African religious leaders say that they have an important role to play in fighting the global coronavirus pandemic.
In a webinar on the role of the religious community in the fight against Covid-19 by Sonke Gender Justice and MenEngage Africa Alliance on Friday, faith leaders and civil society focused on the influence of religious leaders during the pandemic.
The Executive Director of Young Women in Action in Zambia, Harriet Chibuta says that faith leaders play an important role to play in creating awareness in communities as they have influence over a large population in society.
In Botswana, Lieutenant Reverend Tshegofatso Beregane from the Salvation Army says that as religious leaders in the country they use their own resources to raise awareness about the virus.
“We used our own cars going around teaching people what is the meaning of lockdown, what is Covid-19 because most of our people didn’t understand Covid-19 jargon, they didn’t understand the meaning of law for someone to be told to stay indoors it was very difficult,” she explains.
“We divided ourselves into groups and rotated, for example, this week is for Islam, the next week is for this Zion church and the next week is for the mainline churches. We went around saying the way to the people stay indoors, teaching them, wash your hands, helping the government, because the government spoke on behalf of us on the radio, but as it was our duty to go around to the people teaching them.”
Religious charity acts
Chibuta says that the faith organisations have been at the forefront of bringing about social relief in vulnerable communities.
“They also spearhead food baskets and monetary support. They visit prisons and support various aspects of the society. It is highly likely that these charity acts can still go on and we can capitalise on just some of their strengths and finding ways to link with them,” she says.
Sheikh Salim Mohammed Salim from the Islamic faith in Kenya says that Muslims had just ended their holy month of fasting, which encourages followers of the faith to give charity in abundance. He says that lockdown regulations have been a challenge for many people to give charity and for religious leaders to give counselling about the virus. But he maintains that accessing food and medicine is a top priority.
Using religious texts to bring hope
In her presentation, Beregane said that the bible provides hope and encouragement during difficult times like now. She says that bible verses like John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Chibuta says that as civil society that has noted how faith-based organisations use religious text to promote health measures and to counter misinformation.
Fighting gender-based violence
Like South Africa, other countries are also seeing an increase in gender-based violence (GBV) during the lockdown, says Mpiwa Mangwiro-Tsanga, Regional Campaigns and Advocacy Specialist at Sonke Gender Justice.
“Many women and children actually live in lockdown with their abusers, which has resulted in them experiencing high levels of abuse,” she says.
Beregane says that there is a need for civil society to come to churches to address the congregation and teach people about the GBVand also train religious leaders about it.
Salim says that they have initiatives where young Muslim boys are taught about GBV and how to respect women.
“We have trained Imaams and the young boys, and now they are passing the information is to know that Imams are a very influential set, especially when they have the sermons in the mosque.” Health-e News