Faith and religion play a vital role in the lives and cultures of most people throughout the world. Indeed, about 70 per cent of people identify themselves as members of a religious or spiritual community. Religious values and practices are often deeply entwined in the fabric of daily lives, and the leaders of churches, mosques, temples and other religious communities play a powerful role in shaping attitudes, opinions and behaviour.
Faith-based organizations, sometimes referred to as FBOs, also have a long history of making a difference in people’s lives by delivering crucial social services. Faith-based service delivery networks continue to identify and reach out to those in need, often during the most difficult times and in the most remote areas. FBOs were among the earliest responders to mobilize around – and continue to be major contributors – to the worldwide response to AIDS.
Decades of UNFPA experience with the faith-based sector have gone into producing these Guidelines for Engaging Faith-Based Organisations as Cultural Agents of Change. They outline a framework of partnerships, including principles, the strategies and operationalization at national, regional and global levels.
A WHO study found that about 40 per cent of the healthcare infrastructure across sub-Saharan Africa is operated by faith-based groups. In addition to providing care, support and medicines, faith-based organizations often also provide less tangible assistance, such as information, encouragement, compassion and hope. Too often the strengths (efficacy, commitment, knowledge, networks and influence) and experiences of FBOs are overlooked by development planners.
Since 2002, UNFPA has emphasized the integration of culturally sensitive approaches into programming efforts. Toward this end, it has worked closely within communities and with local agents of change, including religious leaders.
In 2007, the Fund began a more intensive effort to consolidate networks of faith-based partnerships to address pressing, shared concerns, such as the AIDS epidemic, gender-based violence, the empowerment of women, reduction in maternal mortality, and assistance in humanitarian crises.
The UNFPA Global Forum on Faith-based Organizations for Population and Development (Istanbul, 20-21 October 2008) brought together over 100 faith-based organizations and religious leaders from all major faiths and regions. They discussed successful practices and ways to move forward in partnerships with UNFPA in the areas of reproductive health and rights, gender equality and population and development issues.
The Global Forum drew together key partipants from four earlier regional forums including:
The Global Forum culminated in the launch of the Global Interfaith Network on Population and Development, as leaders and grassroots members of Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities affirmed their common commitment to strengthen cooperation on human rights and development. The Interfaith Network represents the agreement of faith communities around the world on principles of working together, and with UNFPA, to combat global urgencies of maternal death, AIDS and poverty, and address violence against women and issues related to youth and migration.
UNFPA has also collaborated with UNAIDS, WHO, ILO and UNDP to outline a strategy for coordinating future work with faith-based organizations on AIDS issues. In addition, the Fund has developed guidelines that provide a rationale for the engagement of and with faith-based organizations, the principles structuring such engagements, and the strategy for partnership. The fruits of many of these efforts are taking shape in every region, as these snapshots (2011, 2012) of recent activities reveal.