Civil Society and the Task at Hand
In June 2011, the world will come together to review progress and chart the future course of the global AIDS response at the 2011 UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS, in New York. Two months beforehand, a more informal yet interactive hearing with civil society will also take place, chaired by the President of the General Assembly and organized with the active participation of people living with HIV and broader civil society.
The aim of April’s Civil Society Hearing is to create a space where civil society, NGOs and the private sector can interact with Member States at the UN, offer input to the comprehensive review process and in particular, to provide another mechanism for the voices and concerns of civil society to be considered in the negotiations for the renewed Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS that will culminate from these two important United Nation’s events..
New York, New York
Last week in New York, representatives from key constituencies (people who use drugs, sex workers, women, men who have sex with men, private business etc) affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic came together to discuss, structure and develop these important events in the HIV/AIDS global calendar. Over 5 long days, the group of 12 Task Force reps, which balanced gender, region and constituency, began to develop the process of implementing the design for the Civil Society Hearings. It was challenging to ensure the events in April and June would not only engage both member states and civil society, but accurately reflect the changes in the HIV/AIDS epidemic across the world.
We spent the first half of the week devising what we hope will be a more informal format for the CS hearings, as we looked to find ways to make what can be a rather dry and inaccessible environment for both speakers and civil society, a more engaging one for dialogue. We brainstormed ideas around themes and content and it was highly challenging to focus so many valid concerns into one mere day of discussion. It was also clear that ‘AIDS Fatigue’ (an appalling term) was a reality in 2011 and we heard about the concerns of the 2008 Task Force and the need to avoid ending up with Civil Society just talking to itself.
There was a need to highlight the fragile yet important gains that have been made in combating HIV/AIDS, and to underline the huge inroads that have been achieved when the both the political will and civil society engagement are brought together. However, we also understood the need to push boundaries, building on what has gone before while including the kind of issues that could be missed in the ensuing discussions and resolutions. It was challenging to say the least.
We felt a huge responsibility to ensure the voices of our constituencies were represented in the final days hearings but the group worked really well together to strive for balance and it was great to feel the support and understanding of each others concerns. Concept papers were then written up describing the themes for the day and then further refined to be sent off to the President of the General Assembly’s office for final approval.
The second half of the week was just as arduous. We poured through more than 250 applications from people who had applied to speak at the hearings, reading each one carefully and pushing forward the ones we believed could speak eloquently on the subjects we had chosen as the day’s themes. It was very difficult narrowing them down to around 15 or so but I witnessed people putting all their effort into getting this right as well as ensuring we had both gender, regional and constituency balance.
During the week we had various visits from previous task force members who talked to us about their experiences in 2008 High Level Meeting which was very helpful as we waded in to the weeks work and we had some excellent logistical and technical support from the UNAIDS office which helped enormously to consolidate all the work that was being developed.
Assembling in the Assembly
On Friday we went to visit the United Nations building and had a brief but encouraging meeting on the role of civil society in the High Level Meeting attended by the President of the General Assembly Joseph Deiss, the Executive Director of UNAIDS Michele Sidibe and the Co Facilitators of the HLM Gary Quinlan (Australia) and Charles Ntwaagae (Botswana). The PGA told us that due to the previous concerns that civil society had been engaged in such proceedings too late to really feed into the process, the Hearings had now been made to occur a full month prior to the HLM to ensure there is an opportunity to be considered in the negotiations towards the final declaration. They were all openly encouraging and keen to support the role of CSTF where they could, which was welcome news for all of us.
Afterwards, we had a tour and a much-needed orientation of the main UN General Assembly/speaking area and more than once I heard the Assembly compared to looking like the intergalactic council from Star Trek, where members from far off galaxies come to discuss stellar concerns! Yet it was actually important to visualize how our ideas for the event would translate into the extremely formal environment that is inside the UN.
We then went to lunch with Ambassador Gary Quinlan and Permanent Representative of Botswana Charles Ntwaagae, at Mr Quinlan’s residence and over a rather posh lunch they both made us feel they were accessible to our Task Force and keen to facilitate the HLM proceedings.
Everyone put in a great amount of work to achieve the goals set out for the week and everyone was exhausted by the end of it. All of the Task Force members involved showed a deep commitment and appetite to represent both their constituencies and reflect the issues surrounding HIV/AIDS in 2011. The desire to create an environment where member states would really engage with civil society and walk away carrying something they could take with them into the final HIV/AIDS declaration of 2011 was both crucial and complex.
A Rewarding Process
The Task Force, though an excellent representation of civil society providing input into the complex high level processes that surround the United Nations, must continue to be inventive and resourceful. It is unfortunate that at this early stage more details can’t be shared with our constituencies until a draft on the weeks objectives is seen and accepted by the PGA but we will be able to provide more detail of the upcoming events within 2 weeks (after the final report is drawn up and the relevant speakers have been notified).
It has been 24 hours since many of us on the Civil Society Task Force touched down in our home countries but the intense working week in New York still looms large with a lot of planning and executing left to do.
We will continue to report back and, as always, welcome any input our constituencies are able to offer. It is worth mentioning that regional consultations are occurring throughout the world over 2011 and civil society is urged to find ways to input into these consultations, despite some of them being rather hard to access (see below)
A huge applause to all the Task Force members who worked so hard and everyone who came by to add support and advice; Bertil Lindblad, (PGA’s office) Claudia, (2008 Task Force) and Eric, Mike, and Lorenzo from UNAIDS. And of course Kate Thompson who co-facilitated the Task Force with Denis Godlevskiy and made sure that somehow, what seemed a mammoth task that would surely overrun its deadline –stayed on schedule and delivered its objectives. Brilliant!
Will report again shortly,
E O’Mara (for the CSTF)
For more information on the regional consultations, click here
For more information on the events in 2011, click here
- Your views on HIV and Drug Use (blackpoppymag.wordpress.com)
- INPUD has representation on Civil Society Task Force for the United Nations HLM on HIV/AIDS (inpud.wordpress.com)