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Agents of Change - Engaging Religious Leaders in Championing Gender Equality

Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) believes in the importance of engaging with religious leaders to increase their potential as agents of change in the communities where we implement our programs.

If we are to achieve our mission of creating a gender equal world where girls can thrive and lead, we recognize that we must not only engage with participants in our programs, but also those in positions of authority in their communities. Building a gender equal world involves influential leaders taking a stand to challenge unequal social norms so that girls are provided with equal opportunities to lead and achieve their dreams.

One group of influential leaders in Ugandan society are religious leaders. In Uganda, Christianity is the most widely professed religion. According to the 2014 census, over 84 percent of the population is Christian, while 14 percent of the population adhered to Islam, making it the largest minority religion. Therefore, it is imperative that GUIU meaningfully engages religious leaders to reach out to and influence a wide cross-section of the community with our messages to promote girls’ education and gender equality.

Why is engaging with religious leaders key to achieving a gender equal world?

  • Religious leaders are respected in their community and are figures of authority who guide, lead, and inspire their followers. Members of the community are more likely to respond positively to the work of GUIU and encourage the involvement of their children and young people in our programs if respected religious leaders are in support of GUIU’s work and mission.

  • Religious leaders have a long-term presence in the communities and have established a relationship of trust with their congregation members.

  • GUIU takes a multi-stakeholder approach to community development, which means that we have developed partnerships with local government authorities, such as Local Councilors and the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), police, schools, and others. Including religious institutions, such as churches and mosques, into our approach is critical as they are cornerstones of local authority and can influence public policy and practice.

  • Religious leaders are agents of change and as a result, they lead community advocacy campaigns from a religious perspective. Due to this, engaging religious leaders in understanding the theological underpinnings for gender equality can be key in creating long-term and sustainable change.

How does GUIU engage religious leaders?

At the end of last year, GUIU held a dialogue meeting engaging influential leaders from different religious institutions around the country from communities as part of the Ni-Yetu Youth Project. GUIU has partnered with Plan International Uganda since 2015 as the Kampala district-led CSO for the Ni-Yetu Youth Project to empower young people 13-24 years with correct knowledge, attitude and skills for reducing gender-based violence (GBV) and improving their sexual and reproductive health (SRH) outcomes.

The session was led by Clare Tusingwire, Director of Programs at GUIU, and Kiconco Olivia from the Ministry of Health, and attended by 10 representatives from the Christian and Muslim denominations.

The religious leaders were trained in key areas revolving around GBV, gender, and SRHR and how they can be involved in local advocacy initiatives. After the presentation, they were divided into groups based on their religious denomination to discuss how they can work together within their faith networks to change social norms. Some of the ideas that resulted from these discussions included: running youth camps, increasing parent engagement in youth activities, showing inspirational movies in communities, and offering counseling to their congregations.

Shallon, the Ni-Yetu Program Officer, said of this engagement:

"Since religious leaders have big followings from the communities that they minister in, GUIU has continued to sensitize and train faith leaders on SRHR and GBV. After gaining knowledge and skills on those issues, they come back to the ground in the communities they minister to conduct dialogues and become agents of change in their communities through preaching the gospel of positive masculinity and gender equality."

Given the success of this approach, we will continue to tap into the influence that religious leaders wield, to build a gender equal world.

Have you seen examples of religious leaders being effective agents of change in your community? Let us know in the comments below.

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