Culturally Sensitive Approaches

Engaging Potential Agents of Change

In many countries, UNFPA is working with potential agents of change who have a deep understanding of the local communities as well as the legitimacy to advocate for change from within. Examples include parliamentarians, media and civil society organizations, including those who address human rights and women's issues [see Guatemala case study].

Field experience also provides examples of influential faith and interfaith-based organizations and local power structures, such as African tribal leaders, who are willing to partner with UNFPA when it can be clearly shown that this work addresses the needs and the rights of their constituents.

The engagement of these partners in addressing reproductive health and gender issues has gone beyond changing individual attitudes and behaviours. It has also placed reproductive health and rights issues on the agenda of many religious organizations, and discussions once considered taboo have been moved into the public arena. For example, family size, early marriage, violence against women, wife inheritance, female genital cutting and reproductive services and rights are now being discussed openly, from the pulpits of a village church, mosque or temple [ see Uganda case study].

Strategies for successful collaboration

UNFPA-supported programmes have reached some of the most vulnerable and marginalized communities through partnerships with faith- and interfaith-based organizations. Some churches, mosques, schools, health units, income-generating projects and youth organizations already have country-wide networks that can be build upon. Using these networks lends a credibility and familiarity to new initiatives, and reduces the perception of changes being imposed by external actors. This is especially important if initiatives seem threatening to community values.

Targeting specific areas of collaboration in areas where both partners have common objectives is another strategy that has proven to be effective on the ground. UNFPA has found that leaders of faith- and interfaith-based organizations are open to discussing reproductive health and rights, if issues are addressed with care and sensitivity. One effective approach is to use objective evidence, on issues such as infant and maternal mortality, violence against women, and HIV/AIDS prevalence rates, to tap into ethical and moral positions. Many local leaders have changed their attitudes about UNFPA once they realized the value its approaches can have for their constituencies.

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