in other priority areas. Providing comprehensive sexuality and education and information to both religious leaders and congregants is a priceless step toward achieving an AIDS-free generation. Sexual and reproductive health and rights education will be successful when faith communities and religious leaders drive its processes from a faith-based perspective taking into consideration the reality on the ground. Thus, a greater focus on enhancing the transformative capacity of religious Leaders in Africa on HIV programming will be crucial in attaining the triple zero goals. Combatting stigma and discrimination against PLHIV in particular and addressing issues affecting women and girls, is significant not only in preventing new HIV infections, but also in mitigating the impact of AIDS on human development.
Religious leaders reach out to more community members than any other stakeholders. They continue to come out as champions who can address the cultural barriers that hinder women and girls empowerment. Community-driven campaigns targeting traditional and community leaders has been identified as crucial in bringing about behavior and cultural changes on these issues
INERELA+ Advocacy activities fall under three specific priorities:
HIV prevention, stigma and discrimination reduction
RLs are encouraged and supported to initiate and implement advocacy campaigns that target HIV&AIDS partners such as Departments of Health (DoH), local clinics, NGOs, congregants and other players who can support implementation of programme activities. The purpose of these engagements is to strengthen collaboration and linkages that can facilitate referrals so that congregants and community members can access HIV services after being informed by the RLs. In addition, the most common type of activity in which RLs are involved in is providing care and support services to PLHV and their families. These services can take several forms, including pastoral care especially for children and orphans; forming support groups; medical care; linkages and referrals and homebased care. These roles are generally consistent with the role that RLs already play in other aspects of people’s lives.
As part of the global move to bring to an end to HIV related stigma and discrimination, INERELA+ through its networks and being in line with the third Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) engages with stakeholders during development or review of HIV and Health national strategic plans to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. In addition, progress will be accelerated towards the target of reducing new HIV infections and prevalence.
In addition, as part of UNAIDS 90-90-90 Fast -Track actions (FTA), INERELA+ through its networks, continues to advocate that the people living with HIV know their HIV status, are on antiretroviral therapy and have suppressed viral load. Where all people, regardless of their identity, choices or circumstances, have access to relevant HIV prevention services, voluntary HIV testing and affordable treatment and high-quality care and support services.
What the network does:
Participate and engage relevant stakeholders during development of HIV and Health National strategic plans to ensure that they are in line with the third Sustainable Development Goal to ensure healthy lives.
Initiate and support advocacy campaigns involving key stakeholders such as the Department of Health (DOH), local clinics, congregants, NGOs and communities at the provincial and district levels.
Hold theological dialogue between RLs, PLHIV, congregants and other the relevant target audiences on HIV prevention, stigma and discrimination.
Promote uptake of HCT services by convening comprehensive health campaigns at a congregational level by submitting Pastoral letters; conducting door to door and holding community mobilization and dialogues through CBOs, FPOs and NBOs.
Hold round table discussion to educate religious leaders on the legislative frame work on HIV stigma and discrimination.
Convene round table discussions so as to influence quality health service for people living with HIV.
Advocate for and strengthen home based care for people living with HIV and AIDS and provide emotional support to caregivers of people with HIV and AIDS are
Gender justice and human dignity
Over the years, INERELA+ has established that religious leaders play a fundamental role in the socio-cultural and spiritual lives of people in Africa and beyond. Faith leaders are potential key players in SGBV, HIV&AIDS prevention if they are developmentally targeted with knowledge and skills to serve their faith communities especially vulnerable groups. Therefore, strengthening the capacity of Female religious leader (RLs) in particular, remains a priority capacity development aspect for INERELA+ and has led to changes in the communities they continue to support. They continue to dedicate their time and efforts to mobilise their congregations on SGBV and HIV&AIDS prevention interventions and advocate for the respect of human dignity.
Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls requires efforts that will counter entrenched gender based discrimination from societal norms and attitudes. Violence, child marriages, poverty, access to education and under-representation in every aspect of decision making persists at the global, national and local levels despite efforts to address them. This will be in line with the fifth SDG that aims to address poverty eradication and gender equality and empowerment of women and girls are adhered to.
In line with the UNAID’s FTA, INERELA+ continues to ensure full respect for human rights and eliminate stigma and discrimination, coercion and violence, this includes the establishment of accountability mechanism, the participation of the affected population and the establishment of processes to redress human rights violation. INERELA+ aims to advocate for provision of HIV related services to all populations.
What the network does:
Enhancing capacity of faith communities on the importance of promoting women’s rights
Partner with national governments and international organizations, including the United Nations, to advocate for better gender equality and improve national legislation to prevent and counter gender-based violence;
Advocate for and link women to organisations that provide social and economic benefits to women.
Engage social media to play a more active role in countering incitement to gender-based violence
Advocacy efforts to ensure girls are supported to attend school and complete their education through secondary and high school levels (preventing drop-outs).
Engage in advocacy by developing policy briefs, abstracts for presentations, participate in global forums and engage global partners in advocacy initiatives to influence change.
Create opportunities for GBV survivors to discuss their experiences and needs. Form support groups in collaboration with local sexual assault and domestic violence programs for women who desire faith- or spirituality-based healing.
Encourage men, particularly leaders in the community, to speak out and use their influence to communicate intolerance for gender-based violence in all forms.
Organize youth ministry and leadership groups to educate young people about the dynamics, impact, and prevention of gender-based violence.
Partner with secular advocacy and direct service programs for consultation, support, or joint programming.
Network with survivor service and advocacy programs to locate religious and secular allies on the local, regional, state, and national levels.
Include members of specific ethnic and cultural groups in discussions of community efforts addressing violence.
Religious leaders offer meeting space for educational seminars and weekly support groups.