Female religious leaders lead the fight against AIDS

Female religious leaders have taken a central role in the fight against AIDS in Somalia. This follows a series of trainings recently conducted by local organizations, with support from UNDP.

In Somaliland, UNDP supported four training events for female religious leaders in Hargeisa, Borama, Berbera and Buroa, in collaboration with the Somaliland HIV/AIDS Network and the Somaliland AIDS Commission. These trainings increased their knowledge on HIV and AIDS and placed female religious leaders at the forefront of community-based advocacy and awareness raising. Using the Compassion in Action toolkit developed by UNDP’s HIV/AIDS Regional Programme in the Arab States, the female religious leaders were sensitized about key issues: misconceptions that increase the chances of contracting HIV; stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV; and the important role that religious leaders and community members play in helping to reduce the number of new HIV infections and caring for the sick. They were also equipped with messages from the Koran that support the fight against HIV and AIDS.

These trainings helped to develop common messages on prevention, treatment, care and support for people living with HIV, which will be disseminated during Friday prayer meetings.

Tradition and religion are strongly linked in the Somali community. Therefore, religious leaders have a great responsibility in leading the fight against HIV/AIDS and advocating for shared communal responsibility in addressing the primary socio-cultural and behavioural risks associated with the spread of HIV. Their open interaction with their congregations can enable them to inform and educate members and encourage positive change regarding sensitive issues related to sexuality, which are often not discussed by the community members.

The trainings were attended by over 100 female religious Leaders drawn from different parts of Somaliland.

Training in South Central Somalia was conducted towards the end of 2009 and sensitized participants on the basic principles of Behaviour Change Communication. The trainings also brought together religious leaders and participants who had been trained under the Behaviour Change Communication Peer Educator project. The aim is to strengthen community outreach work among the various groups in the region.

By December 2009, over 800 religious leaders had been trained using a specific toolkit designed to equip religious leaders to become ‘agents of change’ in the response to HIV and AIDS. In addition, 240 religious leaders were trained using the Behaviour Change Communication toolkit.