Multiple Concurrent Partnerships and the Church: Assessing the Attitudes and Perceptions of Community Leaders of Faith

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Authors: Chinyelu K. Lee; Dorothy Brewster; Rose A. Nesbitt from the Pan African Christian AIDS Network (PACANet)
Publication Date; January 1, 2009
Summary
This 15-page report, published by the Pan African Christian AIDS Network (PACANet), shares findings from a survey that sought to access churchgoers' perceptions about multiple concurrent partnerships (MCPs) and the church's response to these relationships, with a view that church leaders must understand the attitudes and perceptions surrounding these relationships in order to develop effective interventions. The study, which collected data from religious leaders and faith-based organisations in western, southern, and eastern Africa and across denominations, found that evangelicals were less likely to perceive MCPs as a problem within their congregations. Additionally, most tended to explain MCPs by drawing on gender stereotypes, saying that women participated in such partnerships for economic reasons while men's "natural and social impulses" drove them to seek multiple partners.
Members of evangelical churches were significantly more likely than those from other faiths to report that MCPs were not a major problem in their congregations, with more than half reporting that less than 10% of men and women engaged in MCPs. They also estimated that slightly more men may be engaging in MCPs than women. According to the report, these figures were similar for those who, although not evangelical, reported attending or holding church services multiple times a week. These respondents were also more likely to say that their churches were actively addressing the issue of MCPs through activities promoting fidelity and strengthened marriages. Researchers point out that this perception of increased MCP programming may be more a reflection of frequent attendance than actual programming levels.
According to the report, when participants were asked why women and men chose to engage in MCPs, their responses largely reflected gender stereotypes. About 30% reported that most women engaged in MCPs in order to gain income for essential needs. Conversely, respondents indicated that men within the church looked to these relations most often to fulfil psychological needs, and that men in the community often engaged in these relationships due to peer pressure or to gain social status. No mention was made of previously cited reasons for MCPs among both men and women, such as sexual fulfilment. Researchers suggest there may be a need for greater candour about sexual behaviour within churches.
The report recommends that more research be done to ascertain the level and effectiveness of MCP programming within the religious sector. The researchers also recommend that health and demographic surveys begin to include questions that may help link HIV prevalence to religious denomination as well as church attendance. They argue that greater attention needs to be given to the role of the church and potential differences between churches in order to design effective faith-based programming.
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