Zimbabwe: Engage religious groups in fight for SRHR

Zimbabwe: Engage religious groups in fight for SRHR

Date: January 13, 2020
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By Wallace Mawire

Harare, 5 December : Women and girls in Zimbabwe’s apostolic religious sects are beginning to embrace modern forms of Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services which were previously shunned, thanks to intensified engagement and dialogue with the church communities by concerned stakeholders.

The Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust (AWET) in Zimbabwe is one stakeholder organization in Zimbabwe which is in the forefront of capacitating apostolic religious groups and churches in Zimbabwe to empower the apostolic women and girls on Sexual Reproductive Health Right (SRHR), including education on the negative effects of child marriages.

The Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust consists of a group of unified women who provide long-term vision and direction for the needs of all women by exploring the characteristics or spiritual disciplines needed for women to grow spiritually. The goal of the team is to show women the pathway for living for God, focusing on all women of all ages and stages in the christian walk.

Hope Dunira, AWET Head of Programmes said that her organization has been actively engaging with women in the apostolic churches so that they could speak on the same level and with one voice on issues of SRHR and child marriages, especially affecting the girl child.

“We have been engaging with women in apostolic churches in various districts of the country to promote women to women dialogues and engagement in the apostolic churches on the negative effects of not getting sexual reproductive health services,”Dunira said.

She said that her organization had noted that sexual reproductive health services access have been denied for the women and girls due to their churches’ doctrine.

AWET has also been facilitating knowledge uptake on SRHR, attitudes, practices and behavior change for women and girls in the apostolic churches.

Dunira said that lack of information and awareness had been a major challenge which the organization has been working on upscaling in the apostolic churches.

Dunira’s organization receives support from UNICEF in its programmes of working with women and girls. She also remarked that her organization is guided by a UNICEF supported initiative, the Apostolic Maternal Empowerment and Newborn Intervention (AMENI) model on improving maternal and newborn child health outcomes among apostolic religious groups in Zimbabwe initiated in 2015.

Ironically, AMENI rhymes with the religious Amen word  uttered at the end of a prayer or hymn, meaning ‘so be it’.

The AMENI package of interventions, most of which have been adopted by organizations like AWET addresses poor maternal and newborn health outcomes among apostolic religious groups in Zimbabwe and identifies religious, socio-cultural, legal/policy factors that drive these outcomes. The AMENI report was compiled by Dr Brian Maguranyanga as Team Leader of the initiative commissioned by UNICEF.

It is an evidence-based intervention that emerged from evidence gathered from research. It focuses on nurturing apostolic community transformation in order to tackle religious doctrine, beliefs, practices and social/gender norms that promote poor healthcare seeking behaviours for women and children, poor uptake of modern maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) services, rejection of modern sexual and reproductive health services including family planning, child/early marriages, limited educational opportunities for apostolic children, gender inequalities and social inequity.

According to the AMENI report, the emphasis on faith healing and use of apostolic healing systems increases the risks for poor maternal and newborn health outcomes including pregnancy, childbirth complications, pre-term birth, HIV transmission and infection and lack of immunization for the mother and the newborn.

It seeks to increase dialogue with apostolic religious leaders and traditional birth attendants in order to nurture positive engagement and changes that support positive outcomes among apostolic religious groups, increasing awareness among apostolic adolescents of Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (ASRHR) and opportunities to stay longer in school and equip them with knowledge and skills to prevent early/child marriage and adolescent pregnancy and increasing acceptability and uptake of modern MNCH services among apostolic women, among some of the objectives of the initiative.

As if adopting from the AMENI bible, organizations like AWET have also managed to successfully convince previous objectors in the apostolic religious sects to accept national vaccination and immunization programmes.

According to Dunira, AWET managed to mobilize apostolic faith groups in various districts of the country to go for national OCV and TCV programmes

Wallace Mawire is a journalist at PanAfrican Visions in  Zimbabwe. This story is part of the 16 Days  SRHR News Service.

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