World AIDS Day 2012: Getting to Zero Bull****, Guys?


IDS researcher Jerker EdströmJerker Edström

Some 30 years after the ‘discovery’ of AIDS, this year’s World AIDS Day theme is “Getting to zero: zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths”. The World Health Organisation’s press office flags, in particular, the World AIDS Campaign’s focus on “Zero AIDS related deaths” as a crucial call for a much needed push for access to treatment for all, for governments to honour promises made in the Abuja declaration and to be held to account on their targets for domestic spending on health and HIV.

But, as global funding for AIDS and other major diseases have flooded development support for health in the south, it has often displaced domestic funding and national leadership alike (as well as saved and improved many lives). We have seen a gradual re-medicalisation of HIV in the process and a broader de-politicisation along with that. That would be all well and good, if only it was working. Unfortunately, the medicalisation of HIV misses a crucial point: The denial of life-saving care and treatment is all about power and discrimination, as is reducing vulnerability and risk to prevent new infections amongst key marginalised groups.

This focus on the root of the problem was the central message of the late activist and leader, Robert Carr – “Getting to Zero Bullshit: Calling HIV-related stigma what it is: Racism, Classism, Misogyny, Homophobia, Elitism”, which was also the title of the Robert Carr Memorial lecture at this year’s AIDS Conference, in Washington DC in July. The AIDS conference had another typically all-embracing and vague theme, “turning the tide together”, which left many delegates soul-searching for what’s gone wrong. For example, despite a long history of sweeping references to ‘gender inequality’ as driving the epidemic – and ‘mainstreaming women’s empowerment’  as the answer – we’ve seen precious little progress in the sector’s understanding of the ways that gender actually interacts with HIV, which also intersects other axes of inequity in complex ways.

To challenge these simplistic and stereotyping approaches to gender in HIV, IDS and partners from Brazil, India, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda put on a Satellite Session on the opening day of the conference – “Gender and HIV: What Have Men Got to Do with It?”. This highlighted not only men’s importance to the response, but also that the role of men and masculinities in gender oppression and vulnerability is highly complex, institutionally embedded and bound up with homophobia, misogyny, racism and power. This damages men, women and transgendered people alike, and particularly so at the lower rungs of social pecking orders.

However, men’s engagement in the response cannot be limited to a sense of ‘having been left out’ or ‘neglected’ and men certainly don’t need to be given special spaces within women’s feminist movements. The issue here is that, whilst many men indeed do also suffer from patriarchal oppression and our complex relationships to masculinities, we need to use the spaces in society which we already occupy and open them up to make them feminist spaces.

This issue of men’s health and the role of masculinities recently got further attention on the International Men’s Day (on 19th October) and in the run-up to this, the current class of IDS Masters students in Gender and Development joined me at the Second National Conference for Men and Boys in the UK. Whilst inspired by a diverse and growing sector, we also found ourselves confronted by a few rampant anti-feminists from the organisation ‘Fathers for Justice’, which left me thinking “man up and grow some balls, for Pete’s sake!” Of course, that subtle equation between responsibility and masculinity itself reflects the presumptive nub of the problem: Despite the human male’s advantage – over millennia – of enjoying socially sanctioned and deeply encoded patriarchal privileges, resources and positions of power, there is no evidence of a statistically significant link between testicular growth and male responsibility. Still, it is never too late to acknowledge some accountability, start passing up privileges and taking some actual responsibility for building a fairer future for all.

Jerker Edström is a Research Fellow within the Participation Power and Social Change team at IDS.

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Participation and voices everywhere, but going nowhere (post-2015)?


Joanna Wheeler

Consultations, surveys, on-line polls, social media posts, campaigns, forums, blogs, protests in public squares—everywhere there are claims to know what people really want, claims to represent poor and marginalised people.  As interests coalesce and the politics heat up around the questions of what a future framework for development should look like post 2015, everyone wants to claim that they represent the authentic‘voices of the poor’. Everywhere there are claims to legitimate participation, meaningful consultation  and a stated intention to represent citizen voices. The High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda met recently in London, and the co-chairs as well as several members called for the perspectives of those affected by poverty to be heard. Yet, all the talk about participation is not adding up to real influence or engagement between decision-makers with the diverse perspectives and realities of those living with poverty, marginalisation and injustice.

In a recent session for some NGOs on how to apply participatory approaches to working in conflict contexts, a government representative told me with excitement that she really believed in the value of participation:  ‘I always talk to my driver in any country I go to,’ she said. Is talking to the poorest and most marginalised really participation?  In fact, most of what is being labeled as ‘participatory’ at the moment is really no more than this:  a conversation in which the questions are framed by someone else, and the answers are used for an agenda that the‘driver’ never agreed to.

