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19 September: presentation of the report and policy letter on ‘Sexual well-being in the context of religious and cultural diversity’

10 September 2019

As part of the ‘Cultural Encounters’ research project financed by the NWO, since 2016, the University of Groningen (UG) and the University of Amsterdam (UvA) have been carrying out qualitative, ethnographic research into the various ways in which health and sexual well-being are approached by people in the Netherlands who have a background of African migration, as well as by healthcare organizations whose work also focuses on improving the health and sexual well-being of people of African descent in the Netherlands. On the afternoon of Thursday 19 September, the research results and the subsequent policy letter containing recommendations for policy and practice will be presented at the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI) in The Hague. Register to attend this presentation!

Policy letter

The policy letter was written by Dr Brenda Bartelink, senior researcher, and Dr Kim Knibbe, associate professor of Anthropology and Sociology of Religion, both at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen, on behalf of the Cultural Encounters team. The policy letter explains the opportunities and challenges involved in the way that people with African migration backgrounds approach health and sexual well-being, in particular with regard to the role that religion plays in this. The letter also contains 10 recommendations to policymakers and professionals for improving the links with religious approaches to sexual well-being.

Improvement of culturally sensitive healthcare and prevention

On the reason for initiating the research project, Dr Brenda Bartelink says: ‘In debates on migration in the Netherlands and Europe, religion is often seen as a problem for gender and sexuality. In the Netherlands, for example, there have been a number of controversies surrounding religious leaders of African origin, whereby it was assumed that they claim that HIV and AIDS can be cured through prayer. In earlier research, conducted by Kim Knibbe in the Netherlands and myself in the Netherlands and East Africa, among other research, the picture was very different. In many of these churches, there is actually a great appreciation for biomedical knowledge and treatment. However, it is true that people are prayed for when they have problems with their health, in their relationship or in their family.

The Dutch healthcare system is very accessible and preventive measures are also of a high quality, yet there is still much room for improvement in terms of targeting specific vulnerable groups, such as people with an African migration background. As such, it is important that care and prevention are culturally sensitive and in line with religious beliefs and practices. We offer a number of insights and strategies to achieve this based on our research. The research brings together the expertise of UG researchers in the field of religious and cultural diversity in the Netherlands with the expertise of Dr Rachel Spronk and her team at the UvA, which specializes in sexuality research.’

Research from three perspectives

Bartelink: ‘With the Cultural Encounters team, we have conducted qualitative, ethnographic research into sexual well-being, religion and cultural diversity from three perspectives: firstly, from the perspective of the individual experiences of people with an African background in the Netherlands with regard to health and sexual well-being; secondly, from the perspective of African churches and religious leaders in the Netherlands; and thirdly, from the perspective of Dutch healthcare organizations. Our study showed that the approach used by Dutch healthcare organizations does not sufficiently reflect the way in which people of African descent in this country attain sexual well-being. For example, participants in our research often said they had little confidence in the healthcare system and were more likely to go to see religious leaders if they had questions or problems regarding sexual well-being. Religious leaders may not be health experts, but with support, they can provide people with the right information and refer them to professional help. Cooperating with religious leaders is therefore very important.’

Recommendations for policy and practice

These and the nine other recommendations that have been formulated based on the research results can be found in the policy letter

that will be presented by the researchers on Thursday 19 September. This will be followed by a round-table discussion on culturally sensitive healthcare and prevention, in which Prof. Charles Agyemang, professor of Migration and Health at the AMC, Dr Marianne Cense from Rutgers Knowledge Centre for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Dr Rachel Smith Theodore from Shepherd’s Place Foundation will share their views on the policy letter.


You can register to attend the presentation of the report and policy letter on ‘Sexual well-being in the context of religious and cultural diversity’ by sending an email to: policybriefing

  • When:           Thursday 19 September 2019
  • Start:             3 p.m.
  • End:               5 p.m.
  • Where:           NIDI (Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute), Lange Houtstraat 19, The Hague
Last modified:19 September 2019 1.34 p.m.
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