Sexual health discussed with religious leaders

For over five years Cordaid and partners have promoted and strengthened sexual and reproductive health care services in Burundi. Now we are joining hands with religious leaders of all denominations to make sure young Burundians can make informed decisions when it comes to their own sexual health and family planning.

Being young in Burundi

Burundi has an extremely young population: 66% is younger than 25 and one in three is between 10 and 24. And they have many challenges to deal with. Going to a doctor when you need one. Going to school and hoping your parents can pay for the books. Or later, finding a job and enough income security, as a farmer or in the city. There’s a severe lack of arable land to grow food. It plagues this small and overpopulated nation of small scale farmers. And in the capital of Bujumbura young people especially have been involved in mass demonstrations, quite a few of which turned into violent clashes. Cordaid’s programs in Burundi address many of these challenges.

SRHR religious leaders meeting
Participants of the SRHR workshop in Bujumbura (photo: Cordaid)

Making informed sexual health decisions

But on top of all this girls and young women specifically are dealing with other massive problems: gender based violence, unwanted pregnancies and – as a consequence – illegal and dangerous abortions. To support them Cordaid has been implementing sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) programs since 2013. We do this in collaboration with Care International, Rutgers and UNFPA and our programs are financed by the Dutch embassy in Burundi. The current program promotes and strengthens comprehensive sexual health care services for young Burundians as well as sexual education for girls and boys of 10 and older. Our goal: allowing young Burundians to make informed decisions about their own sexuality and shape their own future.

It is essential to inform young Burundians on all aspects of sexual health. Only then can they act responsibly.

Doctor Juma Ndereye

Obviously we do this in close alliance with health facilities, schools and youth centers and the ministry of Health. As the director of the National Program for Reproductive Health, doctor Juma Ndereye, explains: “It is essential to inform young Burundians on all aspects of sexual health. All institutions, including churches, government and health care facilities, should work together to provide complete sexual education to young people. Only then can they act responsibly.”

The church has a role to play in our sexual health care program

To increase the program’s impact we have now joined hands with religious leaders of all denominations. Just like in any other African country, religion and religious leaders in Burundi shape the daily life of large parts of the population – including the younger part. “The majority of the younger Burundians are part of a religious community. The voice of the church carries far and it goes without saying that we also play a role in informing young people when it comes to sexual and reproductive health”, explains Perpétue Kankindi of the national council of churches in Burundi. And Cordaid director in Burundi Zarir Hugues Merat adds: “By inviting religious leaders to join us, we can find ways to complement one another.”

A get-together of church, youth and ministries

During a workshop in February some 40 participants exchanged ideas and practical experiences on the topic of sexual and reproductive health care: young boys and girls as well as well as representatives of the ministries of Health, Education, Youth and Gender, and religious leaders. Discussions took place in complete openness and respect. Religious leaders willingly admitted that the Bible is not the only source of guidance when it comes to sexual and reproductive health care and that spiritual workers need to be educated in these matters. Thacien Ndayisenga, representing the Bible Lecture League, summed it up poignantly: “Youths have to be educated and informed in an unbiased way. The Holy Spirit does not replace intelligence, just as intelligence does not replace the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit does not replace intelligence, just as intelligence does not replace the Holy Spirit.

Thacien Ndayisenga

SRH Guidebook for religious leaders

Cordaid actively promotes dialogue and interaction between church leaders and young people on the in the Burundi still sensitive and taboo topics of sexuality and sexual and reproductive health and rights. Two years ago we have created a guidebook to facilitate this SRH dialogue. It was written in close collaboration with Catholic, Protestant and Muslim leaders and amply used during the workshop in February. “This tool will now be used by church leaders to assist young people in making informed decisions related to their sexual health. And it helps church representatives to internalize and understand the dilemma’s young people are dealing with”, says Karin de Graaf, Cordaid’s SRHR program manager. “We are glad and even proud to contribute to a dialogue that is extremely sensitive but badly needed”, she concludes.

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