CABSA was at ... 2007

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Lyn @ ICTs for Civil Society Conference. 17-18/07/07

A two day conference with 280 attendees and 60 speakers was held in Johannesburg on the 17th and 18th July 2007. In case you are usnsure (as I was before this conference) ICT is Information and Communication Technologies and includes a wide range of technologies used for communication, including internet and cell phones.  As we use our webpage and email newsletter extensively to provide information services, I felt it is important for CARIS to know what is happening in the sector. Some of the outlines of the reports below are taken from the program on the website.

Sessions feedback, highlights and a blog on the conference will be available on the SANGONeT Website.

 Reports about sessions I attended and found particularly interesting are available here

 

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Lyn @ YWCA International Women’s Summit on HIV and AIDS. 4-7/7/2007

As usual when attending conferences, I will start with some of my impressions but will also collect other reports were possible.

More information on the program and the speakers is available on the YWCA website.

Selected webcasts of the conference will be available on the website of the Kaiser Foundation soon. You can also visit the CEDPA website for reports.

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Introduction

Nearly two thousand women representing more than 130 countries from all over the world, tall and short, old and young, all the colours you can imagine, languages, accents, a colourful spectacle of dress, from the most traditional to the most modern, singing, talking, questioning, listening, dancing, hugging, laughing, organising, crying, comforting, praying, networking, buying, selling, promising, …this is what you would see if you attended the “International Women’s Summit, Women’s Leadership on HIV and AIDS” in the International Convention Centre, Nairobi Kenia from the 4th to the 7th of July 2007.


This first ever international summit of women on HIV and AIDS forms part of the 25th & 26th World YWCA Council. I would love to give you an idea of the whole summit, but with so many workshops and sessions it is impossible! I am trying to highlight some of the main points and a few of the speakers. This can’t be more than my impressions and someone else attending exactly the same sessions might highlight different points. I do hope, though, that you will get some idea of the conference and that I do not misrepresent any of the speakers! The focus of CARIS means that I will choose sessions focussing on religious aspects, though many other topics are being covered.
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July 4th

I was greeted at the YWCA courtesy desk in Nairobi airport with a friendly “Karibu Kenia” (Welcome in Kenia). The sharing and networking started on our way to our accommodation. In fact with a delegate from the UK working on woman’s rights, and one from New Delhi focussing on reproductive health, and me with my dreams and hopes, the ride passed much to quickly, and we barely even noticed the beautiful surroundings and the inevitable traffic jam! It is wonderful to know that we are all concerned about the same things, and that so many of us are directly involved n the HIV arena.

I just had time to register (smoothly and effortlessly – well done YWCA) and set up our booth in the Sakoni Marketplace before I joined the ‘welcome’ function.

It was clear the a YWCA conference is very different from any other conference I have attended, the sense of joy in meeting old friends, the sense of being part of such a huge organisation, the spontaneous singing and celebration, all lent a very special atmosphere.

The 1st day of the Summit was dedicated to the Positive Women’s Forum. The strong message I heard from this day, was that positive women in leadership positions in HIV was non – negotiable.
I was quite happy when the bus dropped us at the YMCA hostel and I could get into bed at the end of a long day.
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July 5th

Each day starts with a Worship Service. This multilingual, non denominational, women led and women focussed service focussing on HIV is a very special occasion The reading this morning was from Luk 1:39 – 45. The focus on the expectant Elizabeth and Mary served to remind us of the situation of pregnant women everywhere and the fear of parents who might be HIV positive, and might transmit the virus to their unborn children, we focussed on the fact that this is preventable, and repented that not enough was being done to address this. Despite this, we could sing the magnificat with Mary and each of us in our own language could echo the words of Elizabeth “Blessed is she who believes”. We could identify with Mary and pray “Bless us, God, for we believe. Bless me, God, for I believe. Help my unbelief”

Everyone then moved to the plenary hall for the Official Opening. 