A major shortcoming of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has been their lack of legitimacy in the eyes of those most affected by development.  As Francess Fornah said in her blog last week, the MDGs are largely irrelevant on a daily basis to those most closely engaged with improving the lives of those living in poverty.  A related and serious flaw with the MDGs is the lack of any provision for the poorest and most marginalised to hold governments and international aid agencies to account for the goals that have been set.

The track record of global agreements is not encouraging—the participation of ‘the poor’ is most often sought when it legitimates the decisions of the powerful, or when there is a political need to be seen to listen to them.  Previous attempts to use participatory approaches to bring the perspectives of those most affected by development to bear on its direction have had mixed results at best. Many global participatory consultation processes have been experienced as extractive listening projects, as opposed to on-going negotiations – with people left feeling that their contributions have been used for political ends which are not their own.  Failure to ensure meaningful participation has occurred in the past because 1) so-called participatory consultations can be highly exclusionary in terms of the voices and perspectives that are edited out or never make it to the table in the first place, 2) the purpose of people’s participation is often pre-determined in a very narrow way, so that any decisions affected by people’s participation are not the ones that really matter; and 3) there has been a lack of mechanisms for holding decision-making to account for the way that policies that have been shaped through participation are implemented (or have failed to be implemented). In sum, many attempts of large-scale participation to influence the direction of development have been a failure.  They have failed to truly connect the realities, experiences and priorities of people living in poverty, marginalisation and injustice in a meaningful way with the decisions that are made on their behalf.

Yet the impulse to hear from those most affected by decisions is not wrong.  When done well, participatory approaches can have huge potential to show unexpected and essential insights. Participatory approaches can provide fresh perspectives into intractable problems, demonstrate the complexity and interconnectedness of issues in people’s lives, and challenge assumptions about how change happens and what development interventions work.  For example, Reality Checks – a participatory initiative developed in Bangladesh – showed how legislation to curb the abuse and harassment of girls led to increasing bullying of boys and issues of low self-esteem. In Nigeria, a citizen score card exercise on the national economic empowerment strategy found that despite a new scheme to allocate farmland to youth, family and women’s groups in the Area Councils, a third of those people involved felt that access had worsened, and accessing farmland through the government was perceived as very difficult. As the rate of change accelerates in many contexts, participation is even more important to shed light on rapidly shifting realities.

If the post-2015 process to agree a future framework for development does not get the participation of those most affected right, it will fail. To avoid the mistakes of the past, it is essential that the participation of those living in poverty is used to question established ways of looking at social, economic and political issues. Participation must help frame the debate, and not just provide sound bites to justify the decisions of politicians. This time, talking to the driver will not be enough.

This article was originally published in the independent online magazine

Joanna Wheeler is a Research Fellow within the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

Read other recent blog posts from Joanna Wheeler:

Fascism: the ugly face of unruly politics


Mariz Tadros

When protestors gathered in public squares in Cairo, Sanaa, Tunis, London, New York (and the list goes on) over the course of the last couple of years, there was a celebration of people power, of citizen activism on the fringes, outside the conventional channels of participation (political parties, civil society etc). Unruly politics was about the emergence of collectivities from the cracks, and their power to rupture status quos. Whether unruly politics has the power to change things for the better was always beside the point, because the focus was not on the outcome but on the acts that rupture. After the Egyptian revolution was hijacked by the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, and we began to witness a gradual encroachment on rights and freedoms, we would converse with citizens about what was happening. People would shake their heads and say “There is a limit. Never again. People now know the way to Tahrir Square and they will not bow down low again”.

But so far, the assumption is that people will rise to oppose violation of rights or demand more rights. But what about when people rise to demand the deepening of authoritarianism? What if they take to the streets to express their support for fewer rights for the citizenry?

When there was a close call between the presidential elections Ahmed Shafik and Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood mobilized thousands to take to Tahrir Square to express their support for Morsi. Rumours circulated in Egypt that if Morsi did not become President, the Muslim Brothers would turn the country into a bloodbath in revenge. It worked. People were terrified of the consequences of Morsi not winning the elections, even if they did not want him in power.

