Representatives of faith-based organizations at the International Conference on AIDS and STI’s in Africa (ICASA) have called for the recognition of a clear link between sexual and gender-based violence and the continued spread of HIV and AIDS. Together they affirmed their significant role in the post-2015 agenda to turn the tide of HIV and related inequities.
Meeting here the week of Dec. 9, the 17th ICASA is a biennial conference that alternates between Anglophone and Francophone African countries.
The event is a venue for exchange of experiences and lessons on responses to HIV and AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), attracting a large number of HIV and AIDS activists and researchers.
The World Council of Churches (WCC), which has joined the faith-based voices at the ICASA, is represented through its project the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA).
EHAIA’s coordinator, the Rev. Nyambura Njoroge, was one of the speakers at the Faith in Action dialogue ― a space created at the ICASA for faith-based organizations to address challenges and opportunities in their responses to HIV pandemic.
Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS also addressed the gathering, urging faith-based organizations to speak with a united, strong voice saying they are best placed for social justice interventions. He stressed the need for faith-based organizations to push towards a specific, separate goal for HIV and AIDS in the post-2015 development agenda.
Without these steps, Sidibé said, HIV will be pushed to the margins of the development agenda and very little funding will be forthcoming.
“Faith-based organizations remain the last barricade against exclusion: they bring heart, different resources, the values of caring, compassion and inclusivity,” added Sidibé.
Shu-Shu Tekle-Haimanot of the Global Fund, Lyn Van Rooyen of Christian AIDS Bureau of South Africa (CABSA), Milicah Shonga, youth representative and Dr Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, also reflected on the roles, challenges and opportunities of faith communities in accomplishing “zero new HIV infections”.
At ICASA, faith-based organizations stressed that reproductive health, poverty, sexual and gender-based violence, and the spread of HIV are interwoven and linked. They said that it will take concerted, collaborative efforts and partnerships to halt the ravages of the virus.
Collaborations between EHAIA and partner organizations including CABSA, the National Religious Association for Social Development and the Church of Sweden were recognized as examples of the integrated approach necessary for sustainable social impact.
The campaign Thursdays in Black was also endorsed by the faith-related voices at the conference. Thursdays in Black advocates for a world without rape and violence through the wearing of black every Thursday, and speaking out against the abuse of women and children. The campaign encourages lobbying against sexual and gender-based violence, identifying it as a human rights issue.