Have Faith in Secularism

Religion and secu­larism in Africa touched on several points that I’ve been considering as someone working on sexual and reproductive health and rights here on the continent.

I think that despite its very real limitations, secu­larism does offer a more consistent approach to human rights than any given religious state might. But I also think it’s important to remember that secularism does not neces­sarily mean disengaging people of faith. As seen in this issue of Conscience, faith plays an important role in societies, and at Planned Parenthood Global, we try to engage with leaders of faith communities and connect with people at a sociocultural level.

In Burkina Faso, as part of our Voices for Health project, we work with an interfaith union of tradi­tional and religious leaders comprised of imams, pastors, priests and village chiefs. These leaders have been trained on the need for family planning with a special focus on breaking down stigma and have affirmed their support for this vital work in interviews published by the national newspaper. These articles have been invaluable to community buy-in, and the union has received numerous requests to discuss family planning and faith.

Faith leaders should be involved in and indeed spearhead vital conversa­tions on sexual and repro­ductive health and rights. I am reminded of a powerful anecdote from our staff in Uganda who attended the national family planning conference in Kampala last year. One attendee lamented that the church was not involved in family planning awareness, but when a woman died from unsafe abortion, the church would be called upon to bury her. In one way or another, whether in life or in death, faith leaders have a vital role to play in their communi­ties—we do well to remember that.

LATANYA MAPP FRETT

Executive Director, Planned Parenthood Global

Nairobi, Kenya

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