Responding to the Global Fund Gender Equality Strategy….. And making it work!

Hara Mihalea - CNS
In response to the numerous unmet needs of women, girls, and transgender people-- especially those affected by HIV, TB or malaria—the Women4GF (women for Global Fund) initiative was launched earlier this year (2013) as part of The Global Fund Gender Equality Strategy. Preceding the 11th ICAAP held recently in November 2013 in Bangkok, a two day workshop on Gender Equality for advocates and activists of Key Affected Populations (KAPs) was organized by the AIDS, Strategy Advocacy and Policy (ASAP) and funded by the Global Fund for TB, AIDS and Malaria (GFTAM or simply GF).

The objectives of the workshop were to build participants’ understanding of the Global Fund processes and to ‘introduce and unpack’ the New Funding Model (NFM) to enable participants to engage in country dialogues and ensure inclusiveness of community voices and gender issues into future Global Fund Concept Papers and Proposals. The workshop brought together participants from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand, representing KAPS, women living with HIV, sex workers, MSMs, and transgender. Also present at the workshop were representatives of the Global Fund Secretariat and the Technical Agency of UNAIDS to provide direction and answer participants’ queries.

Under the NFM, countries applying for a Global Fund project must have a National Strategic Plan (NSP) that is inclusive of data-based prioritized gender programming issues, and organize in-country dialogues with appropriate representation from KAPs to develop the concept paper.  In the absence of data on gender, countries will have to conduct a gender assessment to inform the concept paper. A Gender Assessment Tool developed by UNAIDS can be used for this purpose. The NFM is no longer ‘business as usual’ as was in the past when for countries applying for GF funding it was either a yes or no answer.  It now offers simplicity and flexibility and sets up a system of back and forth where countries can communicate directly with the GF and the Technical Partner until all \required information is included for a country application to be successful. Also, each country has a GF Country Portfolio Manager (GFCPM) who is responsible to provide support to the application process and the country-dialogues. Countries/organizations that want to apply to the NFM are advised to link with the GFCPM and the Technical Regional Partner to discuss the application process, and, unlike before, there is no deadline for submission of proposals which can be submitted any time over the next 3 years.

The NFM looks to be exciting and easy to access, but is it really going to be that simple to get funding for communities who need it most, as the model intends to do? Will the funding address key gaps of the KAPs and ensure programmatic gender equality? These and some other concerns were raised by workshop participants.

Country coordinating mechanisms (CCMs) have always been responsible for endorsing and submitting applications and communities are rarely invited to be involved in the processes. Very few countries with working CCMs have fully engaged representatives from KAPs as their members. For the most part CCMs’ performance regarding the process, consultation, partnerships and community involvement, including KAPs, in proposal development has been questionable. Moreover, women representation is primarily limited to government officials with no ties to the community groups. The performance of CCMs is rarely evaluated. So how is the GF going to do this evaluation in future and hold CCMs accountable and ensure full community involvement and gender equality?

Participants, who were knowledgeable of GF processes and the role CCMs have played in the past, were very concerned about the authenticity of this happening under the new model. They felt that they would still be left out of the processes and dialogues and the funds will not reach the communities or be allocated to programmes addressing the gaps of KAPs. The GF secretariat representatives advised the participants to reach out to their country’s GFPM and to the regional technical UNAIDS partner in the case they were excluded from country dialogues and needed support.

One wonders that if the GF is so committed on delivering their Gender Equality Strategy, why it has no plans of putting in place mechanisms to evaluate CCMs performance and hold countries accountable for the absence of community and KAPs representation in the CCMs.  Accountability and performance evaluation mechanisms should be a priority for any funding agency.

Then again, can representatives of KAPs actually fully participate in the development of the concept and proposal? Can they take a part in the decision making process of gap identification and prioritization, and push for gender equality programming? Do they have the information of when the country is planning to apply to the NFM and do they have the negotiating skills to demand a place in country dialogues if they are not officially invited to join? Do the community organizations actually have the ability to reach out to the country GFPM or to the regional technical partner?

Surely all this is not that easy as it seems to be. Many countries do not even recognize gender issues, making it very difficult for different gender groups to be taken seriously. As one participant pointed out—‘stigma and discrimination against KAPs is very high, preventing us from coming out and demanding to be involved in the process.’ Another participant expressed the concern that ‘As CCMs have no representation of KAPs, how is GF going to ensure engagement, diversity, and gender equality in the country dialogues and in the writing of the concept paper?’

Many community/grassroots organizations are not registered which would exclude them from getting invited to participate in any country dialogue.  Also the political challenges and conflicts of interests that prevent KAPs from engaging in this process need to be taken in consideration.

It was gratifying to hear that organizations can access funding support under the Community Systems Strengthening (CSS) component to develop organizational and practical skills that hopefully will enable them one day to have a seat in their country’s CCM and be a part of the decision making process. But personally I think that this is quite a long way off…

And I keep thinking--will the majority of the participants in this workshop have the advocacy and communication skills to reach out and link with the larger networks or be able to get involved with something as large as the CCM when they go back home, or was this just another workshop? Will the NFM reach its goal of being community driven and gender oriented? Change is needed and is needed now. Let us hope that it will happen with this new initiative if we are serious enough and walk the talk.

Hara Mihalea, Citizen News Service - CNS
November 2013
Public Health and Tuberculosis Consultant