Posted in Entries
on January 23, 2013 by CIFA General
Every year, millions of girls around the world are subjected to female genital cutting (FGC), and married before they reach the age of 18 (known as “Early Marriage” – or EM). These girls are far more likely to live lives of poverty, pain, and illness – simply because that’s the way it’s always been done. Women and girls are denied the right to healthy, productive lives in the name of tradition, and even religion.
Challenging tradition in remote, rural communities where FGC and EM are practiced the most might seem nearly impossible, but the problem is as urgent now as it ever has been. So what can be done to incite real, sustainable change for the lives of girls? Evidence suggests that a key part of the answer is proactively engaging faith leaders – often the most trusted leaders in their communities.
CIFA, with generous support from the Nike Foundation, has found a way to engage faith leaders effectively in the Amhara region of Ethiopia and in Edo state, Nigeria – areas with the highest rates of FGC and EM in the world. This work could impact millions of girls in these locations alone: in Amhara, 2.6 million girls are at risk of FGC and 1.8 million girls are at risk of EM; in Edo State, over half a million girls are at risk of EM, and over 200,000 are at risk of FGC.
In 2010 and 2011, CIFA researchers conducted extensive inquiries into the practices, attitudes, knowledge, and beliefs of communities in the Amhara region and Edo state, in order to determine the best course of action for sensitively and knowledgeably addressing the roots of these practices. Over 2,000 interviews with women, girls, local leaders, and faith leaders revealed that faith leaders are usually the most trusted sources of information, and can influence a family’s decision whether or not to have their daughter undergo FGC, or when to allow their daughter to be married. More specifically:
- Congregants trust and listen to their faith leaders and will often change their behavior if convinced by their faith leader;
- Faith leaders can be important and influential allies in the delay of marriage and eradication of FGC, yet they are often silent on these issues; when convinced personally and engaged along with peers, these same faith leaders feel comfortable speaking out against the practices;
- There is a significant communication gap between faith leaders and their congregants, specifically mothers, regarding the spiritual principles and teachings related to the practices affecting girls– many mothers assumed that FGC and EM were demanded by their religion (even though faith leaders often know they are not);
- Faith leaders and parents need appropriate materials and education to align information about FGC and EM with their religious context.
With all of this in mind, and in interactive consultations with local faith and community leaders, CIFA developed customized curricula for faith leader trainings and educational toolkits. In Nigeria, the messages, models and tools are tested and ready for piloting, and 80% of faith leaders surveyed indicated they would be willing to use them. In Ethiopia, the tested models, messages and tools are ready to go to scale.
CIFA is now proud to announce the official release of our completed materials for both countries: Faith Leader Training Manuals for both Ethiopian Orthodox and Muslim faith leaders, Ethiopian Orthodox and Muslim Faith Leader Toolkits for community engagement, and interfaith Faith Leader Toolkits for community engagement in Nigeria.
In Ethiopia, where CIFA engaged with faith leaders in four days of training and discussion, many Ethiopian Orthodox and Muslim faith leaders’ minds were changed about the importance of these practices. At the conclusion of the training, the faith leaders (many of whom adamantly supported FGC and EM at the beginning of the workshops) were inspired to draft a declaration of their stance against FGC and EM. The structure and content of these trainings is contained in the Faith Leader Training Manuals - see a sample of one of these Faith Leader Training Manuals here. CIFA-trained faith leaders have already begun to speak to their communities, and even directly intervened on behalf of young girls about to be subjected to FGC. The movement is growing, as well – as one faith leader put it, “the teaching is spreading like wildfire.”
Every Ethiopian faith leader that completed CIFA’s trainings in August and September 2012 was given a set of educational tools and informational resources to help them speak to their communities about the practices of FGC and EM. CIFA has further enhanced the original tools distributed to faith leaders to produce the official Faith Leader Toolkit. CIFA’s toolkits are full of illustrations, lessons, information sheets, FAQ’s, and other educational materials for use in almost any setting a faith leader may encounter. See excerpts from some of these Faith Leader Toolkit materials here and here.
To keep the momentum going, we need to engage faith leaders across Ethiopia and Nigeria, across Africa, and across the world where FGC and EM are still practiced. To get you up to speed, we have created three videos outlining our work in Ethiopia and Nigeria:
- The Faith Effect: Giving Girls a Better Future offers a glimpse of how faith leaders can help eliminate harmful traditional practices, from the eyes of one girl.
- The Faith Effect: How We Change Tradition is an in-depth look at at what CIFA has done to educate faith leaders, challenge old ideas about the value of women and girls, and change harmful traditions (like FGC and EM) forever.
