Sunday, July 18, 2010

Toward gender and age-responsive HIV and AIDS programmes in the Philippines

National HIV & AIDS Consultation

Last Friday, 16 July 2010, I attended a whole-day, national consultation meeting upon the invitation of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) in line with their project on Developing a Gender- and Age-Sensitive AIDS Response in the Philippines (see pic above). The project is jointly supported by UNDP, UNAIDS & UNICEF. The meeting, which was attended by representatives of NGOs, government agencies, and advocates from around the country aimed to 1) validate the preliminary country assessment report of the gender- and age-responsiveness of national AIDS policies and programmes, including indicators and 2) get feedback and recommendations from the national consultation participants on strengthening the gender- and age-responsiveness of the national AIDS response.

I was happy that finally this conversation has been started in HIV & AIDS circles. The preliminary assessment report for the meeting was prepared by the Health & Development Initiatives Institute in collaboration with EnGendeRights. The preliminary assessment was conducted using secondary data analysis of regional focus groups discussions (FGDs) in the National Capital Region (NCR), Cebu & Davao and interviews with key informants from different target groups including People Living with HIV (PLHIVs) and affected women, women in prostitution (WIPs), NGOs, Males who have Sex with other Males (MSMs), injecting drug users (IDUs) and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). The feedback from the national consultation meeting would be included in the assessment report that would be given to NEDA.

Preliminary Recommendations

The results of the assessment, which were presented to the plenary were not surprising (see pic above). HDII & EnGendeRights found that the level of gender- and age-responsiveness of HIV and AIDS programmes in the country was low. Further, they also found that mainstreaming gender issues and including age-appropriate interventions into HIV & AIDS response programmes lagged behind bio-medical interventions.

MSM & TG Workshop Group

After an open forum that spilled into lunch, the participants were asked to break into various workshop groups that would give recommendations on how to include gender- and age-responsiveness into the various HIV and AIDS interventions, services and policies that are in place. I decided to join the group for MSM & TGs (see above). As expected, I was the only transperson present in the meeting, the only transperson in the workshop group and the only female.

Our workshop group was tasked to make recommendations for gender- and age-mainstreaming in various areas of interventions including: information & education campaign (IEC) materials including behavior change communication (BCC); training which covers HIV 101, peer education, life skills building & others; voluntary counseling & testing; gender-based violence & child abuse and STI services.

At the onset our group decided to make general recommendations that could not be accommodated into the matrix we needed to follow. I made it very clear to the group that for gender-mainstreaming to be fully accomplished for the transcommunity the first thing that needed to be done was to separate MSM & TG populations in HIV & AIDS response programmes in all aspects. Although STRAP does not have a programme on HIV yet, we have been having informal discussions on what a desirable programme for us would look like. We are in agreement that it should be included under a comprehensive transgender health framework that addresses access to hormones, surgeries and general well-being that does not adhere to a pathological model and has a clear component on transphobia-reduction.

I am glad that I was able to have a conversation with representatives of some of the MSM groups who joined our workshop group. I told them that our needs as transpeople especially those who are afflicted with HIV & AIDS have been invisibilized by the domination of MSMs in the discourse on HIV & AIDS in the Philippines. I have heard from positive communities that they have been accepting more and more transwomen in their support groups which clearly indicate increase in infections among tranpinays. Any intervention geared towards them should first & foremost respect their gender identity. Unfortunately, because they are subsumed under the MSM label, they are treated as men by NGO workers, health care professionals & government agencies. And because there is, as yet, no established support group for infected transpinays most of them have joined MSM support groups.

We have a long way to go before developing an intervention programme for transpinays with HIV & AIDS. In the meantime, I am starting to feel frustrated about having to attend all these HIV & AIDS meetings where I keep repeating myself. At some point, we in STRAP need to start walking the walk and doing something concrete in line with HIV & AIDS advocacy. But because we are already over-burdened by our main advocacy concerns, including HIV in our work will be spreading thinly our already limited resources & manpower. I hope our members who are studying to be or are already in the medical field will step up & decide to take on HIV & AIDS advocacy. Their biomedical knowledge will be a good foundation for social justice work in this area. This is something that we need to do and quickly at that.

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