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After learning about the link between HIV and sexual and gender-based violence, the Rev. Neila Ingram said what was on the minds of many women religious leaders: “So now I have work to go and do in my community and church.”

Ingram, an African Methodist Episcopal Church pastor, was one of about 30 women who attended a SAVE - or Safer Practices, Access to Treatment and Nutrition, Voluntary Testing and Counselling and Empowerment - workshop offered by the Jamaica Council of Churches in partnership with the World Council of Churches and the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with and Affected by HIV.

The workshop, held 6-8 February in St Ann, Jamaica, aimed to raise awareness among women religious leaders about HIV and AIDS and its relation to sexual and gender-based violence. The training is designed to motivate action to address these issues within local congregations and faith communities.

By the end of the workshop, the women said they were inspired not only to work together but to go forth locally as true carriers of hope and agents of change.

“It was a very moving and spiritual experience for me quite separate from the knowledge gained,” reflected Rev. Jean Fairweather Wilson of the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

Eliminating stigma and discrimination within their congregations and faith communities became a top priority for the participants, including Rev. Tara Tyme-Campbell of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. “I am now resolved to go forth and do what I can so all God’s people can have life and have it more abundantly,” she said.

Next step: empowering the community

SAVE workshop participants committed to initiate and engage programmes in and or on behalf of their member church or faith community in support of reducing sexual and gender-based violence and HIV and AIDS.

The Jamaican Council of Churches (JCC) will continue to communicate with its member churches to share action plans and request timelines.

“The aim of this is to allow the JCC to support the work of member churches and faith communities as well as to seek and share resources and best practices," explained JCC general secretary Rev. Gary Harriott in a letter to JCC member churches.

“The JCC will prepare an evaluation and monitoring schedule and share with member churches and faith communities,” he wrote.

In connection with the SAVE workshop, the JCC also launched the Thursdays in Black campaign in support of ending violence against women and girls. The launch was held on 9 February at the Webster Memorial United Church in Kingston.