 We were welcomed by various dignitaries of the World and Kenyan YWCA. Translations were available in French, Spanish, Korean and Swahili –giving some idea of the polyglot nature of the gathering.

 Various distinguished guests took part in the opening and we were entertained by wonderful music and dance, including the small children from a local Catholic orphanage, who stole the hearts of all present.

Some of my highlights from the plenary session include:
        Dr Kanyoro, General Secretary of the World YWCA reminded us that if one woman can change a family; many women can change Humanity.
        Dr Asha Rose Migiro, deputy General Secretary of the United Nations said that, when addressing the systemic gender issues that drive the HIV pandemic, the leap from project to program level is critical and accountability and the drive for measurable results are key issues.
        Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organisation sketched the progress of the 3x5 campaign for universal access to treatment and care, but reminded us of the chilling fact that for every person being put on treatment, there are 6 new HIV infections! Something had to be done! She called mother to child transmission a source of unbearable grief for parents, and a result of the failure of medical care – access to prevention strategies should be universal, and this kink of transmission must be stopped. We were reminded that HIV puts the spotlight on the social and economic constraints women face, and of the importance of economic and social empowerment of women for the prevention of the spread of HIV infection.
        Dr Peter Piot, Executive director, UNAIDS made many telling points. He highlighted the need for accelerated prevention, for prevention strategies that pass the test for women, for increase leadership for women, for the need for men to address traditional masculinities, the need to take a long term view – to run a marathon at the speed of a sprint – to address gender inequalities as a driver of the epidemic in the present crisis mode, but at the same time also in a carefully balanced and sustainable long-term way.
        .Dr Helen Gayle, CEO of Care USA spoke of HIV as cause and as consequence of HIV and highlighted civil society’s role in economic strengthening, advocacy and networking. She reminded us all that women are powerful.

 

The Women Leading Change Awards Ceremony celebrated the work and lives of 14 women, many of them living with HIV, who have live the theme of the summit “Changing lives, Changing communities. These awards comprise financial grants (donated by PEPFAR) to the organisations the women represent. The PEPFAR country representative (I couldn’t hear his name!) said that for too long, women in the pandemic were seen as vessels, vectors, and victims – women should no longer accept these views, but see themselves as victors, as the recipients of theses awards truly are. It is through women seeing themselves and acting as victors that the HIV pandemic can be stopped.

 Two of the award recipients (more information on the YWCA website) shared their stories. Their courage is an example of the thousands of women who respond to the needs of their communities around the world every day. In the words of one of them “Even though we are poor, our hearts are rich”!

After presenting them with their awards, His Excellency, Hon Mwai Kibaki, President of the Republic of Kenya welcomed delegates to the country. He thanked the YWCA for the work they do and asked them to increase their involvement in addressing the pandemic and particularly in addressing gender inequality, the social and cultural constraints facing girls, the education of girls and lobbying for women in leadership and economic empowerment of women.

After lunch was the first of the breakout session, and I chose to attend the session on Religion and HIV and AIDS

Speakers on the panel included Rev Andrena Ingram (St Michael’s Lutheran Church); Phumzile Zondi Mabizela (ANARELA +): Rev Samuel Kobia (WCC); Dr Mabel Bianco (International AIDS Women Caucus); Chito Rupesinghe (YWCA Sri Lanka); Sr Maria Martinelli (International Union of Mother’s Superior). The session was moderated by Anne Marie Helland (Norwegian Church AIDS.

