Combating HIV and Violence against Women: Women Won't Wait
Tuesday, March 18, 2008 9:05 AM

Women Won't Wait (WWW) is a global campaign by organizations and networks from the global North and South, that addresses the intersection between HIV and AIDS and violence against women. The Campaign recently marked its first anniversary. We interviewed Shamillah Wilson, the Campaign's Communications Manager about the journey so far.

By Kathambi Kinoti

AWID: One year after its launch, what successes can Women Won't Wait celebrate?

SHAMILLAH WILSON: First of all, the Campaign has brought together an international alliance of women's rights advocates committed to working collectively and in a coordinated way to advance the intersection of HIV and AIDS and violence against women and girls. The shared analysis and agenda developed by the Coalition not only informs and shapes lobbying internationally, regionally and nationally; it also strengthens and will continue to shape the work of women's rights advocacy. The campaign has been launched at the international level, regional level and in several countries such as Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Guatemala to name a few. In Sierra Leone for example, public awareness campaigns and strategic lobbying have led to the speedy enactment of three bills, in circulation since 2004: (i) Registration of Customary Marriages and Divorce, (ii) Intestate Succession, and (iii) Domestic Violence Bills. These actions have effectively changed the landscape of women's human rights in Sierra Leone. There are other such examples at the national level.

In March 2007, the WWW coalition released a report that cited the sexual violence and coercion that women experience at the hands of their male partners as a leading factor in the increasing 'feminization' of the AIDS pandemic. Titled 'Show Us the Money: Is Violence Against Women on the HIV and AIDS Funding Agenda?',the report noted that while funding for HIV/AIDS programmes has increased dramatically in recent years, the main donor agencies have failed to address the link between violence against women and HIV infection. Funding for programmes aimed at promoting women's rights and access to reproductive and sexual health services has actually decreased.

At the global level, following WWW's launch, we have placed the issue of the intersection of violence against women and girls and HIV and AIDS on the broader development agenda and donor agenda. A Call to Action to the G8 in June 2007 yielded a commitment to increase targetted support for women and girls. In addition, WWW has done advocacy and lobbying of bi- and multi-lateral institutions to ensure accountability and delivery of greater and more meaningful integration of violence against women and girls in AIDS responses.

AWID: According to the WWW campaign, women's rights still occupy the margins of HIV and AIDS strategies and funding, yet 61% of people living with HIV are women. Why are women's rights concerns not yet at the centre of policies and programming?

SW: There has been general failure by various institutions that are responsible for delivery on and access to rights, to ensure that human rights are accessed through appropriate policy, programmes, resource commitments, monitoring and evaluation.

State and institutions (bi- and multi-laterals) at the regional and international level have largely failed to realize the critical importance of addressing the intersection itself. State responses and commitments to meeting their obligations is generally weak, ineffective and uneven with a few examples of situations where strong and effective policy and practice contexts have been created and developed. With regard to the intersection between violence against women and HIV and AIDS, state responses have been even weaker. Essentially, the issues are addressed separately - separate problems; separate processes; separate institutions; separate infrastructure.

Whilst international multi lateral agencies have the potential to shape and influence national states in committing to, mounting and sustaining a policy and practice response to this intersection, we know that even these institutions have not properly demonstrated the recognition of the intersection and its implications for accessing rights.

At the donor level, in terms of resources, the research conducted by the Show us the Money Campaign, confirms that overall, funding and programming is deeply inadequate for each element in the analysis. Furthermore, there are unclear allocations, within current donor frameworks, for work on the intersection. The difficulty of tracking this spending increases the complexity of holding donors accountable and of advocating for increased funding allocations. The trend toward sector wide and basket funding further increases the difficulty in the tracking of financing for the intersection. There is also a lack of conceptual clarity on the links and intersection of HIV and AIDS and violence against women in donor policies and communication which feeds into a lack of commitment and policy positions, which fail to account for and address the intersection, thus increasing women's vulnerability to the twin epidemics.

Finally, civil society as a key institution which influences and shapes policy and practice, has in the past contributed to the policy vacuum insofar as the intersection is concerned. The response of civil society to the twin epidemics has been strong, and yet two separate and parallel processes. The issue of violence against women has long been a critical point of entry for the women's movement, feminists and those who are committed to advancing women's rights. They have managed to shape policy both at an international, regional and national level where the centrality of violence against women has been acknowledged and appropriately planned for. This gain applies even where the issue of implementation and delivery on these policies and plans has been absent, weak or uneven.

