Whose Vulnerability Counts? Grassroots African and Central American Women Leaders Call for Development Investments to Support their Community Efforts to Fight AIDS:
The International AIDS Conference, which closed on August 8, was largely focused on scientific research (particularly anti-retroviral treatment), so-called vulnerable groups (including transgender people, men who have sex with men, commercial sex workers and injecting drug users), and calls for top-down health system reform by high-level players such as the Clinton and Gates Foundations. Amid these themes, the Huairou Commission and its partners focused on the realities of HIV and AIDS as a development issue, as it affects the lives of those who are most affected by the disease – grassroots women living and working in their own poor communities, caring for the infected and affected on a daily basis.
Within a conference bringing together 25,000 people from around the world, the Huairou Commission strategically worked with its partners, in particular the Stephen Lewis Foundation and CORDAID, to ensure that the issues and priorities of grassroots women were voiced within the Conference, and to ensure that like-minded partners and organizations were able to come together to discuss these issues and forge plans for a way forward to ensure that they would remain on the global agenda.
For at least 10 years grassroots women, particularly in Africa, have struggled to get the world to understand AIDS as a development issue – which is how they experience it every day – to have their lived realities inform global policy on AIDS, and to get their contributions to fighting AIDS in their communities recognized local to global. We were therefore shocked to find an overwhelming focus by influential multi and bilateral agencies on human rights (de-linked from a sustainable development perspective) as the framework for AIDS interventions, and a centering of the voices of minority vulnerable groups, removed from the context of poor communities in which these groups often live.
We sought to use this Conference to bring together partners who have supported the work of home-based caregivers and other grassroots women who have organized and built networks in response to the pandemic, and to ensure our focus remained clearly on the needs and priorities of these grassroots women leaders. We did this through two strategic events – a strategy session on home-based care, and a reception for grassroots women and girls and their partners.
On Wednesday, August 6, the Huairou Commission hosted “Beyond Unpaid Caregiving: Strategic Partnering to Support and Sustain Grassroots Women’s Groups’ Home-Based Care Work (in the Context of HIV),” an invitation only event co-organized with GROOTS International, CORDAID and UNDP with support from the UNDP-Japan Partnership Fund (WID/GAD). The session brought together home-based caregivers with partners from foundations (CORDAID, Stephen Lewis Foundation, AJWS, the African Women’s Development Fund), multi- and bilateral agencies (the World Bank AIDS Campaign Team for Africa, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs), UNDP and UNIFEM representatives, and NGOs (AIDS Free World, HelpAge International, VSO, Health Gap AWOMI). Our broad goal for the session was to explore how we can partner and what plans we can make to raise the visibility of home-based caregivers, support them to organize for impact and to leverage social, political and institutional recognition for home-based caregivers.
The next day, the Huairou Commission, GROOTS International, the Girl Child Network and the Stephen Lewis Foundation co-sponsored a lunch time reception in the Global Village. The reception focused on exploring various vulnerabilities and giving grassroots women and girls, and their partners, a chance to analyze the past 10 years of building organizations and networks for empowerment and to respond to AIDS.
“We aren’t here to talk about our strategies, outputs or methods, but about our lives on the ground” The session was facilitated by Betty Makoni, founder and director of the Girl Child Network in Zimbabwe. In her own speech and the presentations from grassroots women she called upon, Betty focused on the expertise that grassroots women have developed living and working and surviving in their own poor communities, often faced with vulnerability and violence. “We aren’t here to talk about our strategies, outputs or methods, but about our lives on the ground. While professionals are looking for best practices to support, grassroots women know the solutions that work, and need support, financial support and partnership to scale up those solutions. While professionals report on statistics and numbers, grassroots women experience death because it is happening in their families. We understand development not from terminology, but from our practical experiences. We’ve transformed ourselves from beneficiaries. Perceived victims are actually people who can lead. We need professionals to help document our impact. Look no further, look at us – we have so much wealth, we need to share, to be heard, and at the end of the day we need support to make impact.”