Twenty-five people took part in a workshop in Lome, Togo on 9-11 July jointly organized by the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA) and the Church of Sweden.
With the theme “Sexuality and HIV,” the training drew people from organizations including Afrique Arc-en-Ciel, MEN’s, Espoir Vie-Togo, FHI 360, representing Catholic, Protestant, Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim and other faiths.
The first of its kind in the region, the training focused mainly on the SAVE methodology, which stands for Safer practices, Access and availability of medication, Voluntary counseling and testing, and Empowering communities with skills.
Participants discussed issues related to false security, assumptions, and social constructs which create more vulnerability and risks. The higher the stigma is in the community, the higher the vulnerability and risks that lead to more new HIV infections.
EHAIA helps local communities learn how to create intergenerational “safe spaces” in which children, adolescents, young people, families, faith communities and school personnel can have honest conversations about age-appropriate sex education, as well as HIV, sexual and gender-based violence, all of which are major drivers of new HIV infections across different age groups.
Participants used contextual Bible study as a tool to create a safe space in which to discuss sexuality, gender, patriarchy, violence, power and HIV. Other sessions highlighted HIV prevention, human dignity and rights, the role of religious leaders and the media in responding to homophobia.
Access to treatment, particularly antiretrovirals, was discussed with relation to prolonging life and restoring people to wellness, allowing the immune system to recover and improving the quality of life for people living with HIV.
A team from Espoir Vie-Togo offered free counseling and testing, supporting the campaign “Leading by Example: Religious Leaders and HIV Testing” which continues in social media under the hashtag #KnowYourStatus.
At the conclusion of the workshop, participants appealed to religious communities to acknowledge the existence of sexual and gender-based violence and to invest more in related theological reflections.