“As religious leaders, we need to appreciate that the people in our congregation equally have challenges (regarding their sexual reproductive health) and are looking at us, religious leaders, to provide them with hope," highlighted Sheikh Abubakar Umar Obalim, a muslim cleric from the Teso region, emphasizing the role of religious leaders in supporting young people in Uganda.
In a profoundly religious country like Uganda, the role of spiritual leaders extends beyond faith to address the day-to-day challenges faced by adolescents and young people. Religious leaders in the Lango and Teso sub-regions undertook a transformative journey to enhance their engagement in a dialogue with young people regarding sexual and reproductive health.
"Let us use our churches and mosques as institutions for causing social change by addressing the day-to-day challenges that adolescents and young people go through," stated Mr. Saidi Nsamba, a Senior Education Officer at the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES), during the inter-faith dialogue among religious leaders on adolescent sexual reproductive health in the Teso sub-region.
In 2021, UNESCO conducted a national interfaith dialogue, resulting in the development of a capacity-building toolkit for training religious leaders in ASRH issues. In April 2022, a Training of Trainers was conducted by the Ministry of Health and MoES in collaboration with the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda. In 2023, the SRHR Alliance Uganda organized two regional trainings for religious leaders in the Lango and Teso sub-regions. The objective was to build the capacity of faith leaders to address the sexual reproductive health challenges that adolescents and young people face in communities. These interventions are being rolled out under the Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future (O3) program from UNESCO, which has been implemented in Uganda since 2018.
Over the three-day events in each of the two regions, more than 100 participants, including representatives from the Church of Uganda, Muslim faith, Seventh Day Adventists, Pentecostals, Born Again faith, and the Orthodox Church, attended the various sessions. The training featured modules on life skills for adolescents, drugs and substance abuse, adolescent reproductive health, menstrual hygiene management, sexually transmitted infections, gender-based violence, and facilitation skills.
Rev. Evatt Mugarura, the lead facilitator, emphasized, "We need to equip young people in our communities with essential skills. As young individuals, they must navigate life and reduce risky behaviors. We can teach them self-awareness, interpersonal skills, and critical thinking to enable them to reach their full potential." He further urged all the stakeholders present at the training to "rethink and design approaches and systems that promote inclusion at various places of worship, free from stigma."
Sheikh Abubakar Umar Obalim and other religious leaders present during the training identified rape, limited guidance and counseling services, extreme poverty, early exposure to sex, and drugs and substance abuse as major issues leading to early and unintended pregrancies. Scaling up the effective engagement of religious leaders is crucial for community involvement in addressing these challenges and reaching out to young people more effectively.
Religious leaders in the Lango and Teso sub-regions of Uganda have committed themselves to building capacities, challenging stereotypes, and promoting the well-being of young people. They are paving the way for a brighter future by empowering youth with knowledge and support. Through their efforts, these religious leaders are bringing about positive change and improving lives for future generations.
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