We heard of

-         some of the traditional divisions between churches and activists and some of the progress made
-         church responses in countries with generalised epidemics and were the epidemic has barely surfaced (and the fact that civil war, poverty and migrant labour might be masking a time bomb)
-         churches that embrace and support people living with HIV and others that are still guilty of stigma and rejection
-         the negative role of churches when they strengthen the subordinate role of women, especially in sexual and reproductive health matters
-         governments refusing to accept programmes which include condoms, or even accept sexual education in schools, due to religious and cultural pressure and taboos
-         the need for increased prevention of mother to child transmission
-         the dangers of HIV transmission within marriage
-         the need for youth and rural focussed, values based prevention programs, with boys and girls together, that harness the positive power of peer pressure and were accompaniment of young people on their journey is part of an ongoing process.
-         the role women themselves play in entrenching cultural and sexual stereotypes
-         the journey from condemnation and judgement to care compassion and empathy
-         the need to address stigma,
-         the need to re-evaluate theology and our Bible translations and reading deeper into the original holy texts.
-         the role the church should play in care and support, with a focus on spiritual support, the care of orphans, ARVs and adherence support and the responsible use of natural remedies
-         the challenges of apathy, patriarchy, the burden of care for the ill and for orphans, the difficulties of sharing and networking
- the changes positive women have brought in churches and church structures
We heard that
-         proactive religious leadership is necessary
-         synergy should be developed
-         organisations should realise they are there for the long run
-         the disease and demons people living with HIV face are stigma, silence, fear and denial and these should be healed like Jesus and the disciples healed sick people in His time on earth
-         disclosure can be the beginning of emotional and spiritual healing.

We spoke of

-         language as a creator of stigma and culture and asked if terms such as “woman bearing the burden of disease” adds to the helpless, and hopeless stereotype
-         religion as identity-maker and element of culture, and the courage needed to change images that harm
-         accountability of church structures and challenging the ‘selective amnesia’ of church structures about the promises and statements made around HIV and gender

It is clear that many issues surfaced in this session that will require deeper exploration and I am sure we will here more of some of them in the rest of the summit.

My last session of the day was a workshop on The Role and Contribution of Positive Women and Faith Communities in the Response to AIDS.

 Women living with HIV shared their journeys with their respective faith communities. I would like to briefly mention one of these. A Kenyan Pastor told of the role she played in strengthening stigma in her church. She shared how she often used Deuteronomy 28 and other texts in explaining that HIV is the punishment of God.   She shared er shock when she tested positive and how her church decided to keep her status quiet. She told of her personal journey which brought her to the point of disclosing her status and how she lost her job, her husband lost his job and their home and their support. . She spoke eloquently of her road with Anerela + and how important the spiritual support was for her. I was very excited when she told how she became involved with a “wonderful program called Channels of Hope” After a long struggle, her church started to include her in their planning and policy making. Today her church is one of the leaders in HIV treatment care and prevention. She emphasised that empowered women living with HIV in faith communities can begin changing attitudes and have a powerful role to play. (at the end of the meeting we met and greeted each other like long lost sisters – although we have never met before. Churches Channels of Hope truly makes family of strangers!)

In a lively discussion it became increasingly clear that stigma remains a serious problem and that stigma kills; Speakers from countries as diverse as Sri Lanka and Norway spoke about the difficulty for women of disclosing and challenge of how to handle stigma towards children. 
Other key points include
        there are many different types of faith
        positive women who transcend their status can be teachers to their faith communities
        Stigma can only be overcome by challenging it! 
        Women specific materials needs to be developed for the church
        Parents need to make sure that their children is informed before they disclose in other public situations (don’t let you children learn your status from gossip!)
        We still need to be careful of what our words are saying to others, even if we mean well. Think about
o       The association of scourge with sin and punishment
o       There but for the grace of God go I – does this mean that those infected did not have God’s grace
o       ‘innocent’ children – which means the adults are ‘guilty’?
o       Mother to child transmission - Parent to Child transmission
        Women should not talk to ‘ourselves’ in other words we need to stop blaming and start speaking ‘outside’, turning problems into opportunities and bring change.
        Individuals and communities should prepare themselves to face HIV and to become embracing communities

We were reminded that HIV is a great revealer of the cracks in society and this it can become a vehicle to change the ills of society. Positive women can play a valuable role in faith communities to bring about these changes

Once again it was a very full and thought provoking day. The remarks above does not even begin to convey all the discussions every where, in queues, while waiting for a session to begin, at meal times, in the bus etc. Once again, this is a very important part of the summit, sharing in the lives and the realities of others. By the end of today, I know a few more Kiswahili words – I can greet with a friendly “Jambo”, thank people with “Asante” and will be able to welcome guests in South Africa with “Karibu”!

