By Rebecca Phwitiko, World YWCA Board Member
Rebecca as part of the World YWCA delegation to AIDS 2012 in Washington, DC shares her reflections on faith and sexuality:
In one of my favourite books on HIV and AIDS, ’28 stories of AIDS in Africa’ Stephanie Nolen says the reason why HIV and AIDS still remains a challenge is that its transmission preys on our most intimate moments. And so sitting in the workshop on young people sexuality and faith in the context of HIV during the Interfaith Pre-Conference on HIV, I felt the truth of these words.
A research by John Blevins of the Rollins School of Public Health (Emory University) finds that religion does not feed into the sexual values and activities of most young people. This I didn’t find surprising at all. But then what I found to be amazing was that there are still a lot of young people out there asking critical questions about their faith as it relates to sexuality, what does it mean that Solomon had many wives for instance?
So in my mind this is a vital opening for the faith community. There is a great need among young for more open conversations with their faith leaders about their sexuality, particularly in the context of HIV. Even in the most conservative communities, HIV has taken sex and all that comes with it to the public space. There is no longer the luxury of saying what I do with my partner, how I protect myself is a taboo subject. Sometimes these uncomfortable conversations can ‘postpone’ a new risk of exposure to HIV.
We live in an age where 61 percent of all new HIV infections are among young women, particularly in Africa. Religious entities are uniquely positioned to respond to HIV because they are pervasive and dynamic.
Churches, mosques, traditional religions, are at the heart of African society. Faith organisations need to understand the powerful entity that they can be in addressing public health issues such as the sexual and reproductive health of young women.
It is a great injustice when young women are denied their rights to sexuality education and services. And who can better champion the rights of a marginalized group, our young women, than the people that teach us about compassion, love and peace. Unfortunately the faith community has had difficulties in addressing sexuality in HIV prevention, reproductive health, family planning, and women’s empowerment. Religion has often been a barrier, and efforts to mobilise religion as a positive force for addressing these issues need to be strengthened. It is time to overcome injustices and ensure that AIDS responses improve the lives of women and girls.