By Imene, Forum Moderator
As in other groups, the 4th week’s discussions started very slowly with a “shy” participation in the African Francophone forum…This pushed us to ask whether the subject of key populations at higher risk and HIV is a suitable topic for an open forum.
Everyone responded in affirmative.
“Of course this subject should be debated,” answered Annie from Cameroun.
It seems that the low participation level in the beginning of the week was not due to the fact that people are not willing to talk about sex workers, men who have sex with men or people who inject drugs but for other reasons that some summarized in the lack of knowledge in this field.
A young person from Cameroun, Philippee explained: “I work as a volunteer with an NGO working with MSM..but for privacy issues I prefer not to reveal it’s name here.”
Other participants felt more comfortable naming their organizations, like Annie working with Camnafaw, an association focusing on the “family well being” and tackling different issues including sexual and reproductive health.
After getting an insight about the field work done with key populations, we tried to figure out the obstacles that these populations face in our communities. This generated a lot of debates and discussions about the situation of sex workers, men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs in different countries in Africa.
To start with, stigma and discrimination seems to be the most challenging problem for key populations.
“The first and the biggest challenge is to be accepted by the community in first place”, says Olfa from Tunisia.
This discrimination seems to be a major cause of the lack of access to services and prevention methods. In fact, many young MSM, sex workers and people who inject drugs cannot get the correct information about HIV and are not able to access specific reproductive health services.
“All prevention messages are targeting heterosexuals,” explains Philipee while trying to analyze how the society discriminates homosexuality in general and MSM in particular.
To get organized in the AIDS response, sex workers, MSM and people who inject drugs face another challenge related to the financial issues and the lack of support. This is combined with a lack of capacities and skills in order to be able to join organizations and networks.
Although some efforts are definitely there like in Cameroun some community based associations work directly with MSM and sex workers. Same as for sex workers. “Many youth organizations are working on reducing risky behaviors among them,” affirms Salamon.
What about the legislations then? What does the law say about key populations?
It seems that the situation is pretty much the same everywhere.. “In Cameroun, The article 374bis of the penal code states that each person having same sex sexual relationship is punished by 6 months to a 5 years of jail”.
Same situation in Burundi, DRC and other countries.
As for youth efforts in changing those laws, everyone seemed to agree that there are no sufficient efforts in this field. This is of course not an easy task with all the laws, the social and cultural taboos surrounding working with key populations but the will is there for sure!
In a later stage of the discussions, we tried to raise the point of the youth initiatives in the field of HIV and how those organizations work together.
“Youth organizations look to each other like watchdogs” this is how Salomon sees the situation of youth initiatives in his country. A bit pessimistic but a point a view that has valid reasons leading to such conclusion.
Concurrence is over resources, finances, building skills and opportunities. Buyerme adds the fact that: “Everyone is fighting for leadership, because we want to always be in the front seat.” A point of view not totally shared by some participants in the forum since some of them see that it is more like a collaborative action. Still, this is definitely not the opinion of the majority of those who replied to the poll and who strongly believe that the situation is rather a competition and a set of random activities!
Nevertheless, efforts are there and youth NGOs are working in the field in order to raise awareness and scale up the AIDS response. A very interesting quote by Diaspo from Cameroun “to educate young people, we first need to integrate the messages in their daily lives. When a young person hears about a debate, he will be declined to go .While caravans of awareness with leisure activities attract a lot” In his experience, using entertainment worked well for the youth in his city and lowered the HIV infection rates.
The lack of communication was also stated as a barrier to working together in the field of HIV. In fact, it is necessary to initiate constructive dialogues between different actors and help young people build their skills especially in fundraising and resources mobilization.
Obviously the lack of funding is also one of the major reasons that lead to concurrence. “In my country, it is definitely a concurrence since organizations rarely receive funding for their projects,” states Anny.
“WAW!!! CrowdOutAIDS, it is making the revolution, I can feel it”, said one of the participants in the end of the week’s discussions and what better could close a week full of excitement and inspiration.
The discussions did not only bring new perspectives to other people in the forum but also will definitely help shape the UNAIDS strategy towards youth in Africa and worldwide..
Only one week left for discussions and more to come in the next phase of the project by finding solutions and starting actions!
Like Anny, Solomon, Danny, Christian, Diasopo and many others, join the crowd and let the world hear from you..with love!