INPUD and IHRA – a glimpse at the shape of things to come.
Hi everyone, I wanted to send you all an interesting update on a potentially exciting development in INPUDs journey forward as a partner and a player on the global stage: A new chapter in our relationship with IHRA (the International Harm Reduction Association).
Today, in my role with Eliot – as part of INPUDs new International Advocacy Working Group, I attended a meeting (Mat got waylaid thanks to British Rail!) with the staff from IHRA and its other key stakeholder/partner organisations. The aim is, after previous, positive discussions with INPUD and IHRA’s new Executive Director Rick Lines, three INPUD members will attend IHRA staff meetings every 2 or 3 months to keep updated on IHRA projects and strategies, and share knowledge, news and ideas. This reflective of a new open, and very welcome style of business!
Readers, it is good to be actually talking about partnership working here – the phrase on so many lips these days across the political spectrum as well as the third sector (NGOs etc). INPUDs role at the IHRA table is as a stakeholder (and friend), independent in its own right – and not an organisation tacked messily on the end of a last-minute thought (which we all have experienced at some time or other!). INPUD (and drug user organizing) has been digging its heels in all around the world as an important and articulate key population that is officially backed up by UNAID’s GIPA principles (Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV/AIDS) which is finally starting to mean something for us and carry its intended weight.
And while the global AIDS movement has been slow – really slow to completely get behind the term ‘meaningful involvement – of the drug using community’ it has clearly gained momentum and become a vehicle we can utilize to ensure our involvement is both central and legitimized in various decision-making bodies and political forums. Today, those GIPA principles made it seem all the more – legitimate – that INPUD was there to shake IHRA’s proverbial hand and to be brought into its strategic planning day as both guests and participants, to have a discussion with its other key stakeholders about the current state of harm reduction globally and the role IHRA should play.
Conferring on the Conference
As many of you know the user movement has had an important – though somewhat turbulent relationship with IHRA during its lifetime of nearly 20 years. IHRA actually emerged out of the International Harm Reduction Conference (not the other way around as one might think) – and had been closely identified with the conference ever since. Initially the harm reduction conferences were the first real, international platform for the advancement of harm reductionism – and the opportunity for a platform was grabbed by the user movement – as small as it was then – as an important arena to speak and be heard. Ever since then IHRA conferences have been accepted as a critical part in the user movements calendar – a place and time where as many activists as possible, will muster up the funds to attend – often speak, always network, hold satellite meetings, create and disseminate documents and even start organisations. It also provided, as corny as it sounds, a point for user activists from around the world to begin the forward march into the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Harm reduction forum. A chance to get the voices, experience and knowledge of the drug using person up on that stage, holding their own alongside professors, researchers, politicians, global officials and health professionals. To air the shocking problems that came from different countries and the innovative ideas working in others.
Its been 20 years of conferences – and in that time a lot has happened – both in harm reduction, IHRA itself and the user movement. As the drug user movement has grown and strengthened, its drive for autonomy has meant its relationships have needed to be redefined and at times our (mutual) growing pains have been prickly and uncomfortable. However as INPUD has evolved and its stake in the conferences has increased, it continues – and has in fact stepped up – its desire to work with IHRA and the Conference Consortium in an effort to support INPUDs overall strategic objectives. We have also been doing a lot of work to improve our involvement at IHRA conferences such as the development of on site medical services, shaping its User Choice sessions, ensuring INPUD has a significant stand at the conference for networking, workshops etc. In recognition of INPUDs role in both the conference and IHRA as an organisation, Rick Lines (IHRA’s new exec dir) has made an important step forward in inviting INPUD into todays meeting – in effect collaborating with INPUD as an independent partner – and stakeholder – in the international world of harm reduction.
Usefully, INPUDs new International Advocacy Working Group has been formed for the very reason to enable those INPUD members who attend such strategic meetings to share information and ideas and to utilize our time at these events in the best possible way, and to carry forward INPUDs important issues and agenda items where possible.
It was great to hear IHRA’s discussions today which included some very positive talk about partnering – specifically the need to embed harm reduction practice and philosophies as an innate strand in all the agencies and bodies that work with or have a stake in the drugs issue, human rights and public health. It is, despite all the evidence, often quite a fragile ideology which can tend to be crisis driven (growing out of HIV epidemics etc). It is time for us to find ways for HR to become a mainstay of society, not a politicized, morally coloured football to be kicked into touch when a government changes or the funding gets squeezed, as is so worryingly the case in the UK today.