By Elizabeth Ndhlovu-Dumbreni
Religious leaders in Mberengwa have for a long time been tight-lipped about preaching the gospel of condom use among their congregants, says District Aids Action Committee officer for Mberengwa rural, Zimbabwe, Takawira Moyo.
Moyo, who has been employed by the local council for 11 years now, says working with religious leaders along with other local leaders was easy, but the harder task came when some of the men of the cloth indicated that they were reluctant to speak out about condom use, as to them, it was tantamount to advocating promiscuity.
“With this kind of mindset from the church people, we then sat down and explained to them that the condom can be used as a contraceptive, while at the same time, working as a preventive measure between couples. We explained that condom use was one way of promoting women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and we are now seeing a great change in terms of upholding women’s rights here in Mberengwa. Political, religious and traditional leaders are now embracing what we teach them, what Betseranai is teaching them, and they can now confidently speak about condoms at their gatherings,” he said.
Moyo says that to date, as a result of the training conducted by Betseranai, two local chiefs have served as good examples by putting women in leadership positions, with one now serving as a chief. He also applauded some religious leaders for taking heed of a young woman’s counsel and allowing her to invite the town council together with a local youth group to come and teach about the dangers of early marriages, polygamy, gender-based violence and HIV.
He added that through the Irish-Aid funded programmes they were now able to reach some sectors that were once perceived as very conservative and hard-to-reach.
“We have some religious groups that do not believe in accessing medication from the hospital. They believe that women’s positions are in the kitchen and they do not allow women to be part of any decision making processes, including decisions about her own children going for initiation or religious circumcision in the bush. Over the years, we have been able to reach out to these people and engage them.
At first it was hard to convince them to accept that women are equal to men, to talk about condom use among couples and that young men and boys should seek and get circumcision services from health professionals, but we are seeing a positive change now. They are now co-operating and are also now teaching their church members as well,” he said.