You are here

Faith leaders at the forefront of COVID-19 protection efforts in Zanzibar

Ms. Amina Khalfan, a religious leader and member of West B Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Action Group in Zanzibar, was one of 30 religious leaders who agreed to play a key role in the battle against the COVID-19 virus when it arrived on Zanzibar’s shores in mid-March.  As trusted and respected members in their communities – and already engaged in efforts to advance women and girls’ rights – religious and faith leaders had – and still have – a pivotal role to play in infection, prevention and control (IPC).

Sharing life-saving information and offering support

Amina, as a GBV Action Group member, usually conducts community outreach – faith leaders have voluntarily established 11 GBV Action Groups, one in each district of Zanzibar, with UNFPA’s support – but with activities temporarily suspended, she found a new way to keep women and girls safe.

“I started working with Al-Noor FM, a local radio station, using the first 15 minutes of my show to talk about the importance of hand washing, physical distancing and staying at home; I related all of these messages to religious teachings.”

“I started working with Al-Noor FM, a local radio station, using the first 15 minutes of my show to talk about the importance of hand washing, physical distancing and staying at home; I related all of these messages to religious teachings,” explains Amina. For the remaining 15 minutes Amina discussed other issues affecting women and girls including GBV: “I wanted to give women and girls hope”, she says.

Sheikh Nassor Hamad Omar, an Iman in Fuoni, Zanzibar, persuaded his followers to let him close the Mosque as the pandemic evolved.  “It was difficult to ensure that people attending prayers were taking all the necessary precautionary measures and I felt it was safer to close, ” he says. Sheik Nassor set up a WhatsApp group for his congregation and used it to communicate information on COVID-19, as well as to answer his follower’s questions.

Reverend Mathew Herman, of the Catholic Church in Central District, Zanzibar South Region, also shared life-saving information with his followers, offering prayers and hope for those affected.  In addition to learning about COVID-19 IPC, Reverend Matthew, and the 30 other faith and religious leaders who attended the UNFPA-supported training at the Ministry of Labour, Empowerment, Elders, Women and Children, also learnt how to address the rumours and misinformation that were swirling around.

Returning to a new normal

Slowly Zanzibar is returning to a new normal with the reopening of schools, colleges and universities, but faith and religious leaders continue to urge their followers to take precautionary measures. Sheikh Muadhin Jogoo, an Imam in Makunduchi village, South Unguja –  also an attendee at the training who has been spearheading COVID-19 prevention efforts in his community – insists that worshippers keep 1.5 metres apart during prayers, and has also mobilized funds for soap, sanitizers and disinfectant to maintain good hygiene in the Mosque.  

Amina is looking forward to restarting GBV community outreach soon – with the necessary COVID-19 protection measures in place –  but says she is not ready to come off the air just yet.  “I have received such an overwhelming response from women and girls that I am going to continue my radio show…and ask people to cherish the good things that have come out of this pandemic.”

By Ali Hamad, UNFPA Zanzibar