The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in collaboration with the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic affairs organised a two-day consultative forum with the title: Harnessing Demographic Dividend (DD) for Sustainable Development of Nigeria: The Role of Muslim Religious Leaders; and the theme: Increasing Access to Reproductive Health Services as a Key Pillar for Achieving Demographic Dividend (DD) in Nigeria. The venue was Transcorp Hilton, Abuja from Wednesday, 12 to 13 September 2018. At the end of the forum the following Call To Action was made:
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in collaboration with Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and The Sultan Foundation for Peace and Development, Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria and The Muslim Students Society of Nigeria organised a two-day national consultation meeting on harnessing the demographic dividends which was attended by over 250 participants drawn from across the length and breadth of the country comprising Muslim Religious Leaders (MRLs), Traditional rulers, representatives of faith-based organisations, UNFPA West and Central Africa Regional Office Regional Director, as well as high level representatives of the government, diplomatic community, participants from other African countries and non-governmental organisations.
The purpose of the consultation meeting was to strengthen partnerships; provide avenues for sharing experiences and best practices, but also to agree on a Call to Action that identifies concrete decisions to be translated into a Plan of Action for implementation and follow up by the Muslim religious leaders in order to enhance the wellbeing of women, girls and young people. The objectives of the consultation meeting were to: increase awareness and the knowledge of Muslim Religious Leaders (MRLs) on the need to increase access to Reproductive Health Services as a key Pillar for harnessing Demographic Dividends in Nigeria, create the desired support to increase access to Reproductive Health Services and the ability to make changes in their various communities, build capacity of MRLs on the demographic dividends; and to work with the MRLs to reinforce key messages and how to implement strategies for harnessing the demographic dividends.
The key pillars to harnessing demographic dividends in Nigeria were the basis for consultation sessions. Discussions were held on youth empowerment, employment and restiveness; functional and vocational education focusing on “Tsangaya” school and the “Almajiri” systems; Egypt, TChad and the Gambia country experiences, the role of Muslim Religious Leaders in achieving UNFPA’s transformative results; enabling environment for attainment of SDGs 3 (good health and wellbeing) and 5 (gender equality); and Gender Equity, child spacing and fertility. Engagements were forged at the opening ceremony and take home sessions, which prepared the grounds for the call to action.
Call to Action
1. We, the Muslim Religious Leaders (MRLs) in Nigeria, having met in Abuja, Nigeria, in a two-day national consultation meeting from 12th to 13th September, 2018 to engage with each other and agree on how we can contribute to accelerating the process of harnessing the demographic dividends in Nigeria, by increasing access to reproductive health services to secure a better future for the women, girls and youths of our dear country and build an innovative partnership to ensure their empowerment through increased access to Reproductive Health Services as a key pillar for achieving the Demographic Dividends;
2. Bearing in mind that our contribution to youth employment, investments, resource development, productivity and savings to harness the Demographic Dividends is at the heart of our God-given responsibilities as leaders; and that the empowerment of young people, including girls, particularly benefits all. Consequently, we call on all religious leaders to support the country’s roadmap for harnessing the potential of young people through education, skills development, training, conflict resolution, peace, love and the desire to serve humanity;
3. Cognisant of the important role and influence that we as Muslim religious leaders have in building moral and ethical values, shaping opinions through our messages, driving consensus and affecting decisions of the country, states, local governments, communities and individuals alike, particularly of women and young people and the overwhelming confirmation as further demonstrated by the examples shared from various states and local governments of the country, through our deliberations with policymakers, other religious and traditional leaders, experts and other stakeholders of our on-going role in increasing access to education and reproductive health services including strategies to reduce maternal mortality;
4. Concerned with the erosion of family values, the low inclusion of young people in development, the weak linkage between economic empowerment and employment, and the high rate of conflicts and internally displaced persons and their vulnerability across the country and its neighbourhoods and the impact of insurgency and natural disasters on maternal and neo-natal health services;
5. Also concerned about the low level of access to quality health services including reproductive health services and the attendant high level of maternal mortality, unmet need for child spacing services and information and the high rate of gender-based violence including harmful practices, exposure to illicit sex and their impact on the moral and socio-economic development of the country.