Tomorrow will be another full day, ending with a gala evening – so I might not have the energy to report on the day! In the meantime, I will continue making notes and absorbing all the knowledge I can. So till next time..

Kwaheri (good bye) from Nairobi
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July 6th

 The worship service this morning again made me realise the power of words. From the Old Testament reading from Ezekiel 37:1-14 we were reminded that Ezekiel face a situation that seemed hopeless, where the valley was filled with ‘very dry’ bones, bone that had no sign of life left in them . This situation was compared to the situation facing us in a time of AIDS, a time when “The earth is full of Death, the valley is full of bones. We were reminded of how Ezekiel’s prophecy blew life into the bones, with the power and on the instructions of God. In a symbolic act, the women present blew life into whatever situation of dry bones they faced in their own lives and committed to speaking words of hope and life to bring live where it seems impossible. 

We faced so many opportunities and choices again this morning. There were sessions on a wide variety of topics from policy and advocacy, to women’s rights, to microfinance, to caring for children. Once again I will be focussing on faith based topics. 

In the session on “Creating an AIDS Competent Church” hosted by the World Council of Churches we heard more about the work of the Council and especially about EHAIA. A new book will soon be published covering this topic. Some of the difficulties they and the church in general have around HIV were highlighted. The church still has difficulty dealing with sexual issues and issues such as intravenous drug use. Although there has been church involvement in the epidemic from the very early years, this was only in ‘pockets’. As the epidemic progressed most churches have realised the need for more extensive involvement, and the large denominations all have wonderful declarations and statements, but this has not always resulted in good implementation of programs.

EHAIA is the program the WCC initiated to help the church to acknowledge the reality of the epidemic, to act from strength and knowledge, to reduce vulnerability and to learn from each other and share the knowledge the have.
The cornerstones of the model for an AIDS competent church is
-         leadership,
-         knowledge
-         and resources.

If these cornerstones are in balance a church response to HIV will develop that will include theological competence, social relevance, inclusiveness, technical competence and compassion.

I look forward to the publication of the book, and will let you know as soon as it is published. 

In the afternoon I formed part of a session Mobilizing Faith Communities towards a Comprehensive Response to HIV and AIDS: Lessons learned in Addressing stigma silence and discrimination. This session was presented by World Vision staff and based on Churches Channels of Hope programme. I played a small role in reporting briefly on the work of CARIS and the powerful tool knowledge can be in addressing stigma. 

The gala dinner was a celebration of woman leaders and entertainers, and of the YWCA.

The guest speaker was the Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, Ms Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, who worked for the World YWCA in Geneva from 1984 to 1989 as the organisation's Youth Director, where she advocated for job creation for young people within the UN system.  She praised the organisation for its role in her own life and that of young women throughout the world.  She expressed her regret that the organisation is not more active in South Africa.

The Afro jazz singer, composer and pianist Achieng' Abura entertained the crowd while they feasted on Shamba salad, Kuku wa nazi and Tamu tamu.
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July 7th

In the worship service  this morning we were first reminded hat God has summoned us, called us by our name, before the reading from Matt15: 23 put us in the shoes of the Canaanite woman begging for the health of her daughter.  The poem by Agathe Berard brought the anguish and plea of this desperate but determined woman to life.  The symbolism of the crumbs from the master’s table became the call to transform crumbs in our lives and around us to bread, pain into company, exclusion into inclusion, oppression into liberation, despair into hope.

Plenary Session

During this session participants were asked to join the campaign to equitable access to simple diagnostics and medicine for children living with HIV and to make them affordable, comprehensive and sustainable. Hundreds of women signed postcards asking the pharmaceutical industry to address this urgently. You can also join this campaign online and help make the lives of children easier.

The plenary session is entitled “If women really matter, where is the leadership and the money?” A variety of speakers highlighted different aspect of the topic.

