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Civil society partnerships

Cross-cutting issues

Early childhood development

The earliest years of a child’s life are the most crucial for his or her development. With proper nutrition and health care, as well as social and emotional support and caring, children are able to thrive physically, mentally and emotionally. However, when these factors are not present and learning opportunities are inadequate to provide stimulation, development can be seriously impaired, affecting not only the future of the child but also her or his family, community and society as a whole. Poverty is the underlying cause of these situations, and early interventions that take a holistic approach in promoting the conditions that foster well-being are the most effective in breaking cycles of poverty.

Why partner with religious communities for early childhood development?
Religious leaders have access to the most intimate social unit: the family, where early childhood is shaped. They can be crucial partners in providing information, guidance and support to families of young children that can promote each child’s right to healthy development.

More concretely, religious communities can:

  • Support early education for children that promotes healthy physical and emotional development, as well as gender equity, especially for poor or marginalized children who may not have other opportunities for such exposure.
  • Include peace education and teachings of mutual respect in early childhood education programmes.
  • Bring important early childhood development information into the family setting, stressing the parents' obligation to provide for their young children, offering information on how to do this and supporting them when they face difficulties.
  • Include references to scripture, special prayers and discussion of the elements important in early childhood development in worship services, study sessions and particularly at special events such as the celebration of childhood rites of passage.
  • Develop peer education groups for women’s and men’s associations to share information about early childhood development, and support members whose children are not accessing appropriate services through, for example, referral and financial assistance.

Humanitarian action

During emergencies children are especially vulnerable to disease, malnutrition, violence and separation from family or caregivers. Education can be disrupted through displacement and loss of infrastructure. Sexual and gender-based violence usually become more prevalent, placing children and women at particular risk of physical and emotional trauma.

The Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action (CCCs) are the main policy guidelines for UNICEF’s work in crises, whether these are of a sudden or slow-onset nature, natural disasters or conflict situations.

In emergencies UNICEF works in collaboration with local and international partners to ensure comprehensive and effective delivery of humanitarian assistance that permits the diverse array of programmes necessary to address the full spectrum of children’s rights.

Why partner with religious communities in emergencies?
In emergency situations the roles of religious communities can be even more clearly advantageous in providing immediate and sustainable support to affected people.

  • The expansive reach of religious communities means that they are likely to have structures or systems in place in areas that might be inaccessible to humanitarian actors. This also gives them an inherent capacity to mobilize community resources.
  • Most religious communities are community-based service providers already, providing care and support for vulnerable persons, such as foster and other care for children without adequate parental care, and emergency support such as food and shelter. 
  • Religious leaders have the trust and presence within their communities to provide spiritual support and stability during difficult circumstances.

While religious differences are used to justify and fuel conflicts, this should not be a reason to avoid engaging with religious leaders. Sensitivity and a deeper understanding of the religious as well as socio-economic and political dimensions of a conflict are essential. In these situations, inter-religious mechanisms or associations may be very effective in creating space for humanitarian assistance.

Gender equality

Discrimination based on gender denies children opportunities for development and the realization of their basic rights. While gender discrimination can affect boys and men, it disproportionately affects girls and women in much of the world, denying them access to education, health care, participation in governance and decision-making, and protection from violence and abuse. The impacts of discrimination extend beyond individuals to their families, communities and societies at large, preventing them from developing to their full potential. The SDGs cannot be achieved in the absence of equal outcomes for girls and boys.

UNICEF integrates gender equality into all aspects of its programming as well as into its commitments with partners at all levels. Promoting equal outcomes for girls and boys is an element of all partnerships.

Engagement with religious communities can provide rich opportunities for confronting discrimination and promoting equal outcomes for girls and boys. Tapping into the deeply held values of dignity and the sanctity of life shared by most faith traditions, religious partners can mobilize assets for change that child rights organizations would not be able to do alone.

Some considerations in promoting gender equality in working with religious communities are:

  • How do different members of the religious community – women, men, youth, children, leaders, lay members, etc. – understand and talk about gender discrimination? Is it discussed at all?
  • What are the values, principles, tenets and teachings of the religious community vis-à-vis gender roles, expectations and relationships?
  • Are prevailing social norms based on culture and traditions or certain interpretations of religion?
  • How are these values expressed in the daily functioning of the religious community? Is gender equality evident in the structures and systems of the community – for example, in access to leadership roles and services provided?
  • What are the strategic entry points for addressing gender equality and ensuring its prominence in the partnership? 
  • Are there groups or individuals in the religious community who are initiating gender-inclusive policies and practices?
  • Is the religious community implementing programmes that are, or with support could be, models of gender equality in action – for example, diversity training and mentoring, or programmes demonstrating equal outcomes for boys and girls in the areas of education, HIV or early childhood development?

Child participation

Children’s participation can play a crucial role in furthering their protection from violence. Through their participation, girls and boys can raise awareness of the violations they experience as well as positively contribute to preventing and addressing violence and abuse.

Religious communities are multi-generational and are in a unique position to encourage the participation of children by creating opportunities for them to express their thoughts, ideas and solutions for promoting and protecting their rights. Children’s participation not only facilitates their healthy development but also benefits the religious community as a whole.

This has special implications for very young children and those who have traditionally been marginalized or excluded from decision-making such as girls, children with disabilities and those from minority groups. Being given an opportunity to share their views in a meaningful way with a respected religious person can be a very empowering experience for them.

Some considerations in working with religious communities to promote meaningful child participation might include:

  • What are some of the ways in which children participate in the religious community?
    • Do they have distinct roles in worship services, rituals or special holidays?
    • Are older children and youth involved in the religious education of younger children?
  • What barriers to participation do children in the religious community face?
    • What is the source of these – for example, religious teachings, administrative structures and systems, particular opinions of adult leadership?
  • What preparation and support do children need to participate in a meaningful way?
  • What training and support is available to adults in the religious community to facilitate children’s meaningful participation?



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