- The Old Woman and the Baby gives the real stories of lives changed by CIFA-trained faith leaders. In “The Old Woman and the Baby,” we meet Emahoy, an old woman who used to perform FGC on girls in her village, and Asafalech, a young girl whose life was forever changed by her CIFA-trained “spiritual father.”
People are talking, and CIFA’s program is working. Please "like" and share these videos, and spread the word. Girls are depending on us.
Posted in Entries
on November 28, 2012 by CIFA General
How do you educate millions of people whose lives may be at risk from HIV, when their cultures or religions taboo any open discussion of sex?
This is one of the biggest challenges in the fight for an HIV/AIDS-free world. Shame, stigma, and misinformation stemming from cultural and/or religious restrictions on talking about human sexuality are serious barriers to HIV risk-reduction education, especially in rural areas with limited access to medical and educational resources.
At the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA), we have always found that targeting faith leaders across religious institutions, in the spirit of honest education in the language of their faith, yields great results for community health and well-being – this is because in many areas, faith leaders are often the most trusted sources of guidance and information. This overall strategy of engaging faith communities to promote positive behavior change, is something we call “The Faith Effect” – and we believe it can be used to end the stigma, shame, and misinformation surrounding HIV, and open up honest conversations about HIV risk reduction strategies in areas with high infection rates.
Faith communities have long been vital allies in the fight against HIV/AIDS. For example, The International Network of Religious Leaders Living With or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (INERELA +) and the World Council of Churches have united religious leaders across faith traditions in the name of promoting open discussion and HIV advocacy. CIFA seeks to build on these organizations’ gains and continue to develop concrete tools and plans of action for faith leaders who wish to educate their communities.
CIFA’s most recent research and collaboration efforts in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, and Mozambique have re-affirmed the validity of this approach, and have resulted in exciting new developments in our interfaith HIV risk reduction work. The results of this research were used to develop messages and educational tools to be used across faiths, with appropriate religious textual references. We have developed an interfaith education toolkit for faith and religious leaders, “PrEParing Your Community: A Toolkit for HIV Education & Risk Reduction.” The guide consists of lessons and information about the full range of HIV risk reduction methods available, including pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP (anti-retrovirals taken by HIV-negative people in the form of a pill or gel to reduce their risk of infection from an HIV-positive partner), where available/approved, as well as resources and tools for these leaders to help engage their communities in discussion of many healthy HIV risk reduction strategies.
On October 31, 2012, we submitted our completed toolkit, a template which can be easily adapted to local needs to our funders at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University.
The “PrEParing Your Community” toolkit is a faith leader guide that consists of multiple interactive components, and is designed to be used by three of the largest faith communities our target countries: Protestant Christianity, Catholicism, and Islam. Practical information is presented in the language of faith, and is easily adapted across several different cultures. The toolkit:
- Begins with an opportunity for faith leaders to inform themselves about HIV, and the myths surrounding transmission and prevention.
- Offers guidance on organizing discussions: once they feel they know enough to begin talking about HIV, faith leaders can then “Begin the Conversation” with their community, either one-on-one or in small or large groups.
- Provides “Conversation Starters” with faith-specific messages and verses about HIV risk-reduction, centered around kindness and acceptance towards all, and our duty to protect others.
- Includes lesson plans with activities for men’s, women’s, and youth groups associated with Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim houses of worship, as well as a pre-marital counseling guide for young couples.
CIFA is excited to announce this breakthrough in our initiative to provide real ways for religious leaders to end shame and stigma, and promote positive education and action through this branch of “The Faith Effect.” We are pleased to be able to help empower faith leaders around the world, in places where these messages are needed most, and look forward to seeing how this program can be scaled up.
Posted in Entries
on November 19, 2012 by CIFA General
Since the first recognition of Universal Children’s Day in 1954, the international community has made great strides in working protect and nurture children around the world, ensuring them greater opportunity and a brighter future.
Child mortality rates have decreased by an average of 2% per year since 1990, sparing millions of children annually. Improvements in the access to vaccines, AIDS medicines, vitamin supplements, and medical care have accounted for millions more children living to adulthood.
Yet despite the billions of dollars invested in international aid, the supply of medication, and other aid services, the challenge of ensuring that all children have access to the care they need remains critical. This year, 6.9 million children died before reaching the age of five. Heartbreakingly, the overwhelming majority of them died of causes that could have been easily prevented through simple actions and engagement. Securing the delivery of medicine and services to those who need it most as well as promoting positive behavior change that directly addresses child mortality remains a top priority.