Mairi Bopp of the Allpart Pacific Island AIDS Foundation shared some of issues she faced living with HIV . She reminded us tat the journey for women living with HIV is not easy, especially not in poor countries. Each journey is unique but also the same. In order to address HIV, all women need to face the fact that their children might be positive and prepare themselves on how the will respond to this. She feels that for funding, advocacy and leadership, you need to be:
-         consistent
-         accountable
-         have support

Bisi Adeleye Fayemi from the African Women’s Development Fund spoke of the politics of funding. She challenges participants that if we want to defy the ills we face, we need to use our own tools primarily rather than looking outside. It is necessary to revisit the structure and architecture of the organisations we come from, totake leadership wherever we are and do what we have in front of us. She highlights the 13 Campaign, through which African women want to address the issues of the African women infected. For every ten African men infected with HIV, there are 13 African women. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 13.1m women are infected. By focusing on the number 13 the African Women’ Development Fund (AWDF) is saying that the situation can be turned around. The 13 Campaign seeks to use the number 13, to get individuals and groups to mobilise thirteen others, and also to make donations with the number 13 in mind. 

Patricia Mugambi Ndegwa from Global Business Coalition Against HIV and AIDS discussed how public private partnerships are strengthening the response, from especially women’s organisations, to HIV and AIDS and Bringing together many stakeholders for greater scale up of projects and create greater speed. She explained Co-investment is a mechanism for joint investment of private and public sector resources to provide access to information and services. The GBC encourages Business to take a wider view and realises that they can take action:
-         in the workplace (and also to spouses and families!)
-          in the community,
-         using their core competency and
-         through advocacy and leadership.

Terri McGovern from the Ford Foundation spoke about effective funding strategies. Many big organisations and foundations at present fund a lot of research and projects with little implementation outcome.  Projects with practical outcomes and grassroots effect are under-funded. Part of the reason for this lies with the way in which these organisations and especially women’s movements apply for funding. In approaching large organisations such as the Ford Foundation organisations need to consider the following:
        Find strategic access points at country  and senior organisational level
        Be specific about achievements of the organisation
        Be specific about operationalising research – what will be achieved and how
        Go further than the problems, go to fixing them!
        Use terminology that make the real results clear.

Sono Aibe from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation spoke about the organisation’s approach to funding for women’s reproductive health issues and options as a means to address HIV. The more women can gain have control over reproductive issues, the more they can protect themselves against HIV. VCT and contraception and other reproductive health services need to be linked.

Zawdai Nyong’o from the Association of Women’s Right in Development highlights research on funding for women’s issues. She said that if we wonder why it is necessary to address and research the issues of funding, it is because we can’t do anything with-out it! It is also important to realise that money and financial flows are political issues. She provided some interesting figures from their research. Most organisations in the study are battling for existence and survival. Funding is becoming more difficult and takes more time in organisations and there is great discrepancy in funding for issues of women. A further concern is that many large funders are scaling up – giving to bigger organisations or governments– while most (95%) women’s organisations operate on budgets of less than $10 000 a year. Small to mid sized organisation struggle to find funding. This research can be found on the webpage of the Association.

