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Civil society partnerships

Focus on shared values and a rights-based approach

Keeping child rights and related areas of programming as the point of reference for partnership can help to avoid tensions and potential pitfalls that can arise from incompatible goals or competing agendas.

Religious communities offer many social, spiritual and material assets to a strategic partnership with child rights organizations that can enhance both partners’ work to address the needs of the most vulnerable children and families. Yet, both parties may have misgivings. Partner assessment should prioritize those contributions religious actors can make to child rights programming because of who they are. At the same time, some religious groups have raised concerns about the child rights agenda, such as that it erodes or competes with the rights of parents to raise their children as they wish. An important starting point is to learn how potential religious partners understand and relate to fundamental child rights principles through the following steps:

  • Clarify and agree on where there is common ground and, if relevant, where action is already underway that can provide a starting point for collaboration.
  • Humanitarian principles and rights instruments must remain the frameworks for action and provide the boundaries that define acceptable partnerships. However, without listening to and then aligning the language of rights with the articulation of deeply held socio-cultural and religious values and beliefs, there can be a perception of alienation and imposition of foreign ideas despite the fact that the human rights framework is inherently based on these deeper values. Thus, language and approach are critical elements in the process of establishing and building meaningful partnerships.

There will, inevitably, be areas of work in which there is lack of agreement about particular approaches. One example is that condom distribution as an HIV-transmission prevention activity may not be supported by some religious communities. It may be possible to disagree on such an issue and still be able to work together on areas of common concern – for example, promoting HIV testing, addressing discrimination against children affected by HIV and/or providing care and support for orphans and other vulnerable children. Agreeing to disagree should, moreover, be done with mutual respect. It is important to keep the door open for dialogue even where there is no active partnership.

However, there may be instances where disagreements focus on issues that are at the core of each actor’s mandate and values, making partnership undesirable if not impossible. From a rights-based perspective, this would include any practice or approach that infringes on basic child and human rights. For example, it would be unacceptable to work with a faith-based organization that made any aid conditional on religious views or practices.



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