Here at the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA), we recognize that ensuring the survival and wellbeing of the world’s children is a goal many different faith traditions share. That is why CIFA launched Ten Promises to Our Children in partnership with Religions for Peace earlier this year.
Ten Promises to Our Children is a collection of action-oriented goals that help address issues of child survival pragmatically and effectively. These Promises outline a ground-breaking approach to radically change the way we reach these children in need – by engaging all our communities around ten simple behaviors that can make the biggest difference right away. By signing the Ten Promises to Our Children pledge, anyone can voice their support for practical, efficient ways to ensure child survival, and begin learning about what they can do to help.
Bringing together faith communities to engage with one another helps bridge gaps and create access to the world’s most difficult-to-reach communities. The Ten Promises initiative welcomes all faith communities, faith leaders, and individuals (whether or not they identify with a particular faith) to come together and help promote immediate and life-changing actions that will save hundreds of thousands of lives.
As we recognize Universal Children’s Day today, we should reflect and celebrate on how far we’ve come. However, we must also focus on how best to reach the 6.9 million children who still need support. Together, we can pledge to end global poverty directly, by delivering on the Ten Promises to Our Children.
Sign and share the Ten Promises pledge and see how you can engage your community in taking action to combat global poverty and child mortality.
Posted in Entries
on October 15, 2012 by CIFA
In commemorating the International Day for the Eradication
of Poverty, it is important to reflect on the work we do and work to understand
why it is so necessary. All of us who work in development undoubtedly share the
same goals, and are focused on working towards a world without poverty,
disease, or inequality, where every child will live to see their fifth
birthday. But what does “eradication of poverty” really mean, and how is it
To most, the “eradication of poverty” is something that can
only be achieved when certain obstacles are removed. For example, the
elimination of malaria, HIV, or harmful practices that jeopardize the health of
girls around the world are at the core of what many organizations focused on eradicating
poverty consider to be their mission. Many organizations share this unifying
goal, and today many of them will come together to raise visibility for efforts
to solve these issues and work to galvanize greater support for the future.
However, the eradication of poverty and the elimination of hurdles doesn’t
occur by simply targeting a barrier for removal. The process by which these
challenges are addressed requires engagement from wide sectors of the
community, both local and international.
An integral and often overlooked part of combating global
poverty comes from engaging faith communities, faith leaders, and individuals
of faith, and empowering them to lead positive behavioral change within their
own communities. The unique ability of religious communities to tackle
controversial yet pressing global health issues is largely underestimated and
often underutilized. Fortunately, the power of interfaith action in the fight
against poverty is slowly gaining attention.
Here at the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty
(CIFA), we recognize the unique influence that faith leaders and their
respective religious infrastructures can have in addressing challenges and promoting
positive behavior change in their communities. Faith leaders are often the most
trusted sources of guidance and information and hold great influence in even
the most rural, hard-to-reach areas of the world. Unfortunately, they are often
bypassed or ignored altogether by development efforts, seen only as obstacles
to true progress rather than powerful allies in the mission to enact
CIFA is taking on many of the same issues as other
non-government organizations (NGOs), mounting campaigns to combat malaria, HIV,
female genital cutting, child marriage, and an initiative to increase child
survival in the developing world. We address these challenges at their roots by
actively working to mobilize, educate, and empower faith leaders of all
religious traditions to engage their communities around common development
CIFA’s longest-running initiative, a program focused on
decreasing malaria rates in Nigeria, has demonstrated how successful interfaith
collaboration can create real change. In early 2009, CIFA and partner institution Religions for
Peace helped found the Nigerian Interfaith Action Association (NIFAA), an independent,
Nigerian-managed NGO, with a mission to mobilize the country’s religious
leaders to take action in national campaigns against disease and poverty,
beginning with malaria. Within a year, over 6,000 NIFAA-trained religious
leaders worked to deliver faith-based malaria prevention messages that ultimately
doubled the number of children under five sleeping under insecticide-treated
mosquito nets in their districts.
The same potential for success is also being observed in
CIFA’s pilot program for girl empowerment, “The Faith Effect: Equipping Faith
Leaders to Empower Women and Girls.” There, with the support of the Nike
Foundation, CIFA has designed and managed two phases of formative research and
program work on faith leaders and their influence with regards to harmful
traditional practices such as early marriage and female genital cutting (FGC). In September and October 2012, CIFA partners
in Ethiopia conducted faith trainings for both Ethiopian Orthodox Christian and
Muslim faith leaders, providing comprehensive education about FGC and early
marriage, and equipping faith leaders with the tools they need to address these
issues in their communities.
