Religious leaders representing Islam, Christianity and Hinduism gathered at Islamabad to form a Central Council of Faith Leaders to collectively reflect, endorse and disseminate important messages regarding mother and child health through their respective spheres of influence.
The first meeting of the Central Council was held on April 14, 2016, in Islamabad. This activity was conducted under the Faith and Community Actors sub-activity, which coordinates and works with faith actors from all major religions in the province of Sindh to communicate health messages on maternal and child health selected districts. The Central Council comprised 18 faith actors from the Hindu, Christian and Muslim community. A total of 10 members of the Central Council and two technical experts attended the meeting. The Central Council members who attended the meeting belong to Sindh or are recognized as preeminent sources of religious authority in the province.
Center oriented the members of the Central Council on the context and key aspects of the sub-activity. Chief of Party introduced the Central Council members to the Mother and Child Health Program, implemented in Sindh, in particular its health communication component. The Central Council members were further oriented on the consultative and participatory approach of engaging faith actors and briefly introduced the research and consultation process that had helped design this initiative.
The Social and Behavior Change Specialist introduced the Central Council members on the specific activities being undertaken in Sindh and the role and responsibilities of the Central Council members. He encouraged the Central Council members to review and endorse the sermons containing health messages and to identify district focal persons in each of the 10 districts within a given timeframe.
A consultant working on this activity moderated the discussion between the Central Council members in an effort to seek their feedback on current activities as well as recommendations on next steps. The following are the three consolidated recommendations that were provided during this discussion:
1. Beyond mapping and mobilizing individual faith actors at the district-level, there was a need to work with the faith actors as a collective, by partnering with the institutional and organizational network of faith actors and providing them relevant health communication material. Given the more politicized nature of local faith actors in Sindh, it was specifically recommended to work with national-level, non-political religious institutions that had a strong presence in Sindh.
2. Beyond male community actors, central council members recommended two specific audiences which should be targeted directly:
• Women faith actors and religious institutions for women;
• Youth faith actors and religious institutions for youth (such as madrassas)
3. There was a need to incorporate health communication designed for faith actors into mass media activities.
Members appreciated the forum as a means to engage in concrete discussion and sharing of ideas to take this initiative forward. The next meeting of the Central Council is planned in the month of August 2016 in Karachi.