Rev. Phumzile Mabizela. © Paul Jeffrey/EAA/WCC, 2014.

Rev. Phumzile Mabizela. © Paul Jeffrey/EAA/WCC, 2014.

As they talk during a workshop in Ghana, women are collectively asking a question: “Is it not time for women and girls to raise their voices to say what they want as mothers, as widows, as single parents, and as God’s children?”

Ayoko Bahun-Wilson, coordinator for the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA), West Africa region, helps women formulate this question as well as the answer: “All women want their children to be born HIV-negative, want their children to be safe, go to school and have a bright future, they want themselves, their daughters and sisters to walk freely on the street and not fear to be abused or raped, they want their community and society to be a place of joy, peace, freedom and justice.”

The International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV or AIDS (INERELA+), in collaboration with WCC-EHAIA, is training women leaders who will help communities honestly confront the stigma attached to HIV. By encouraging female religious leaders to become more engaged in responding positively to HIV in their own lives, as well as in the served community, workshops are bringing together religious leaders from Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Seventh-Day Adventist, Ahmadiyyah and Muslim communities.

One of the most recent workshops was held in Aburi, Ghana from 20-23 June. Sponsored by INERELA+ in collaboration with INERELA+, Ghana chapter, and the WCC-EHAIA, the three-day capacity building intervention workshop aimed at promoting the SAVE (safer practices; available medication and treatment; voluntary counseling; and testing and empowerment) methodology, dispelling some of the myths about HIV and AIDS, exploring the connection between gender and HIV, and developing a gender-based message about HIV and AIDS prevention in Ghana.

Participants saw the importance of having an open mind during sessions on sex and sexuality which created spaces for better understanding and building confidence and trust. Themes on homosexuality, masturbation and condoms have enabled participants to share myths and their own perceptions which are then discussed and corrected, keeping in mind that culture and religion continue to hinder education and empowerment on issues related to sex and sexuality in Ghana.

Rev. Phumzile Mabizela from INERELA+ emphasized separating issues that are religious versus issues of the flesh. Considering the context and issues behind the advice given to children and youth is very important, she said, adding: “Knowing one’s body is key to enjoying sex.”

Discussing patriarchy and discrimination of women in the church and mosques has created room for women to raise their voices on the realities and abuses that are being seen. This led  the workshop participants to discuss the human rights violations and gender inequalities to address the immediate problem of HIV and AIDS and the longstanding inferiority of women.

Providing the right education and creating safe space for dialogue between wives and husbands, parents and children are critical to building the future, emphasized workshop leaders. They determined that women have a leadership role in creating safe spaces for themselves and their children to discuss gender roles and face related issues.

The group gave firsthand evidence that there is a need for culturally and age-appropriate sex education for parents, adolescents, children and youth in order to reduce the sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

As a way forward, participants agreed to create opportunities to advocate for gender equity for youth and to create safe spaces for men and women separately in congregations to discuss and empower them on sex-related issues. Ultimately, the workshop also challenged the group on human rights, reducing vulnerability and decreasing the impact of stigma and discrimination.

Related link:

World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy