We hear the thunder: but we see no rain- Funding for Women: Rhetoric or Reality?

By Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, World YWCA General Secretary

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, World YWCA General Secretary

Funding the AIDS response was a consistent thread throughout the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna last month. At the opening ceremony participants campaigned for funding to achieve “Universal Access” and for quality resourcing of the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM). This echo was evident at the human rights rally and in the various conference sessions.

The Global Coalition on Women and AIDS (GCWA) facilitated two sessions on funding, entitled “We hear the thunder: but we see no rain – Funding for Women: Rhetoric or Reality?As their moderator, I was energised by the diversity of the speakers, who among them included a positive woman involved in community level advocacy and outreach; a National AIDS Coordinating Body representative, a private sector organisation, a donor government and a GFATM representative. This was a good galaxy of knowledge and experience: indeed the sessions had enough ‘thunder’.

Discussions on funding for women’s rights in the AIDS response carry with it issues of policy; practice, quality of funding, accessibility and the politics of exclusion. The funding discourse lies at the core of accountability; translating policy into practice, and enabling communities, women and girls to access services and information. Numerous studies, including by “Women Won’t Wait” and Association for Women’s Rights in Development had long critiqued the on-going barriers to access to resources for gender equality and women’s rights.

The recent conference sessions concluded that there is sufficient “thunder”. Policies and public rhetoric exists in sufficient quality and quantity, reaffirming how gender inequality fuels the epidemic. Many studies show how women and girls are made vulnerable to HIV. In response, the Global Fund has adopted a gender policy and recruited a gender advisor. The United Nations, through the UNAIDS Board, adopted a Framework and Operational Plan on Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV in 2009, supported by the UNAIDS Secretariat by a gender advisor. In many countries, including Nigeria and Kenya; there have been robust public efforts to mainstream gender equality into the National AIDS Strategies, programmes and plans.

Even the International AIDS Conference had applied a gender lens to its agenda. Half of the plenary speakers were women and specific plenary sessions focused on violence against women, “vertical” transmission and care and support. Many other plenaries also explored how women are made vulnerable because of policy, programming and lack of funding and political will. Therefore the “thunder” can be heard, seen and touched. However, there is very little rain, only drops here and there reaching communities in support of transformative actions.

The GCWA sessions explored where the bottlenecks are to funding women’s rights response to HIV and AIDS. Some key barriers and recommendations emerged from the sessions:

Firstly, it was stressed that there are very few gender advocates, women and positive women’s networks that effectively participate in decision-making spaces related to funding issues, either at national or global levels. Women’s participation is often tokenistic, with a single woman expected to champion and advocate for resource prioritisation for all women. There is no accountability towards gender equality for people in positions where decisions are made about resources – this is almost always were the power lies.

Next, there is no systematic application of the gender budgeting principles that have been developed for other sectors in the last two decades, to ensure that certain gender-related core indicators are funded systematically over time, in order to achieve the gender transformation necessary. Most HIV-specific interventions are still project based or ad-hoc.

Thirdly, the massive networks of women, especially women living with HIV and community-based groups remain un-resourced. A number of the organisations providing significant practical interventions in communities remain un-funded, under-funded and excluded from decision-making processes. Funding and reporting requirements to access quality funding are complex. They receive short-term project or activity-based funding. Most struggle with no institutional capacity support, which also results in exclusion from accessing larger grants. This creates a vicious cycle. This reality is true of many YWCAs, who struggle to sustain their programmes and yet are a huge network of community leaders, volunteers and caregivers.

Finally Aid/Development assistance architecture in the AIDS response remains equally complex and too upstream. It is important that big programmes like PEPFAR, the World Bank’s MAP; and GFATM be measured on gender-equality indicators as part of the performance accountability to their boards. This way, funding for gender- equality will be accelerated to the level of “must deliver”, other than “desirable”.

A refreshing discussion on an old issue it was. With the whole new focus on maternal and child health; and a renewed impetus on prevention of vertical transmission, the echoes again were clear. Women are not just vectors and producers of human kind; we are individuals with rights. Investing in women and girls is imperative, today and as always. It is hoped that the new UN Women, (recently established by the United Nations as an entity for gender-equality and women’s empowerment), will have a seat as one of the co-sponsors of UNAIDS, and advocate for greater resourcing of women’s rights in the AIDS response.

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