The civil society aspect of the HIV and AIDS sector has been, in a similar way, instrumental in pushing a progressive rights based approach to HIV and AIDS. This rights based approach has generally been articulated as a women's rights issue but the extent to which these organizations and institutions have been able to apply this understanding of rights as inclusive of women's rights has been weak and uneven. There has also been an acknowledgement of violence against women and gender based violence as having clear and strong links with and to HIV and AIDS.

The commitment to actually address these as intersecting issues has been a slow process within both movements. The bidirectional link between the two issues and its implications for policy and practice both internationally and nationally has been acknowledged and articulated. The implications of this link for policy and practice both nationally, regionally and internationally have not been addressed by states and by civil society. The consequences and risks of this gap have implications for women's rights, including their right to health and to safety and security.

AWID: WWW emphasizes acting NOW to stop HIV and violence against women. What are some of the top priority areas that if in the short term were addressed, would make a significant impact in stopping the spread of HIV and eliminating violence against women?

SW: Firstly we want the different actors (at the policy, donor and civil society level) to prominently underscore that violence against women and girls is a major driver and consequence of HIV and AIDS, reiterating that violence against women and girls is a human rights crisis, and that the fight against one epidemic -HIV and AIDS - cannot be won without tackling the other epidemic - gender-based violence.

Secondly, the most effective strategy to address the intersection of violence against women and girls and HIV is to significantly increase resources for gender-sensitive and human rights based prevention, treatment, care and support- for both epidemics. This needs to address responses to HIV and AIDS that cover the spectrum of general education, effective laws and policies and trained health care and legal personnel to ensure that violence against women and girls are addresses requisite priority. Linked to this needs to be a clear policy framework that will provide a means for measuring the work that address violence against women and girls in HIV budgets, action plans, programming and monitoring and evaluation processes.

However, resources are not enough, and need to be accompanied by clear guidelines and policies to ensure that all AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support interventions integrate community education on zero tolerance for violence. In addition, the promotion of laws and law enforcement that prevent and protect women from violence, training for health care personnel and legal infrastructures, and the availability of post-exposure prophylaxis, emergency contraception, female condoms and other female-controlled prevention ALL need to form part of a comprehensive approach to HIV and AIDS.

AWID: Who are you targetting with the Campaign, and what strategies are you using to get your message across?

SW: This Campaign focuses on addressing failure by states, donors and by civil society as well as by key multi and bilateral agencies at a national, regional and international level.

At the regional and global level, we are tracking the multi- and bi-lateral agencies to assess how much has changed in resources and policies since the release of the Show Us the Money Report. We will be using the findings to do advocacy and lobbying with each agency directly at strategic moments.

In terms of states, each national coalition is responsible for assessing the most strategic entry points and issues to take up in their context. The campaign agenda and messaging support this action and provide the international solidarity if needed.

In terms of civil society, we are using strategic opportunities to work together with different groups. Our website is one way for people to find out more about the campaign and allows groups to sign on to receive a newsletter that informs them of campaign activities and highlights key areas for collective action.

AWID: What are some of the challenges that the Campaign has faced?

SW: The agenda that the campaign is advocating for is an HIV agenda and we have to find space to move within established and existing agendas.

Even though we have made some gains in the first year, the question we have to ask ourselves is whether these gains are not the easiest that our targeted audiences can accede to. We feel that we have to work harder in terms of having the specificities of what we are asking for taken on.

AWID: Keeping campaigns by coalitions or networks of organizations going can sometimes be a challenge, due to the already heavy workloads that individual organizations have, or for other reasons. How have you addressed this issue so that the campaign remains alive?

SW: We are lucky in that ActionAid has provided some funding for the campaign in 2007 and 2008. This has meant that there is a Secretariat who is responsible for raising more funds to ensure that the campaign retains autonomous and also that the campaign has the necessary support to achieve its objectives. The coalition members have been amazing in that they have been consistently engaged and pro-actively identify areas for moving forward.

Keeping the momentum going on a campaign is always a challenge. After the launch of the campaign, it was important for us to find ways to consistently raise the profile of the Campaign and also to ensure that we advance the agenda.

We are aware that the different members of the coalition already are quite engaged in many other important activities, and we have been lucky to have a committed group who have been able to stay engaged and find ways to make the links to their own work. It has also been helpful that the members of the coalition have been engaged in this work already so the work of the Campaign has just built on this.

As a group we are challenged with ensuring that we build the necessary infra-structure that enables the work of the Campaign At the same time we are aware that the Campaign also needs to be taken on at the national and regional level to address the specificities of challenges faced within those contexts. I think we consciously try and manage the tension of the advocacy work at the global and regional level whilst enabling partners or campaigns at the national levels.

Published in: Combating HIV and Violence against Women: Women Won't Wait, Kathambi Kinoti, Association for Women's Rights in Development, 14 March 2008.