"When a child has not made 18 years and you marry her off … don’t bother to invite me! I will not come": The role and involvement of faith leaders’ wives in child protection issues
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Eyber, C. & Jailobaeva, K. (2020) "When a child has not made 18 years and you marry her off … don’t bother to invite me! I will not come": The role and involvement of faith leaders’ wives in child protection issues. In: Kraft, K. & Wilkinson, O. J. (eds.) International development and local faith actors: Ideological and cultural encounters. London: Routledge, pp. 188-204.
This chapter draws on ongoing research conducted with World Vision’s Channels of Hope (CoH) Child Protection programme in Senegal and Uganda, and focuses on the perspectives of faith leaders’ wives on engaging with child protection issues in their communities. In the CoH programme, spouses of faith leaders are included primarily for two reasons: firstly, to jointly undergo the training with their marital partners so that the envisaged change in attitudes and behaviour is mutually understood and reinforced within the household; and secondly, as respected faith actors in their own right who have a certain status within the communities and influence over congregation members. Findings suggest that far from being a homogenous group, faith leaders’ wives constitute a diverse group of women, not only in regard to their demographic profiles, but also in regard to their varying roles and responsibilities in the Muslim and Christian congregations. As a consequence of the faith-based engagement with child protection issues in the CoH workshops, many wives initiated actions to improve the wellbeing and protection of children in their communities. These included individual, family, congregation and community-focused activities and strategies involved working alone, as part of a team, with other faith congregation members as well as collaborating with existing, formal child protection actors in the communities. Significant challenges were experienced by the wives in relation to the specific issues they sought to address, the strategies they employed as well as their own status within the communities. This was particularly noticeable when they challenged entrenched harmful attitudes and practices such as corporal punishment and early marriage. The ambiguities involved in this are explored and discussed. The wives, despite the difficulties they encounter, emerge as local faith actors who effectively use informal community mobilization mechanisms and as significant contributors to changing negative norms in their communities.