Global Resources

Strategy on working with religious and traditional institutions and leaders

Publisher: Voices 4 Change
Publication Date: Sep 2014

Developed on the basis of a rapid assessment process which involved literature reviews, fieldwork, and interviews, this report details V4C's planned strategy in a programme aimed at working with religious and traditional leaders in promoting gender equality and women's empowerment (GEWE). The report begins by providing some background, noting the systematic disadvantage and discrimination Nigerian girls face, particularly those who are poor, live rurally, or are from particular social groups. It then goes on to discuss the influence of religious and traditional institutions and leaders in creating, maintaining, and potentially fighting the systematic nature of gender inequality. On this last point, it is noted that engaging men who are opinion leaders, and working with the whole community rather than just with girls and women, has led to successful and progressive change across Nigeria.

Before presenting the strategy, the report outlines V4C’s aims, values, and guiding principles, including a number of pre-identified 'success factors' included commentary and chosen measures and indicators. V4C's current work with religious and traditional leaders and institutions has two key strands: targeting attitudinal and behaviour change amongst religious and traditional institutions and leaders, and working with religious and traditional institutions and leaders to bring about attitudinal, behaviour and policy change in the wider enabling environment, with a focus on V4C’s three key focus areas: violence against women and girls (VAWG), women’s leadership, and women’s decision-making. This strategy is informed by five guiding principles: taking a long-term view; working at multiple levels, e.g. individual, institutional, community, etc.; working with others, both in terms of networking with other Nigerian civil society organisations, and identifying and supporting champions among religious and traditional leaders; ensuring ownership and promoting collaboration; and maintaining a focus on learning, particularly concerning identifying those strategies that actually work.

Regarding opportunities identified by V4C's rapid assessment, there is considerable appetite amongst religious and traditional leaders to be involved in programming on gender issues. Additionally, it shows how most religious communities have high-level leadership or coordinating organisations which operate at the state and/or national level, and which provide guidance and support to leadership cadres at local levels. V4C can work with these structures to multiply the impact of training and sensitisation activities. Another avenue for collaboration is working with student associations in a range of religious and traditional structures, while the extensive networks of religious leaders, often including TV, radio, and print media outlets, make them ideal partners to disseminate messages.

The rapid assessment also identified a number of challenges. Firstly, while religious and traditional leaders can and should make great allies, it must be recognised that these same systems and actors often play a significant role in perpetuating patriarchy and gender inequality. A key issue emerging from the rapid assessment was that women work actively in the service of religion and religious organisations, and are often considered influential actors in the community. However, they are mostly excluded from religious hierarchies and decision-making structures and processes. Religious and traditional leaders who choose to engage with gender equality programming can also face community backlash, or even threats to their personal security, with a particular danger that they may be characterised as promoting a ‘Western agenda’ aiming to undermine the religious and cultural values of Nigeria. It is important to support champions discreetly, and ensure that all those engaging understand the risks involved first.

The report discusses the identification of a number of possible partners, and their expected results from the programme, before concluding with the preferred approaches. Having assessed the literature and working environment, it was concluded that V4C's work to address GEWE with religious and traditional institutions and leaders will stand upon four pillars, all of which are discussed in detail:

  • Transforming the attitudes and behaviours of religious and traditional leaders through training, sensitisation and knowledge-sharing.

  • Securing commitment from high-level religious and traditional leaders and coordinating organisations to promote GEWE issues.

  • Supporting religious and traditional institutions and leaders to promote public awareness, discussion and debate on GEWE issues.

  • Engaging religious and traditional institutions and leaders in advocacy and policy change campaigns.