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Hearing other voices in Rwanda

Muslim and Christian women unite to fight COVID-19, AIDS and more

by the Rev. Dr. Ndayizeye Olivier Munyansanga | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Muslim and Christian women leaders gathered for a day of workshops to learn more about preventing COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS. (Photo by the Rev. Dr. Ndayizeye Olivier Munyansanga)

KIGALI, Rwanda — In the atmosphere of celebrating International Women’s Day on March 26, the Presbytery of Kigali organized a daylong workshop to remind women church leaders to continue fighting against the pandemics of COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS. Forty religious leaders were invited from the Rwandan Muslim Association, the Anglican Church, the Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Association of Baptist Churches, the Reformed Baptist Church and the Free Methodist Church.

Rev. Bienvenu Musabyimana, president of the Presbytery of Kigali, welcomed all participants and reminded them that life is a precious gift offered to us by God and, for that reason, we all have the duty to protect it.

The first session on COVID-19 was led by the Rev. Beate Mukamurenzi, who coordinates training for the Presbyterian Church in Rwanda through its Training and Documentation Center. She explained the origin of COVID-19, how it spreads, consequences and prevention measures for facing the virus.  She praised the undeniable potential and strength of women in supporting their families during lockdown measures in Rwanda that began in March 2020.

“We have seen them running outside, finding food, wood and water for cooking and taking care of their families,” Mukamurenzi said. “Today women should continue to protect their own families and communities by wearing masks, supporting physically and psychologically their infected family members, sharing and giving right information on COVID-19. They should also invest in new internet platforms for communicating with their religious members.”

The author led the second presentation on HIV/AIDS, reminding workshop attendees of the fatal impact of HIV/AIDS, since COVID-19 has refocused the world’s attention for the past year. Meanwhile, illnesses and deaths associated with HIV/AIDS are still increasing family problems globally. Patients in the 20–49 age group represent 90% of the workforce. The majority, 72%, between ages 30–49, have continued working for economic development while caring for their own families.

According to a 2020 fact sheet provided by the United Nations and the United Nations Population Fund, women account for about 48% of the nearly 38 million people globally who are living with AIDS. The situation is even more alarming in sub-Saharan Africa, where women and girls account for 59% of all new HIV infections. The report illustrates the devastating and often invisible impact of AIDS on women and girls. Discrimination, poverty and violence against women are contributing factors in this growing epidemic.

Hope is seen through intensive HIV/AIDS education, yet more is needed, as is increased medical care and support. More research also is needed to better understand the socioeconomic impact at the household and community levels.

In general, greater awareness and understanding about the impact of HIV/AIDS would help to effectively deliver formal and informal education to families and others. In my presentation, I suggested that two measures are urgently needed to ensure access to antiretroviral therapy and the long-term welfare of the population living with or at-risk of contracting HIV/AIDS:

  • Facilitate diagnosis, treatment and care by introducing rapid tests and self-tests
  • Support the physical, mental and social well-being of people living with HIV/AIDS by providing care and intensive behavior change communication, especially since the existence of HIV/AIDS within families is still considered taboo.

Participants commented that violence against women is an ongoing issue due to gender stereotypes, an increase in unwanted pregnancies because of family planning limitations, poverty, negative impact of social media and drugs.

Each participant received a copy of a World Council of Churches publication titled “Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa.”(Photo by the Rev. Dr. Ndayizeye Olivier Munyansanga)

Christian and Muslim women asked the Presbytery of Kigali to provide other meetings such as these to strengthen families and the religious community by educating women and by so doing to educate a whole nation. At the end of the meeting, a resource produced by the World Council of Churches and written in the Kinyarwanda language, “Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa,” was distributed to the religious women leaders.

Collectively, participants decided to create an inclusive country and to challenge discriminatory gender norms. The Rev. Bienvenu Musabyimana confirmed that the Kigali gathering is just the beginning of working together to face these challenges.

The closing prayer was led by one of the Muslim women.

The Rev. Dr. Ndayizeye Munyansanga Olivier is a lecturer in the faculty of theology and religious studies of the Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Sciences in Butare, Rwanda.

The Rev. Paula V. Cooper, World Mission’s regional liaison for East Central Africa, facilitates PC(USA) relationships with partner churches and institutions in Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia. She also provides support for PC(USA) mission personnel and Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) in the region. She assists PC(USA) congregations and presbyteries that are or who want to be in relationship with partners in East Central Africa. Contact her here

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