The results were stunning: 100% of faith leaders invited to
these sessions completed the training, and the participants of both faiths
drafted and signed declarations opposing the practices of FGC and early
marriage, as well as committing to multi-phase plans for educating their
communities on these issues.
Saving lives through interfaith action is the goal of all
CIFA programming. Nowhere is this encapsulated better than in CIFA’s Ten
Promises to Our Children campaign. Launched in partnership with Religions for
Peace, Ten Promises to Our Children is a global, interfaith initiative to
engage religious communities around the world in saving children’s lives
through ten concrete and specific acts. The initiative mobilizes faith leaders,
congregations, faith-based institutions, NGO’s, and individuals across diverse
faith traditions all over the world around ten practical things they can do to
save children’s lives.
By signing the Ten Promises to Our Children pledge, individuals,
faith leaders, and organizations can commit to raising awareness, raising
funds, or creatively pooling resources in order to ensure all children benefit
from these basic yet vital actions, and create a demand for life-saving health
services. These ten behaviors, which are endorsed by UNICEF and other
international aid organizations, include simple methods to prevent some of the
most common yet preventable killers of children in the developing world:
malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, and malnutrition. This, however, cannot be done
without a unifying approach that utilizes the global power of faith
communities. To date, nearly 300 religious leaders from all major faith
traditions and over 90 faith and aid-based organizations have signed the Ten
Promises to Our Children pledge, and more continue to sign every day.
As we focus on the importance of combating global poverty
today, we must remember that every part of the international community must be
engaged and empowered to enact change locally – this is the key to achieving
full “eradication of poverty.” CIFA is proud of its successful efforts to
develop powerful and simple initiatives that engage and assist religious
leaders and faith communities in the effort to fight global poverty and disease
and improve the lives of men, women, and children around the world.
Posted in Entries
on October 10, 2012 by CIFA
Today marks the first annual International Day of the Girl Child, a day that should hold major significance for all of those working for girls' rights across the world. Fortunately for all of us, the international community has increased public awareness and advocacy efforts for girl empowerment in the past 2-3 years, with particular focus on economic and educational empowerment. Included in these efforts is a focus on ending harmful practices that disproportionately affect the well-being of girls worldwide, specifically, the practices of child/early marriage and female genital cutting (FGC). On behalf of the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty, I would like to share some highlights of CIFA's exciting and unique work in this field.
In many areas of the world, religious leaders are among the most trusted and influential leaders in the community. They can have significant impact, not only on the day-to-day lives of their congregants and community members, but on the beliefs and practices supported by a given community. In order to achieve real and lasting change for girls affected by these harmful practices, religious leaders, or the gatekeepers of tradition and culture in even the most hard-to-reach areas, must be engaged. This is the philosophy behind "The Faith Effect," and this is how CIFA is working towards empowering girls, through the elimination of child/early marriage and FGC.
With generous support from the Nike Foundation, CIFA has pioneered a groundbreaking new approach to combat early marriage and FGC. CIFA’s pilot program, "The Faith Effect: Equipping Faith Leaders to Empower Women and Girls" seeks to provide religious leaders across faith traditions with the knowledge and tools to engage their communities in open discussion of the realities of child/early marriage and FGC, and mobilize them towards ending these harmful practices for good.
Two years of quantitative and qualitative research have led to the development of faith-based behavior change communication tools, in the form of faith leader training sessions, training manuals to educate the faith leaders themselves, and educational toolkits (including religious text-based conversation starters, youth and women's group lessons, and FAQ's) for community engagement. All of these tools are culturally sensitive, written in the language of faith, and approved by high-level theological authorities.
None of this, of course, could have been done without the tireless efforts of our on-the-ground partners: Dr. Samson Hailegiorgis (MD, PhD, MPH) in Ethiopia, and Dr. Adeyinka Abimbola in Nigeria (MBBS, MBA), who have dedicated their time, resources, and connections to helping us conduct robust research and facilitate everything from focus group discussions to faith leader trainings. These two, and all of our partners in multiple countries, are helping us help faith leaders make the world a better place for girls.
Ending harmful practices like FGC and child/early marriage is an international effort that is fundamental to guaranteeing the human rights of women and girls throughout the world. We are inspired by the international community’s focus on these issues and are proud to help mark this first annual International Day of the Girl Child with our partners, volunteers, and supporters.