Women in all their diversity for the Global Fund Gender Equality Strategy

Nenet Ortega - CNS
Gender diversity has a long and rich history in the Asia-Pacific region. Most societies are patriarchal, leaving women in general as second-class citizens who face significant economic, social and health challenges compared with men. The situation is even worse for transgenders and sex workers. Stigma and discrimination force most to live on the margins of society. Due to fear, discrimination and isolation, they are often unable to seek out and obtain adequate health and social services. Partly for those reasons, they have long experienced HIV and TB prevalence far above national averages.

The specific needs of women, girls and transgenders in the Asia-Pacific region in regards to HIV, TB and malaria remain largely unacknowledged and unmet. The launch in 2014 of the Global Fund’s new funding model (NFM) offers an opportunity for real change to better the lives of women in all their diversity.

A two days’ workshop, just ahead of the opening of the 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP), was organised by AIDS Strategy, Advocacy and Policy (ASAP) and supported by the Global Fund in Bangkok. It was the third such gathering under the banner of an emerging project - Women4GF - launched in July 2013. Women4GF aims to coordinate and strengthen the ability of women’s rights advocates—in particular women living with HIV and affected by TB and malaria, and key affected women—to engage at country, regional and global levels with the Global Fund and its NFM from a gender-equality perspective. The workshop included a large share of participants with little or no previous experience with the Global Fund as they seek to help their communities get access to more and better services in the future.

Utilizing the GF’s Gender Equality Strategy, the Women4GF advocates demand the following priority actions to be taken by governments, partners and key stakeholders making sure that gender equality is integral into the country’s plan and budget:

The Global Fund should invest more in communities at the grassroots level. This approach is essential to achieve real impact because community groups are best placed to reach and support key populations such as transgender and women living with HIV. It should make a concerted effort to increase uptake of this funding stream in all countries in the Asia-Pacific region-- an effort that may require specifically requesting such interventions during the NFM’s iterative process.

All Global Fund stakeholders should recognize and support the need for women—especially vulnerable women, transgenders and key affected women—to be central to, and be involved in all Global Fund processes. Representatives from these populations must be included in reviews and updates of national strategic plans (NSPs), country dialogues, and concept note writing and negotiation teams. All country coordinating mechanism (CCMs) should include representatives with strong gender expertise. The Global Fund Secretariat and country-level Global Fund structures should ensure through monitoring mechanisms that such meaningful engagement occurs.

More Global Fund money should reach communities, especially those working with women, transgenders and sex workers at the grassroots level. It is essential that steps are taken to “watch dog” that Global Fund funding reaches communities working at grassroots level. The NFM focuses on “investing for impact” and this underscores the imperative of ensuring that a larger share of funding reaches community-based groups most in need of support, and most able to conduct appropriate and effective outreach.

Technical partners, in particular UNAIDS, should provide more targeted support to communities, in particular to secure quality data and information on vulnerable populations. Communities are well-placed to help collect and present essential data to show the real impacts of HIV, TB and malaria on women and key populations. They require support from technical partners to validate and affirm such data collection.

Targeted support and greater action is required for community mobilization at country level, and to sustain the development and effectiveness of regional and national networks of key populations. Community mobilization at the regional and national level will help increase awareness, build capacity, enable sharing of good practices and unite community groups in their approaches.

Nenet Ortega, Citizen News Service - CNS
November 2013

Note: This article was first published in 11th ICAAP INSIGHT, the official daily conference newspaper of 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (11th ICAAP) in Bangkok, Thailand. This newspaper was managed by Inis Communication and CNS.