On August 11th, 2012, President Morsi issued a “constitutional declaration” giving himself the right to issue laws and decrees, assemble and adjourn parliament, appoint all members of the government and most importantly select the Constituent Assembly members responsible for drawing Egypt’s new constitution. In essence it meant a centralization of legislative, judicial and executive powers in the person of the President. If this is not a move towards authoritarianism, then what is? Yet again, upon his announcement of the seizure of powers, the Muslim Brotherhood immediately took to the streets to defend Morsi’s moves. But defend his moves against what and against whom? Against citizens who are concerned with the policies of a leader who is usurping the rights of institutions that enjoy a high degree of legitimacy, such as the Supreme Constitutional Court? In view of the fact that Morsi already had assumed full power over the military and the Ministry of Interior, what was the point behind mobilizing his people – the Muslim Brotherhood – to rise to his defense?

Just yesterday, President Morsi announced that he is going to “cleanse” the judiciary and will grant the Constituent Assembly legitimacy even if the Supreme Constitutional Court declares its membership unconstitutional. The judiciary has been the greatest thorn in the side of the Muslim Brotherhood since their political ascendency to power. They have resisted and rebelled against the executive’s infringement on the autonomy of the judiciary and have objected to articles compromising its independence in the draft constitution. As for the Constituent Assembly membership, it is currently dominated by the Islamists (in all their streaks: the Muslim Brotherhood in power, the ultra-radical Salafis and the so-called moderates such as el Wasat comprising 67% of membership), its legitimacy has been questioned in light of its insistence on drawing the constitution through majoritarian politics rather than through reaching consensus.

Once again, a few minutes after Morsi’s announcement of another “constitutional declaration” with the above policies only serving to deepen authoritarian rules, the Muslim Brotherhood supporters took to the street to express their endorsement of the President. Again, the mobilization of the masses of Brothers (no women on the scene) is expressed in terms of positive citizen agency:  “the People want to cleanse the judiciary”.

The face of these protest suggests the use of unruly politics (at least as far as people acting collectively using the language of citizen demands is concerned) in a positive way. I beg to differ. When unruly politics is instrumentalized to promote the monopolization of power in the hands of a ruler, this can only mean inversely, a contraction of the prospects of building a democratic state. When the masses are mobilized to go to the street to express their love for a dictatorship that has only one name: fascism. Even Mubarak at the epitome of his power could not rely on the mobilization of such masses to endorse his dictatorship. The outcome of fascistic unruly politics, in the Egyptian context can only be one of two things: bringing the country onto the brinks of a civil war (if the opposition also goes to the streets to express their demands for freedom, justice and dignity once more, as at the time of the Egyptian revolution) or alternatively, the intimidation of the majority of citizens not to dare to protest or resist, because the pro-president masses are on the street.

Read other recent blogs by Mariz Tadros:

Time to Listen


Danny Burns

The Participate team spent much of last week preparing for and engaging with the High Level Panel. The panel was very open and responsive to our message, and a number of panel members filled in the postcards that we provided, asking them to indicate how they might engage with Participate. These are all positive signals, but apart from the usual worries about how whether politicians and other decision makers will really listen, or retreat back into long held political positions and entrenched development assumptions, I have a concern about how the process itself might undermine the possibilities for real engagement.

Since we started this process ‘time’ has been an issue. It was raised again at the High Level Panel meeting.

Participate has always seen itself as working to three separate time frames.

(1)  We are trying to support the deliberations of the panel through meaningful engagement with participatory research with the poorest and most vulnerable, but we are also aware that there is only so much that can feed into this process because it is proposed that the draft report is already written by February 2013 which is just after their second meeting.

(2)  So our second key milestone is the September Special Session of the UN on the future of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). We are planning to have both of the big synthesis reports (of past and current participatory research), our participatory video and the documentary film, ready before then to provide strong evidence from the ground about how poverty really plays out.

(3)  But the real underlying agenda is the longer term. If we accept the premise that participatory research should be feeding into the policy making process, then it follows that it should be built into every stage of the development process  – from program development, to implementation, to evaluation and accountability processes. In other words if those living in poverty and those who are most marginalized are to really be listened to, participatory processes need to be embedded into the development programmes that follow from the new framework.

In many respects (3) is the most important of all of these. This was highlighted by a number of panel members on Friday and is reflected in the work of  ‘the Participatory Research Group’ projects which are at the heart of the Participate process, as these will continue beyond the lifetime of this decision making process.

Given the short time line for the panel it is my view that this sort of framing for the future of development is more important than arguing for the inclusion of this new goal or that new goal.  Establishing the principle of meaningful stakeholder participation at every level of the process might also be something that the panel could agree on.

