Culturally Sensitive Approaches

Lessons from the Field

The Islamic Republic of Iran

Strengthening Trust and Understanding, One Step at a Time

Enormous gains in reproductive health and rights have been achieved in the Islamic Republic of Iran over the last decade, due in part to patience and persistence in dealing with culturally sensitive issues.

WHAT WORKS? Lessons from Iran

  • In an environment characterized by ethnic and religious diversity, it is important to assume the role of facilitator. This sends a clear message of neutrality.

  • Culturally sensitive issues are best addressed in the context of health: a technical or scientific perspective can make discussion of and acceptance of such issues easier.

  • At the beginning of a project, invest as much time as necessary to clarify issues and address any doubts that may arise. If doubts and questions remain, they will surface later and negatively affect project implementation.

  • Sensitization campaigns that emphasize the positive economic and social benefits of small families can be persuasive. Comparing the situations of families with similar backgrounds, social class and income, differing only in the number of children they have, brings home the value of family planning in a way people can relate to and understand.

  • Field-based evidence can be effectively used to convince religious leaders, policy makers and the public about the importance of reproductive health for individuals and communities as well as for the nation as a whole.

  • When attempting to reach grass-roots communities, engage a partner that has a thorough understanding of local sensitivities and can address them appropriately.

  • Letting your partners manage projects themselves instils a sense of ownership. Nevertheless, it is important to provide continuous support through technical backstopping, capacity-building and information.

  • Creating opportunities for women can help them to demonstrate their capabilities. In this way, false, culture-based beliefs are diminished.

Read the full case study