Dr Musimbi Kanyoro from the World YWCA spoke about accountability and leadership as prerequisite for funding and highlighted key ways in which organisations can increase their accountability to donors and other stakeholders. Her points include:
-         Having and communicating Clarity of Purpose – what are we doing, why and how
-         Governance issues - evaluating and keeping accountable that staff and the board!
-         Human resources - Understaffed organisations makes the running of an office and projects, while also dealing with accountability and leadership issues, impossible. Just and realistic staffing levels, employment conditions and remuneration is essential for successful organisations.
-         Continued research in the field is necessary on better relationships between staff and board – it is necessary to know the extent and limits of each and to understand the distinction. The board needs to know that their role is more than monitoring and evaluating staff.
-         Financial responsibility and expertise is essential. One of the problems is that organisations have not been thinking sufficiently big in our planning. We need to think abut scale up and bigger reach
-         Show the impact of our work. “We do and we do and we do – we do not sufficiently evaluate our impact”. We might “know it in our heart” but are we evaluating it in such a way that our donors kan realise it as well
In the question and discussion time the following issues were raised:
-         Insurance for HIV positive people and especially women. Pressure on insurance agencies need to be increased to develop more innovative products.
-         The need for investment in economic empowerment for women – not just job creation and micro-financing but real involvement of women in the economy (such as collective stock market investment)
-         Who holds donors accountable? Through advocacy we to encourage donors to also put in practice principles of accountability (The Council of Foundations started such a process and these principles are available on their website.)
-         Is there a politics of faith based funding?
-         There is a need for multi-pronged approaches to access funding – smaller organisations need to join partnerships in order to access significant funding, at the same time simplified systems are required for the smaller organisations for monitoring and reporting
-         How do we involve the ‘ordinary’ man, local resource mobilization is essential as well as capacity building. The ideal situation is to be at least partly independent from the large funders, and have a consistent local base of funding.

In the workshop I had the opportunity for further discussion on the role of positive women in faith communities and the role that faith communities have in the lives of positive women. One of the key points is that stigma remains the biggest issue to address and that the church is the ideal vehicle to address this. I again had to hear the sad stories of faith communities that reject members and the pain this caused. But we also heard the stories of people that were embraced and encouraged by their faith communities and who believe that there continued health and strength is a result of this. A powerful tool used to reduce stigma in the church can be positive women themselves. In ideal situations, this can be a strong mutual strengthening relationship but in the saddest situations this can also be destructive. Although it is not always easy, positive women told how they often had to take the lead in encouraging their pastors to address HIV and in starting program in the congregation. This difficult road is only possible once a person living with HIV has got to the personal space where they have accepted their situation, worked through their emotions and self stigma issues and re able to play a role. 

In order to create a space where positive people feel more comfortable talking about their status it is necessary for congregations to be ‘loud and vocal’ in their acceptance of people living with HIV.

Some of the challenges in translating declarations to church action were discussed. These included creating an environment safe for people living with HIV and addressing church leaders who are still negative and judgemental. We reminded each other of the simplicity of Jesus Christ’s message of love and how often we are selective in what we hear of this message and even more in how we act on it.

Participants were encouraged to develop strategic alliance with regional organisation and organisations such as EHAIA and to continue to push to change attitudes and make the church a safe environment for members living with HIV.
In the Special Session: HIV & AIDS in Africa, we were honoured to listen to senior leaders from South Africa (Deputy President Ms Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka), Botswana (Minister of Health Prof Sheila Tlou); Kenia (Deputy Minister for Special Projects in the Office of the President) and Uganda (Canon Gideon Byamugisha).  

Ms Mlambo Ngcuka highlighted the importance of economic empowerment and decision making for women; youth being positive about the future and their role in preventing the spread of HIV; building a strong public health system; appreciation for home based and orphan care and care-givers and the contribution of positive women.

Prof Tlou contributed the success of programmes in Botswana in the face of very high prevalence rates to political will; good governance; low tolerance for corruption and prudence in spending.

Rev Byamugisha mentioned the concern the resurgence of HIV incidence in Uganda is rising.  He reminded us that HIV is 100 preventable; HIV is manageable; that an appropriate prevention and care package needs to be planned that is multilevel and multi-sectorial; that lawful sex is not enough but that it also needs to be safe; that SAVE provides more options than ABC; that  policies, training and mobilising of resources are equally necessary.  He warned of the dangers of politicising the issues and allowing the message to become distorted.
In discussion it was highlighted that :
-         cross border planning and programs are important
-         strong family structure are key in prevention
-         there is a strong link between prevention and care
-         addressing stigma is crucial for any success
-         knowing who is infected is key in prevention and care; VCT needs scaling up and provider initiated testing should be considered
-         poverty and economic strengthening remains key issues

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Call to Action

The Closing Plenary Session called together all the participants one more time. The Nairobi 2007 Call to Action and the process of compiling this Call was discussed. The full text of the Nairobi 2007 Call to Action in English, Spanish and French can be found here. Various international, faith based and grassroots organisations replied with their commitment to this call.  This powerful and practical document ends with the words “Our leadership can change our world. We commit to advance these ten critical actions to create change in the lives of women and girls around the world and particularly those infected or affected by HIV and AIDS. We pledge to turn these words into action. We can be the change we wish to see in the lives of all of us as women and girls infected or affected by HIV and AIDS.” 

