Community Advocacy: Innovation & Mobilization #HIV2020 by Sharifah Nalugo, Uganda
Regional partners in the struggle to eliminate HIV by 2030 jointly organized an e-conference as part of HIV2020 on 1st September, 2020 that brought together key global HIV activists in a powerful discussion on Communities reclaiming Global HIV Responses. This conversation came timely most importantly as 2020 marked the beginning of a decade of action for acceleration of the Sustainable Development Goals. It also significantly served as a firm ground for young people’s meaningful participation in the global response towards elimination of HIV.
Lillian Mworeko from the International Community of Women Living with HIV in East Africa and the moderator of the online Conference, opened the session by relaying the drastic decline in funding for HIV response as governments and World Health Organizations (WHO) had shifted priorities to push for universal health coverage in public health. “It had increasingly become difficult for those people disproportionally affected by HIV to receive services,” she said. She emphasized the need to prioritize community advocacy in a manner she quoted, “Community advocates are the future.” And at this she argued based on their committed hard work in mobilization and strategic advocacy for better HIV responses.
Oanh Khuat, the Executive Director from SCDI and one of the panelists at shared some of the best practices used to integrate harm reduction in existing policy frameworks in Vietnam. She commenced with encouraging community advocates to continue having loud voices and pushing boundaries at all costs. She highlighted inclusion of the key population in policy formulation through partnerships. “Smart investments by governments do not only contribute to massive development but also add value to the commitments they signed towards the wellbeing of citizens.” She clarified, “Such interventions lowered the epidemic spread of HIV among people using drugs below infection level as marked in 4 provinces in Vietnam. Decriminalization of HIV and harm reduction had been proven to work hand in hand rather than one prioritized over the other”, she added.
Richard Lusimbo, a community advocate from Uganda, extended their dismay to the continued increase in HIV criminalization in Uganda. “Over 20 young people were in police custody for over 50 days due to their sexual orientation, and gender identity.” Being in custody was one challenge but denial of legal support became a complete violation of Human Rights. Richard emphasized the need to constantly have such conversations that would bear solutions to such community issues. “We managed some of the cases but that was only possible due to a strong civil society movement that dialogues and coordinates here in Uganda. We also adapted to strategic litigation to ensure that the courts of law were fully utilized in the protection of the rights of the key population.”
Emmanuela Lovelyn, an activist from Nigeria sighted out the continued arrest of young women during the COVID-19 period which she attached to increased stigma related to sex work. “We opted for mobile courts where peace demonstrations were carried out on the streets of Abuja.” She said. The were no clear policies addressing the rights of sex workers. “It was an act that was neither criminalized nor legalized and this led to multiple rape and extortion cases to young women.” She added. She called upon the combined efforts from partners to support activism in Nigeria.
It should be noted that amidst all the challenges faced, the presence of evidence persuaded governments to weigh in and support these struggles.
Joel Bedos, the key guest speaker and the organizer of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) steamed up the panel by sharing key practices in community mobilization. Practices that enabled community masses to utilize and embrace their power. They sighted out the increase in shift from organizational based approaches to movement-based approaches especially in the western countries. “Organizational Based approaches easily transformed into political action,” they noted. However, there were significant challenges that had been identified which hindered mobilization since such an approach put a strong limit to participation. Movements in that context also faced a challenge due to egos which led to lack of trust – they added.
In conclusion, of the panel discussion, mobilization was identified as a gradual and recurring process. In order to mobilize people to participate effectively, we needed to fully engage them to understand issues at heart. The issue of contextualization was also highlighted in efforts to work effectively at community grassroots. It was noted that categories of mobilization depended at the level it was being done.
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