Engaging Faith-Inspired Organizations in the Response to Maternal Health

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By: Tim Thomas, Acting Director, MHTF

The Advancing Maternal Health Dialogue series has been seminal to meeting the MHTF mandate of convening new allied partners around emerging and neglected issues in maternal health. The series had a powerful conclusion last week when some leading thinkers on the intersections between religion and maternal health gathered first in a private day-long meeting, and next in a 2-hour public dialogue illuminating nascent efforts to integrate the faith-inspired development and health sector with the more established maternal health field.

These meetings built on ongoing work under the auspices of the World Faiths Development Dialogue and Christian Connections for International Health. They co-sponsored a consultation held last June at The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, which yielded the background report for these meetings, as well as a group of experts representing faith-inspired organizations around the world and maternal health experts working through their religious communities to raise awareness and expand services to improve maternal health.

Deep discussions probed the myriad issues that confront productive intersections between religions and maternal health. Case studies from 4 countries helped to contextualize and localize the challenges, and the various paths toward successful collaborations. As this work continues, some of the overarching conclusions and questions articulated in our 2 days are likely to inform progress:

  • How can the religious community be included more routinely in the global maternal health space? And who should be at the table?
  • Where can safe space be created for candid conversations among religious leaders on hot-button issues like adolescent sexuality, abortion, contraception can be debated intelligently?
  • There is an urgent need to increase ‘faith literacy’ in the global health and development communities, to support pragmatic and mutually respectful programmatic planning.
  • As rights are invoked to advocate for access to quality maternal health services, so must responsibility be addressed to support important behavior changes.
  • In communities where traditional religious values are prominent, male religious leaders guide their male congregations who are usually household decision makers. The importance of educating and orienting male religious leaders cannot be understated.
  • Religions have been in communities long before maternal health NGOs arrived, and will remain long after. They must be part of the solution.

For more information, read the background papers (below) and view the list of participants for the meetings. A full report from the meeting, the presentations and video of the public dialogue will be available soon here and on the Woodrow Wilson International Center site.

Funding for the Advancing Maternal Health Dialogue series has come from the Maternal Health Task Force, UNFPA and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. We are grateful for their support and partnership.

Background papers

Actual and Potential Roles for FBO and MNCH
Role of FBO in MNCH in Africa
Working with Religious Leaders in MNCH