We have all been at conferences, and all seen many declarations, and might even feel a bit cynical about statements of this kind. This group of women went one step further. Each delegate received a personal pledge form with promises making the points of the declaration practical.  Delegates were invited to sign their pledges together and to take the pledges home and display them somewhere where they will be reminded of the promises they made.
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Conclusion

And so we all went our way – some to continue with the YWCA Conference, some home to all corners of the world, some to enjoy the beauty of Kenya.  


In spite of everything I have written, I have not begun to convey what made this Summit so special. Partly it is the vibrancy of Niarobi, the music, the singing, the buzz of the marketplace, the efficiency of the YWCA organisation and the effortless and speedy registration procedures, the enthusiasm, passion and dedication of so many women talking about their work. 

But there is something more, which I think might be an integral part of the fact that the World YWCA organised this event. I have had very little personal experience of the YWCA, and have never seen so many strong confident women leaders together in one place. I have never been exposed to this degree of energetic, powerful, inspiring women’s leadership from the very young to the more mature. It was truly a privilege to be part of this event.

One of the speakers said that throughout this Summit she has had so many moments of inspiration, anger, fear and hope that her heart is beating faster. I hope that the nearly 2000 women returning to all part of the world, all have hearts beating faster, and that they all remember that they said loudly and clearly

 “I pledge to do everything in my capacity to respond positively, proactively and practically to the unprecedented challenges presented by the Global AIDS pandemic” 

From me, it is kwaheri YMCA, kwaheri Kenya – it has been an amazing experience
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Lyn @ 3rd SA Aids Conference. Durban. 5-8/06/07

Lyn attended the conference on behalf of CABSA:

I would like to share some first impressions with you.

 To me it seems as if the 3rd SA Aids conference started today in a very different atmosphere to the 2nd conference two years ago. It really seems as if a new spirit of cooperation is palpable. My first experience two years ago came as quite a shock. As a neophyte in the field I was amazed at the amount of negativity between different sectors and groups.

Since the Civil Society Summit late last year, the change in attitudes have become increasingly clear. It seems as if the rift between government and many civil society groups really have been healed. I can not begin to count how many times today I heard NSP – and most of it positive.

The inclusion of a large number of role players in the drafting of the National Strategic Plan 2007-2011 probably played a significant role in making this ‘our’ plan, South Africa’s plan, and probably contributed significantly to the positive attitude experienced today. Many of the pre-conference sessions focussed in some or other way on the plan and some of the challenges of making it work. The role and involvement of the community in the success of the plan was emphasised.

This is a theme that was also mentioned in many of the speeches in the opening session. Dr Shisana sketched the worrying realities and challenges of the South African situation in her introductory speech. She clearly indicated that the trends will have be turned around, specifically where the youth is concerned.

It was very powerful to hear the beautiful voices of the OSCA choir asking for change; the powerful rally call for societal change of a proudly positive activist; the plea of Mrs Machel for individuals and communities to address stigma, Dr Piot’s statement that for HIV programmes in the world to succeed, it is necessary for South Africa to succeed; Gcina Mhlope’s story of the ‘two Africa’s coming together; and Deputy President’s Mlambo Ngcuka’s emphasis on the role of all the sectors of society.

Throughout the day, the theme that I heard was "together", "all of us", "our responsibility", "our role", "we need everyone".

It is sad that the Minister of Health pulling out of the conference seems the one point picked up by the media, and not the general spirit of cooperation reflected in all the other sessions.

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