But there is an even more fundamental question about time that I think it is important to reflect on. If the panel is reporting in February, panel members will quite literally have only just begun to get to know each other.  The panel meets three times (November 2012, late January/February 2013 and probably March 2013). At the first of these sessions they were only in dialogue with each other for just one day.  With 26 people present, this hardly gives them time to offer each other their own experience let alone to bring in what is necessary from outside.

Participatory research takes time. We and all of our participatory research partners can do good work over the next eight months or so, but it is important that time is allowed for the right conclusions to be drawn, for these to be tested in other contexts, and to be validated by the communities from where the knowledge was generated. The same is actually true for the UN Development Group (UNDG) 50 country consultations which have been rolled out on a punishing time scale which will lead inevitably (in most cases) to rapidly cobbled together reports – the driving force behind which is meeting the time table.

It is not enough to affirm the importance of listening to the voices of those living in greatest poverty when we know that the decision-making time-table will not allow this to happen as it should.  I think that we collectively need to have the courage to say that it is more important to get this right, than to rush headlong in to a process that doesn’t have real ownership, because the time which is needed to listen hasn’t been given.

Danny Burns is a Co-Director of the Participate initiative and Team Leader for the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS. 

Read other recent blog posts from Participate:

Learning Partners: Participate and the High Level Panel


Elizabeth Mills and Thea Shahrokh

The previous blogs this week have described the nature of the Participate initiative and the context of the HLP meeting taking place this week; yesterday’s blog in particular, by Joanna Wheeler and Thea Shahrokh asked what you would say to the HLP panelists if you had 9 minutes. Today we had a conversation about Participate with the HLP, learning about them as they learnt about us. We wanted to share some initial reflections and will follow this with a longer blog next week.

The importance of dialogue was a key theme in today’s meeting. Dialogue between HLP members and Participate surfaced a number of critical issues around the value of translation. In practical terms, HLP members underlined the value of conducting research in the language of the people most affected by the policies that will be developed through a post-2015 framework. In terms of translating policy, an HLP member emphasised the importance of ensuring that research is not simply extracted from people who participate in the post-2015 process but that the impact of this research is translated in to practice through long-term engagement at a local-level, supported through NGOs and CSOs. Joanna Wheeler agreed saying that participatory research is geared towards making sure that communities own the outcome of research, that they actively set the research agenda, that they analyse the data, and that the research process supports the identified concerns raised by communities. The process of participatory research, which lies at the heart of Participate, is therefore as important as its outcome across the local, national and global level.

The dynamic of dialogue in the HLP meeting reflects the shared ethos of the members with Participate on the importance of ensuring a space where the voices of those who are most marginalised are heard in the policy process; and further, through long-term ground-level engagement led by the members of the Participate Research Group, that the policy process is transparent and accountable to the people who are most affected by the post-2015 development agenda.

Post-2015 High Level Panel to prioritise the perspectives of voiceless people


Andrea Rigon

Yesterday afternoon during the Civil Society Pre-Meet to the HLP, Nelson Muffuh, the Outreach Coordinator of the HLP updated civil society representatives on the HLP process. Mr. Muffuh said that there is little time and there are many stakeholders. Therefore, the HLP will prioritise the perspectives of voiceless people. Yesterday evening at a press briefing, David Cameron, one of the three co-chairs of the High Level Panel (HLP) on the post-2015 development agenda stated that, “Above all we need to listen to those whose lives are blighted by poverty”.Mr. Muffah emphasised that his secretariat will help panel members to reach those who are normally excluded by such global processes and meetings. He added that the question of how to ensure that those living in poverty are heard is on the top of the HLP agenda and thus he welcomes the Participate initiative.Participate hopes that this HLP’s commitment will lead to a deeper thinking on how it is possible to make global policy-making genuinely inclusive and participatory. As Elizabeth Mills outlined earlier this week, there is a difference between having voice, and being heard in these spaces. The participatory research driving the initiative illustrates the interconnectedness of different development issues and challenges established assumptions on the solutions to global development problems.

Today, Participate co-directors, Danny Burns and Joanna Wheeler from IDS and Amy Pollard from CAFOD, who is a co-chair of Beyond 2015 campaign, will present the initiative to the HLP  (the challenges of which Joanna Wheeler and Thea Shahrokh have outlined) and ask its members to engage with Participate and open themselves to the knowledge from the margins generated though participatory research. One of the avenues through which Participatewill facilitate this process of learning for the HLP members is to ask them to take part in immersions -living for a few days with a family living in poverty to experience first-hand their realities.

Andrea Rigon is a Participate, Policy and Advocacy Advisor and CAFOD COMPASS 2015 Research Coordinator.

Read other recent blog posts from Participate: