LIVE BLOG: Role of Faith Leaders in Child, Family Health Programs

Experts and religious leaders gather today in Abuja to discuss the role of faith leaders in child and family health programs. The program is organised by the Partnership for Advocacy Research and Family Health, PACFaH; Nigerian Muslim Women under FOMWAN; and the development research and project centre, DRPC.

PREMIUM TIMES’ Evelyn Okakwu brings you live updates from the event.

Live Updates

The program, organised by the Federation of Muslim Women of Nigeria, in collaboration with the Partnership for Advocacy in child and Family Health, PACFaH, seeks to engage religious leaders in discussions aimed at mapping out strategies for addressing disease burden and public health crises built around communities of faith.

After the introduction of members, the welcome address and objectives were stated by Umar Kawu.

Mr. Kawu listed the objectives as:

To share experiences as faith based leaders, advocate best practices for advocacy on child and family health, strengthen capacity in terms of faith based advocacy, as well as network and create contact among faith based advocacy organizations.

A leader of FOMWAN, Farida Yusuf, spoke on the Association.

FOMWAN is the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria; a non-profit making and non-governmental organization established in 1985. The association has over 600 local government branches and exists in all states of the federation with over 2000 affiliate groups.

FOMWAN is involved in the improvement of the socio-economic status of women, youth and children through training, provision of qualitative education, health and humanitarian services, micro-enterprise scheme and advocacy. As an education focused association, the association has a stakeholder status in the Universal Basic Education (UBE) scheme, the Nomadic Education Programme and the Joint Consultative Committee on Education (JCCE).

The first speaker, Usman Gwarzo, a consultant, said one in 5 organizations working on development programmes in Africa are faith-based; citing a WHO (2014) report.

Diverse in their forms, structures and outreach, they are distinguished based on the way that they operate, he says.

What is social mobilization:

  • Process to raise awareness and mobilise people to demand change or a particular development

  • Members of institutions, community, networks, civil or religious

What differences and similarities exist between Advocacy and SocialMobilization.

Social Mobilization educates individuals and the community about the existence and benefits of particular interventions while Advocacy aims to gain wider support for such causes or issues

Major areas of advocacy work

  • Leadership development

  • Coalition building

  • Networking

  • Policy change

  • Promoting legislative change

  • Briefing media

  • Counteracting opposition

Mr. Gwarzo lists 8 Techniques and Tactics of Advocacy as:


Another speaker, Aminu Gamawa, explains that many attendees are in non-governmental, non-partisan organisations.

‘The reason why NGOs are not encouraged to lobby is that it can make them partisan,” he says

‘Categorically identifying your position about a policy or law before government is what lobbying is.”

“Focus more on advocacy; do your engagements. Read about what lobbying is to help us avoid having problems with the law,” he says.

Let us be clear, as far as Nigeria is concerned; there is no law against lobbying,” Mr. Gamawa said.

But we are talking about bribery at the moment. He adds in Hausa language that if as an NGO you go to give a traditional leader something, there is nothing wrong with that. But if you have a polio immunisation program and someone calls you up at some point, says he wants to give you some money, just for yourself, then adds that he wants you to stop the immunisation; then that is bribery and common sense would tell you not to do that, Mr. Gamawa added.

The program is supported by Gates Foundation @gatesfoundation and the Development Research and Projects Centre, @drpc_nig.

The participants are currently on a tea break.

Some of the questions conference organisers hope to answer include:

What are these communities of faith expected to do in public health given that they are not clinicians? What is the optimal model for their engagement?

After the tea break, an Islamic scholar who benefited from the USAID and LTD projects said he had the previlage to travel to Egypt. He shared his experiences with the panel and added hat mobilisation was the major problem the group had.img_20160922_134440

Other beneficiaries of the project also shared their experiences.

Another beneficiary of the project, also an Islamic scholar, says his group received a relatively good amount of funding, up to N6 million from government. He said they used the money to help members of the communities with their health challenges.

“Information is power and knowledge is very essential,” he said.

As more people share their experiences, another beneficiary of the project said he helped a woman who needed N254,000 to meet her health challenges. He said his group organised a clinic and made cash donations to people with serious ailments including a N2 million donation to a family.

“95 per cent of women who deliver in Sokoto do so at home and it is necessary to help them. We cannot just let them deliver at home,” a traditional leader from Sokoto said while speaking on reproductive health.

He explained that a group he works with had approached the government and gotten help for some of the women to go to hospitals.

Two female contributors speak on their experience in Egypt.

I learnt a lot about family planning from Egypt and even wrote a book about family planning in Islam, one of them said.

A female Islamic scholar, Aisha Musa, said she was one of the conservative scholars who had a negative perception of immunisation against polio and family planning.

But after the USAID, LTD trip to Egypt, her perception changed.

Questions and answers are being asked and answered on the importance of youth and public engagement in child and family health programs.

Experts and scholars trained by @drpc_nig sharing experience in advocacy for child and family health.
Experts and scholars trained by @drpc_nig sharing experience in advocacy for child and family health.

Dr. Yahaya Hashim thanked the participants for their contributions. He noted the need for proper budget development for organisations like those present.

Speakers on strategies for engagement include Professor Ibrahim from Lagos, Professor Mustapha Ismail, and the representatives of FOMWAN. Others are the traditional leader from Sokoto, Umar Sani, and Ibrahim Bello from Islamic Education Trust, Minna,

Iman Sani Musa from Mediation Center Kaduna noted that Islam is elastic on reproductive health issues, “but our experience with other religions, especially the catholic who have the greater number of Christians is that they are a bit stringent or will I say conservative.”

Mr. Sani suggested using health sector specialists and traditional leaders to spread awareness on reproductive health.

“The strategy is: bring the traditional leaders, enlighten them. After they are enlightened then go home and rest, they will do the work for you,” he said.

The experts and religious/traditional leaders are still discussing strategies for addressing reproductive health issues like family planning.

Mustapha Ismail said the companions of Prophet Muhammad in the early days had also asked to know about reproductive health issues and the need for family planning. The prophet, he added, had answered in the affirmative, meaning that family planning was allowed at the time.

Mr. Ismail added that there were times in the early years of Islam that Muslim leaders used to commission learned people to offer books on sex and reproductive health issues. “Sourvenir for the bride,” is one of them, he said.

Mr. Ismail said the method for asking people question is also very important.

“There are several questions, if you don’t tell them where it is from the Qur’an, they will stone you. But if you do, they will understand better,” he said.

Farida Yusufu, the deputy National Amira of FOMWAN, said that one of the noticed reasons for rejection was the manner of introduction of some health policies.

“Some people will say, when they enter your house for immunisation against polio, t ‘salama alaiku ga polio’, in Hausa language; meaning ‘greetings we have come here with polio’, in English language”.

She adds that such manner of introduction immediately elicits rejection. She advised that when going for immunisation, people should engage their targets in close discussion.

“You have to make yourself a part of them, before you can talk to them because to some of them it is a taboo,” Ms. Yusufu said.

she added that another obtstacle is the choice of language.

“Some people will speak languages that you cannot understand. A person who cannot speak English will meet a person who only understands Hausa. What will you do?” she said.

Ibrahim Bello said it was important to note why people dislike an idea, whether it has something to do with their culture or religion. He said it is also important to know the problem tree.

“One thing we have to know is that at the bottom of every problem is a bitter truth we refuse to swallow,” he said.

The Abuja head of FOMWAN, Maryam Abdullahi, who spoke in Hausa language said that there is a part in Islam where it is written that a man can meet his woman without getting her pregnant.

Participants at the conference are still having their lunch.

Lunch break is over. Participants will at this point engage in a sub-group discussion for 10 to 15 minutes; then return to share experiences.

The following guides were provided for‎ the focused group discussions

Each group was asked to brainstorm on these issues and try to achieve consensus of opinion to be shared during plenary.

  1. Which State or LGA did you implement your program?
  2. Who were specific targets? (Traditional leaders? Religious leaders? Other?)
  3. What specific public health programs did you try to promote (Reproductive health, maternal health, Child survival, Others, Specify?
  4. What were your personal concerns playing the role(s) of advocate?
  5. What spiritual dilemma and conflict of beliefs if any did you have to contend with?
  6. What was your motivation for participating in the program?
  7. How did you engage the leaders initially?
  8. How did you develop and maintain influential relationships with the leaders?
  9. Were you able to establish a sense of urgency among leaders? If yes, how?
  10. Were you able to incorporate new ideas into existing belief and culture of leaders? If yes how?
  11. Were you able to get the leaders sustained commitment in promoting health issues? If yes, How? And if No, Why?
  12. What were the challenges you faced working with leaders to achieve your program goals and objectives
  13. What are the lessons you learnt working with these leaders?
  14. What are the best ways to engage these leaders and sustain their interests?
  15. What would you have done differently?
  16. What advice will you give to anyone that wants to do a similar program in order to succeed?
  17. What were your experiences engaging with and partnering with the media?
  18. What were your experiences collaborating and networking with non-religious secular organizations?

At the end of the focusses group discussion, the workshop ended with a closing remark from the facilitator, Umar ,who appreciated all the participants and Islamic groups in attendance.

A group picture was taken after the closing prayer.

Before the participants dispersed, a female participant from Sokoto State made clarification on how child spacing is used interchangeably with Family Planning.

She commented that Family Planning is broader than child spacing and relates more to, how parents plan for food, shelter, health, education and lifestyle of the family.

She buttressed that women should be allowed to exercise their rights to access healthcare services. In her words, a woman who is carrying the pregnancy should decide to be operated on in a case of complications during childbirth and not rely solely on the husband or family members to decide for her.

Women should decide to visit hospital for treatment, check up and childbirth to save them from killer diseases such as hypertension, post delivery complications, etc.

Likewise, a woman should be empowered to cater for her family, she says.

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