6. We acknowledge that health is a blessing from God and some of our common responsibilities are to encourage the removal of socio-cultural barriers to health services especially reproductive health services;
7. We welcome, encourage and celebrate initiatives by Muslim Religious Leaders and Muslim Faith-Based Organisations within our country as they contribute significantly to the provision of health services including reproductive health services and information through advocacy for policies and laws on health services, building health facilities, training health professionals and contributing to the health and empowerment of women and adolescent girls; and we praise them for their commitments and efforts to educate and empower youth as a major contribution towards harnessing the demographic dividends and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals at the global level, and development plan at the national and state levels;
8. We further condemn the manipulation of religious text, wrong indoctrination of youth and abuse of women and children that manifests through terrorist acts and call on all, especially Muslim Religious Leaders, to work in partnership in addressing the issue of countering violent extremism, radicalisation and terrorism in the country and to combat hatred and hate speeches, prejudice, intolerance and stereotyping on the basis of religion and culture and protect young people from the factors that make them vulnerable to these acts including drug abuse and trafficking;
9. We commit to acting as opinion leaders and role models in the provision and acceptability of reproductive health services to accelerate the achievement of zero Maternal, Child and Adolescent mortality rates and to play an active role in community leadership and engagement towards development;
10. We affirm the need to promote Inter and Intra-religious dialogue at the local, state, national and regional levels, harmony and cooperation in Africa to contribute to peace and meaningful socio-economic development;
11. We call on the country’s neighbouring states; UNFPA, the UN system and other partners such as the African Union, the Wife of the President and the Wives of Governors, the Islamic Development Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the private sector to scale-up and strengthen their relationship with Muslim Faith-Based organisations on expanding access to reproductive health services by mobilising investments for youth in order to harness the demographic dividends;
12. We request the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and other Faith Based Organisations in collaboration with UNFPA to mobilise additional resources to support advocacy efforts of Muslim Faith-Based Leaders and organisations in the implementation of their action plan;
13. We respectfully invite His Excellency, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to bring the outcomes of our consultation to the attention of regional and global organisations such as ECOWAS, African Union and to the United Nations General Assembly and in addition propose to the Security Council the theme of youth and demographic dividends for stability, peace, security and development;
14. We commit to implement the ideas shared during the consultation meeting through an action plan 2019-2022 to be developed aimed at social and behaviour change to increase access to health services including reproductive health in order to contribute to achievement of zero maternal mortality, zero unmet need for child spacing, and zero gender-based violence consistent with UNFPA’s Strategic Plan 2017-2021;
15. We pledge to act to accelerate harnessing the demographic dividends for sustainable development in our various communities, local governments and states;
16. Harnessing the demographic dividends requires the establishment of partnerships with a broad spectrum of stakeholders including Muslim Religious Leaders who will complement the efforts of government, and maximise inter-sectoral linkages. As a leading driver of community and religious values, we believe that religious leaders are best placed to drive and support the government of Nigeria and development partners to harness the demographic dividends.
17. We call on government at all levels to:
i) Provide the enabling environment through policies, laws and budgetary requirements for harnessing demographic dividends especially through access to quality health services including reproductive health and to mobilise young people and strengthen women’s participation in national and sub-national development;
ii) To strengthen “Tsangaya” systems and practices to contribute to functional education and vocational skills for national development while ensuring the empowerment of both boys and girls and;
iii) Partner with religious leaders for harnessing demographic dividends at all levels especially at community level.
18. Finally, we also call on government and development partners to employ innovative ways of continuous engagement of religious leaders through capacity building, consultations and support for religious leaders’ led community interventions for harnessing the demographic dividends.
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